Venice... but not as you know it
Russell Norman’s deliciously simple cookbook celebrates Italy’s greatest hidden cuisine
It’s a Venetian cookbook (of sorts). Or that’s how Russell Norman’s beautifully designed and eminently usable new cookbook modestly describes itself. It’s probably the understatement of the culinary year. For Polpo, in the heart of London’s Soho, is one of the nest places to eat Venetianstyle food outside of Venice. And you can now do it yourself.
Forget the usual tourist fare, and the dreary recipes that have given the city a shoddy reputation among some gourmands. This is the real thing. Zucchini shoestring fries, and asparagus with Parmesan and anchovy butter; osso bucco with saffron risotto and cavolo nero; gnocchi and Pecorino Romano.
There’s even a cheeky little recipe for the wonderfully named Sgroppino – effectively, a rather posh iced Slush Puppy. here are 140 recipes covering the full gamut of exuberantly simple local specialities, from bread and fish, through meat, vegetables and desserts to drinks. And Russell really does know what he’s doing. He first visited Venice – ‘If you couldn’t see it with your eyes and touch it with your fingers, you would think it was some poetic fancy’ – as a student in the late 1980s. And he never looked back. Indeed, Polpo, ‘a version of a bàcaro in London: Venetian cichèti adapted for metropolitan sensibilities in a relaxed setting’, was the manifestation of that lifelong love affair.
But this is a romance based on simplicity. As Russell explains: ‘We have a rule that a dish is ready to put on the menu only when we have taken out as many ingredients as possible. As Antoine de Saint-Exupéry said: “Perfection is achieved not when there is nothing more to add, but when there is nothing left to take away”. Most of the recipes have three or four ingredients (not counting stuff in your larder) and some require no cooking; they are easy but delicious exercises in assembly.’
Delicious. Authentic. And easy. What are you waiting for? Give your taste buds a treat.
Polpo: A Venetian Cookbook (Of Sorts) by Russell Norman, with photography by Jenny Zarins (Bloomsbury, £25).
GRILLED FENNEL AND WHITE ANCHOVY SKEWERS (pictured top)
This little cichèto follows the two-ingredients- on-a-toothpick method and the two strong flavours of this little cichèti skewer work very well together. Grilling the fennel helps to heighten its lovely aniseed qualities.
For 10 skewers
- 1 small fennel bulb
- Extra virgin olive oil
- Flaky sea salt
- 1 handful of roughly chopped dill fronds
- 10 white anchovy fillets
Preheat your oven grill to medium. Slice the fennel bulb through the root into medium-thin sections around 5mm thick. Place the slices on to a baking tray and drizzle with a little olive oil. Add a few pinches of salt, half the dill and toss a few times to coat. Place the baking tray under the preheated grill, turning over once, for 10-15 minutes, or until the fennel is starting to brown at the edges. Remove and set aside.
When the fennel has cooled enough to handle, take a single white anchovy fillet and skewer it, together with a single piece of grilled fennel. You can then arrange.
WARM DUCK SALAD WITH WET WALNUTS AND BEETS
Wet walnuts are a great delicacy of autumn and have a distinctive soft bite to them. They are so satisfying alongside the duck and beetroot. And if you are lucky enough to have intact leaves on the beets, reserve them, washed, for the salad.
For four to six
- 4 medium beetroots, and their leaves, if available
- Splash of red wine vinegar
- 1 tbsp caster sugar
- 2 confit duck legs
- 1 garlic clove, finely chopped
- 100g rocket leaves
- 2 red chicories, divided into leaves
- 1 tbsp mustard dressing (100ml olive oil, 25ml red wine vinegar, 1 tbsp Dijon mustard, pinch of salt and pepper, 1 tsp sugar, all whisked together in a bowl)
- 1 shallot, finely sliced
- 100g shelled wet walnuts
First, cook the beetroots in plenty of water with the red wine vinegar and caster sugar. Cook at a gentle boil for 45 minutes or so, depending on their size. You should be able to push a knife through easily when they are done. Remove from the water and allow to cool slightly, but peel them while they are still warm. Cut the beetroots into quarters.
Preheat the oven to 200C/gas 6. Take the confit duck legs, remove and discard the skin. Now pick the meat from the legs and place it into a roasting tray. Discard the bones. Add the beetroot and garlic and place in the oven for no more than 5 minutes – just to heat it through.
Put the rocket, beet leaves (if using) and chicory into a large mixing bowl. Add the mustard dressing, the finely sliced shallot, the wet walnuts and finally the warm duck and beetroot. Turn a few times to coat everything nicely and then serve.
Daily tip from the lady archive
"BE careful with your mouth make-up. By careless work you may obliterate well-cut lines, and you will always achieve a badly groomed look if your lipstick is smudged and badly applied."The Lady, Make-Up for Mouths, 8th January, 1942