Thanks to recent heavy rains and a storm surge (which seem to be going around, these days), more than half of Venice is under water. I thought today would be a good time to revisit and celebrate La Serenissima and her many culinary wonders.
My first visit to Venezia was on a misty November day in 1995, with a group of girlfriends from the Italian high school I was attending at the time. I fell in love with Venice immediately and eternally, although I am embarrassed to say that my first meal in Venice as a seventeen year old exchange student probably consisted of pizza and Coca-Cola.
A couple of years later, I escaped the tedium of my college life and returned to Venice on winter break. My American friend and I were tired, cranky, and hopelessly lost in the Dorsoduro. I had nearly fallen into a canal earlier that day, and both my ego and right hip were badly bruised. Rain began to fall as we found ourselves surrounded by schoolchildren on their way home. A girl of about ten was walking close by my side in the narrow calle, and I was surreptitiously taking advantage of the shelter of her umbrella. As my friend tried to (not so gently) pull me out of the girl’s way, the girl admonished him, “No, no, la tenevo proprio sotto! (No, no–I was keeping her under my umbrella on purpose!)”
I returned to Venice this February with my husband for the second leg of our European honeymoon, my heart nearly bursting during our ride, via water taxi, to our hotel. We stayed in a nine-room palazzo on the Grand Canal, and upon learning that E. and I were on our viaggi di nozze, the proprietors upgraded us from our small interior room to a suite–a suite!–overlooking the Grand Canal. Every day we’d throw open our shutters and gaze in awe at the sun glinting on the water as Venice began her day.
We spent many hours happily perusing the Rialto Market, wishing we had a kitchen so that we could cook some of the bounty we admired: silvery fish, purple-tipped artichokes, and overflowing baskets of lettuces and radicchio. One sunny morning, we were fortunate to discover an Italian fish fry about to take place in the market’s adjoining piazza. Fritto misto and white wine at 11:00 am? Yes, please!
Every day we’d get happily lost for hours in Venezia’s dreamlike, labyrinthine calle. No matter how many museums we visited, however, or how many times we stopped for cicheti, E. and I always made it a point to return to our hotel before sunset. We’d sit on the terrace, sip a cocktail, and watch the sun set over the Rialto bridge. Ladies and Gentlemen, may I present to you the Aperol Spritz?
Like so many Italian inventions, the Aperol Spritz (or just “spritz,” if you’re Venetian) is simple, elegant, and unlikely to ever go out of style. Aperol is a lower-alcohol cousin of Campari, tasting of bitter and sweet oranges mingled with rhubarb and various herbs. Some might argue that the Aperol Spritz is a decidedly summertime cocktail, but oranges are a winter fruit, after all, and Prosecco is never out of season.
My heart is never far away from La Serenissima. As these autumn days grow shorter and we lean ever more sharply into what portends to be a harsh winter, I will continue our honeymoon tradition of an Aperol Spritz before dinner. And I will dream of Venice and her sunsets.
3 parts Prosecco
2 parts Aperol
1 splash club soda
Pour over ice, garnish with a slice of orange, and let yourself be transported to Venice at dusk.