Smaller the size, the sweeter the treat

Published 12:04 am Saturday, March 10, 2012

Try this different take on an old favorite.

I have had the pleasure of visiting Venice several times and love the city. I was reading an article in the March issue of ‘Saveur’ magazine, and it just reminded me of the great food, and my desire to go back one day. In my goal of trying new foods for the year, the little bites of Venice, called cicheti, seemed a good choice for the month.

Cicheti is a Venetian thing and like most things Venetian – water taxis, many species of fish, high-heel wading boots the women wear and flood waters—these little bites are not like anything you will find anywhere else in the world. These foods might resemble Spain’s tapas or Greece’s mezedes in their size and variety, and they, in fact, stem from the same old tradition of offering quick bites while imbibing or doing business, but they belong to no place other than Venice. These bite size foods can be eaten as a snack or an appetizer, or just an impromptu meal with a friend.

The word cicheti is in the Venetian dialect; some think it stems from the French word chiquer, “to chew;” others believe its root is the Latin ciccus, meaning “trifle.” Servings of cicheti cost no more than a few euros, but the dishes speak of the city’s rich history as a culinary crossroads, when trade on the Grand Canal brought spices and exotic ingredients from all over the world.

Many of these dishes use seafood since sardines and octopus are plentiful in the lagoons. What is so appealing is that these dishes speak to the seasons. Artichokes are used often when in season, often fried or marinated and stuffed with anchovies, or wrapped in pancetta.

I think this is a wonderful way to entertain friends. I have chosen three of the dishes from the article to get going on my menu. Of interest, Venetians love the use of squishy, white bread, leftover from the English tradition of tea sandwiches. They use it as a canvas for all kinds of seasonal fillings like arugula, asparagus and more. I do like Bunny bread for some little sandwiches!


Fried Mozzarella Sandwiches

(Mozzarella in Carozza)

Serves 4

Canola oil, for frying (I used peanut oil, and it worked fine.)

6 oz. sliced mozzarella

8 slices white sandwich bread

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

½ cup flour

2 eggs, lightly beaten

1 cup plain bread crumbs (I used panko crumbs or Japanese bread crumbs.)

Pour oil to a depth of 2” in a 6-qt. Dutch oven; heat over medium-high heat until a deep-fry thermometer reads 350 degrees F. Divide mozzarella slices among four slices bread; season with salt and pepper, and cover with remaining slices to make four sandwiches. Trim crusts; halve sandwiches diagonally.

Place flour, eggs and bread crumbs in three separate bowls. Dredge sandwiches in flour, coat in eggs, and coat in bread crumbs; fry until golden brown, about two minutes. (I used leftover white bread, which had been in the fridge for several days, and it was just perfect to hold the sandwiches together.). This was a wonderful little sandwich.

Shrimp with Pancetta and Rosemary

(Gamberi al Rosmarino)

Serves 4-6

Serve these garlicky shrimp with lots of crusty bread.

8 oz. pancetta, finely chopped

¼ cup olive oil

4 cloves garlic, thinly chopped

16 medium shrimp, deveined

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

½ cup white wine

2 sprigs rosemary, stemmed

1 medium tomato, cored, seeded, and finely chopped

Crusty bread, for serving

Heat pancetta and oil in a 12” skillet over medium-high heat; cook until crisp, for six to eight minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer pancetta to a plate. Add garlic to skillet; cook for a minute. Season shrimp with salt and pepper; add to skillet. Cook until pink, about two minutes. Add wine, rosemary and tomato; cook until wine is reduced by half, about two to three minutes. Sprinkle with pancetta.

This dish was also delicious. I like shrimp and rosemary together.


Bacon-Wrapped Artichokes

(Fondi di Carciofi)

Serves 6-8

Canola oil, for frying

2 14-oz. jars artichoke hearts

8 slices bacon, halved crosswise

1/3 cup freshly grated Parmesan

1 tbsp. ground black pepper

Pour oil to a depth of 2” in a 6-qt. Dutch oven; heat over medium-high heat until a deep-fry thermometer reads 350 degrees F. Place each artichoke heart on one end of a bacon slice, sprinkle with some of the Parmesan and pepper, and roll up; secure with a toothpick. Fry until golden brown, about three minutes. Drain.

Buon Appetito!