Dine Like a Venetian


The food you eat when you’re away can make memories that can be recalled for a lifetime. Salty chips with ketchup reminds me of being around the pool in Gran Canaria as a kid, orecchiette always transports me to my first trip to Puglia in Italy and BBQ’d corn-on-the-cob with butter will forever take me back to the beaches of Koh Tao, Thailand…

In April, I visited Venice. I had massively high hopes for this movie set of a city, and it did not let me down. I’ve very rarely felt like a film star and such a tourist all at once but after arriving at the hotel by speed boat I was on cloud 9! The view from the hotel window looked straight down one of the picture perfect canals in what I had discovered during my research, was the Jewish Getto quarter of the floating city.

Venice is known for its exquisite seafood and a priority for me was sampling the local cuisine in style. I planned ahead, knowing that we would be taking everybody’s advice and wondering aimlessly for three days solid (proven to be the only way to see the real Venice), and booked us in at Osteria Da Rioba. Having a dinner reservation for what was to be our special meal of the weekend was a huge time saver. Later, finding out that the restaurant we had booked was 2 bridges away from our hotel was an absolute God-send‚ and meant I could pack my heels!

Da Rioba was a small, modest but beautiful restaurant on the corner of alleyway-meets-canal a stone’s throw away from our hotel. A few tables outside with wall heaters providing a soft orange glow, meant we could sit and listen to the stillness of the water and passing locals whilst sipping a pre-dinner Prosecco.

The staff were fab and I think they ranked us slightly higher than “tourists” thanks to the pre-booking and the very nice Valpolicella Ripasso I ordered off the bat! So we were treated very well amidst a full to bursting buzz of locals – some couples, some friends, all Italian.

When the menu came, I was surprised to find a mix of some great non-seafood options for my other half, as well as some slightly more adventurous local delights for me. I settled on their mixed starter, followed by spaghetti in a sauce of cuttlefish ink.

The mixed starter came in a 4 partition platter, with generous samples of mackerel, prawns, cod and squid, all served with a mixture of polenta, juniper berries, tomato salsa and dill – all so fresh and so delicious.

The cuttlefish ink sauce was the real show stopper. I had seen an American girl earlier that day struggling with it in a street-side restaurant down in Castello, and had thought she really was making hard work of it. Needless to say my mouth remained an interesting shade of dark grey for about half an hour after I had finished, but it was well worth it! It was beautifully cooked pasta and tender strips of squid with just a hint of the sea coming through the rich creamy jet black sauce.

Making a mental note, I knew it would be one to share. The recipe I have followed and just managed to conjure up Venice in our dining room is this one I found on chilliandchocolate.com.

Spaghetti with Squid Ink Sauce


2 large squid tubes
2 sachets of squid ink
1 can chopped tomatoes
1 medium red onion
2 garlic cloves
500g long pasta (such as spaghetti or linguine – we used the latter)
120g grated pecorino cheese (parmesan will do at a pinch)
Flaked red chilli


After washing the squid tubes, carefully peel off the outer membrane, taking care not to tear the soft, white flesh.

Slice the squid tubes into 1cm-thick rings and leave to one side.

Finely chop the red onion and garlic.

Cook your pasta in a separate saucepan with some lightly salted water – drain and leave to one side when the pasta is al dente.

Pour a good glug of olive oil into a deep saucepan and sweat the onion and garlic over a low heat.

When the onion has softened and become translucent, add the chopped tomatoes and stir thoroughly.

When the tomato sauce has heated through, add the squid rings and allow them to cook for 5 minutes.

Add the squid ink and watch your sauce transform from a vibrant red to an inky black.

Add the chilli flakes (as much as you think you could handle) and stir thoroughly.

Take your cooked pasta and tip the pasta into your sauce, stirring the sauce through the pasta.

Serve each portion of your pasta and squid ink sauce in deep dishes, grating the pecorino and drizzling some good olive oil over the pasta at the last moment.


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Two Greedy Italians and a Plate of Ricotta Gnocchi


This spring, the Beeb hosted the 4 part mini-series Two Greedy Italians and I was hooked…

The show followed Gennaro Contaldo and Antonio Carluccio, two chef heavy weights in the UK restaurant scene, pootling back to their Italian roots after 40 years away in a 1960’s Giulietta (that’s an old blue Alfa Romeo to us girls)…

Each of the episodes focussed on a different region and theme: festivals, family, religion and the “can’t-help-but-laugh’ banter between the chef duo made for some very funny between-recipe entertainment. Although it is clear that Gennaro is the prankster of the two, pulling an octopus out of his speedos during a fishing trip, and hilariously catering for Antonio’s blind date, he also served up some of the simplest, traditional Italian grub I have come across.

The recipe which caught my attention was the home made gnocchi. I love gnocchi, but it can be overwhelmingly filling so this lighter version made with flour and ricotta was a must try. The recipe was Gennaro’s mothers, and featured as a “Cuccina Poveria” specialty from Northern Italy. It was a perfect Friday night tea with a cold glass of Pinot Blush.


For the dumplings
200g plain flour, plus extra for dusting
1 tub ricotta
3 free-range egg yolks
30g parmesan, freshly grated
pinch of freshly grated nutmeg
salt and freshly ground black pepper

For the sauce:
6 tbsp olive oil
3 garlic cloves, peeled, cut into thick slices
1 chilli, sliced
2 x 400g/14oz cans tinned plum tomatoes, each tomato chopped in half
few basil leaves

1. Mix the flour, ricotta, egg yolks, parmesan, nutmeg and seasoning together in a large bowl to form a soft, moist dough.
2. Tip the mixture out onto a floured work surface and knead for 3-5 minutes. Roll the dough into a long, thin sausage shape, then cut into dumplings about 2cm/1in long.
3. Cook the dumplings for 3-4 minutes in a large saucepan of salted boiling water.
4. Meanwhile for the sauce, heat the olive oil in a frying pan and fry the garlic and chilli for one minute, then remove the pan from the heat and add the plum tomatoes.
5. Return the pan to the heat, bring to the boil and simmer for five minutes.
6. Remove the dumplings from the pan with a slotted spoon and add them to the tomato sauce.
7. To serve, spoon the dumplings onto a serving plate and sprinkle over the basil leaves.

All the recipes from the series can be found on BBC Food.

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