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The longer the voyage, the harder the biscuit...
A curious crime took place in metropolitan Venice this week. The home of a former civil servant was burgled whilst he, his wife, their son and their dog (a dachshund well-known in the neighbourhood for its aggressive character) slept. The audacious thieves smoked, served themselves cocktails, tried out clothes, shoes and perfume and rummaged through drawers just centimetres from the sleepers’ faces before making their getaway. The victims believe that they were drugged with a narcotic that was sprayed imperceptibly through the windows of their home.
Venice at dawn
Venice certainly isn’t an early town. Perhaps it’s a folk memory of the times when Carnival turned night into day for months, perhaps it’s because ordering a Spritz at 10am is a normal activity, but larks the Venetians are not. The city seems quiet in the evenings, unless you know where to look, but on summer nights the lagoon is busy with the bobbing lights of fishing boats and the deadly roar of boy-racers trying out pimped-up boat engines at full throttle. The Piccolo Mondo, which billed itself as Venice’s premier night club may finally (and unlamentedly) have closed its doors, but you can still go raving out at Alberoni beach, and the Punta della Dogana is a popular spot for partiers to watch the dawn come up over San Marco.
Perhaps that’s what gives the particular dreamy quality to high summer days in the city. As Jan Morris beautifully observed:
"In Venice… you have the comforting feeling that if you let things drift, and treat life undemandingly, your objectives will eventually be achieved. Do not be alarmed if you lose sight of your friend on a disappearing vaporetto: hang about the Piazza for a while, and she will turn up, miraculously, without surprise or reproach. Do not be despondent if the hull of your boat is splintered by a passing barge…somehow or other, if you do not make a fuss, the boatyard will be able to mend it.”
But Venice wasn’t always a city of drifters. While the Rialto was the Wall Street of the world, the Arsenale gates opened at dawn and the Venetians were famed for being able to build and fit out a galleon from scratch before anyone else had had time for a brioche. The speediness of their provisioning required a supply of durable, long-lasting foodstuffs which could be prepared in advance and quartermaster into the holds as the ships made their way along the production line. The present-day Naval Museum is housed in what was once the granary of the Venetian fleets, a giant biscuit factory next to the Arsenale proper which produced the hard tack on which the sailors mostly lived.Depending on which gondoliere you ask, the longevity of Venetian ships' biscuit was anything from twenty years to a century- any way their lifespan was legendary.
“ Putting up” food for the winter is an activity that begins in summer here- pickling early vegetables, stewing up vats of tomato sauce- but it’s definitely best done first thing, before the kitchen gets intolerably hot. We’re not suggesting you try Venetian hard tack, but this week’s recipes are great to have about, to be pulled out of the cupboard later for an effortless supper.
There’s no real season for pineapples in Europe so we don’t feel bad about putting this here. Served chilled, the spiced fruit somehow feels summery, and it’s a brilliant relish for a barbecue or served with prosciutto crudo for a cichetto. Don’t stress about the quantities- a raisin here or there doesn’t make too much difference.
700g pineapple (ideally fresh)
1.2 litres white wine vinegar
700g soft brown sugar
4 garlic cloves
2 tbsp each ground coriander, ground ginger, paprika, mustard powder (or 1 tbsp kalonji mustard seed)
1tbsp chili flakes
Chop the pineapple into rough chunks, not too small, and put it with all the other ingredients in a large pan. Bring to a simmer, then reduce the heat to minimum and cook, stirring occasionally for about 2 hours until you have an alarmingly dark but savoury, tangy gloop. While the chutney’s cooking, run some glass jars through the dishwasher and leave them there until ready to use, or wash thoroughly in hot water and put in the oven at 100 degrees to dry. You could go with waxy paper hats and elastic bands, but this keeps very well out of the fridge for a few weeks, which is the longest a batch ever seems to hang around.
FENNEL SEED BISCUITS
We served these with lavender-infused goats’ cheese at our last Primavera Supper Club
These are a savoury-sweet biscuit which can be kept on hand for snacking or else for really reliable canape biscuits. A far cry from the ‘worm castles’ that were commonly served on long voagers, but if you are looking for a hardier- biscuit don’t roll them out as thin and bake twice. In the photo we used wholewheat flour so they are slightly darker than normal.
Makes about 20
1 cup of plain flour (or wholewheat like in the photo)
1/2tsp of baking powder
1/2tsp of salt
1 pinch of sugar
4 tbsp water
3tbsp olive oil
2 tsps of crushed fennel seeds, we have also used cumin, sesame and any other flavouring you fancy
tsps of fine sugar sprinkling
Preheat oven to 180c. Mix all the ingredients together and roll out to aprox 3mm and then cut into circles around 5cm diameter. Size is personal choice here, but I think that it is important to consider the structural integreity of a larger biscuit. Possible the time to be thrice baked.
Once you have cut out circles place them on a lined baking tray and bake for 10 minutes. Pull them out and sprinkle fine sugar over each one. Finish them off in the oven for another 3 minutes, whilst the sugar melts and crystalises.
Best accompaniment: goats cheese and lavender honey dressing.
1 tbsp of olive oil
1 tbsp of honey
1/2 garlic clove
pinch of salt
tsp of dried lavender
Heat all together over a low heat, let cool slightly before drizzling over the goats cheese and crackers.
OLIVE OIL BATHED TONNO
This is in fact not tuna atall, but a slow cooked pork recipe. Origianlly it would the pork would be salted for upto 4 days before being cooked, but seeing as we are not going to be making barrel- fulls we find that this that is bathed in olive oil and gently cooked over 2 hours. The end result resembles cooked tuna (hence the name) and the taste is delicious and luxurious. It can be served hot or cold and given the oil it will last a long time. There is nothing rushed about this dish but it is perfect for a slow early morning, with very little chopping. We made our own twist on this by using pork shin with the bone and also added some rice to the cooking process in order to make it a really one pot wonder.
1.2 kg boned shoulder of pork (in the photo we couldn’t get our hands on this and so ended up cooking it with a pork shin, bone in and it was delicious)
2 large handful of Coarse Salt
4 bay leaves
4 rosemary sprigs
6 juniper berries( optional)
3 sage leaves
3 garlic bulbs (cut in half horizontally)
3 lemons quatered 1 whole
150ml white wine
1.2 litres of olive oil
2 cups of risotto rice
Preheat oven to 150c.
(If your meat has not been boned ignore steps 1 and 2)
1. Cut the pork into equal pieces
2. Season all over with coarse salt and let this sit for 2 -3 hours. Then wash off the salt and pat dry.
3. Put into a heavy based pan, along with garlic, lemon herbs, rice, wine and oil. The oil should be covering the pork slightly. Let this simmer for 10 minutes over a low heat and then cook in the oven with the lid on for 2.5hours, or until the meat is meltingly tender.
Once cooked, gently put the pork to one side as you strain 2/3 of the oil, leaving about 2cm of the oil in and then return to the flame with the rice, lemons and garlic. Add some boiling water and over a low heat continue to stir for a few minutes until the whiteness has completely gone from rice and then cover until ready to serve.
Break the pork up with forks and conserve it in a mason jar with the strained olive oil, topping up with more if you need.
This way of serving pork is fantastic as something on the weekeneds. It is incredibly versitile and forgiving, works well served at room temperature but also can be dressed up a little of a last minute but delicious dinner. Try it on crostini, with pasta, tossed between salad leaves or served by itself with a sturdy bean or alongside risotto.