Venice: Warm Autumn Days and New Beginnings
“L’Estate di San Martino”, Saint Martin’s Summer, is a time when warm weather returns, albeit briefly, before winter – our Indian Summer. In Italy, it is a moment to bask in the joy of the harvest and wine making when the coffers are full of the bounty from spring and summer’s hard work in the fields. It has come to symbolize a time of change and “new beginnings.” The new vintage is almost ready, which means barrels need to be fully emptied from last year’s wine to be cleaned for the new.
Venice’s way of celebrating this time of year is one of the most festive, especially for children. Our menu this week takes inspiration from Venetian ingredients and specialties paired with Soave Classico, one the region’s best wines.
Fragrant and racy, this elegant, focused white opens with heady scents of yellow stone fruit, spring blossom and wild herb. The vibrant, savory palate delivers apricot and pineapple. Meyer lemon and white almond set against zesty acidity that leaves a dry, juicy finish.
Chef's Travel Notes
This year we have been enjoying an extended Indian Summer – a period in mid to late autumn of abnormally warm weather. In Italy, “l’Estate di San Martino,” or “St. Martin’s Summer” celebrates this same phenomenon. The story goes that Martino, as a young Roman soldier, comes upon a poor, freezing beggar, cuts his own military cloak in half and shares it with him. It is said that God was so pleased by this compassionate gesture that He sent the sun to warm them both. And so, November 11, the Feast of San Martino, has come to symbolize the brief return of good, warm weather.
As often happens in Italy, pagan, Christian and agrarian customs, replete with traditional meaning, combine to create a time of great celebration. It is a moment to bask in the joy of the harvest and winemaking when the coffers are full of the bounty of spring and summer’s hard work in the fields. It has come to symbolize a time of change and “new beginnings.” The new vintage is almost ready, which means that barrels need to be fully emptied from last year’s wine to be cleaned for the new. November 11 is the day when new wine or “vino novello” is released. New beginnings also because all social and civil activities would start then. For centuries it marked the start of Parliamentary activities, of agricultural contracts, and, until the 19th century, the school year. It was even the moment popularly chosen to move domiciles – all great changes traditionally took place on St. Martin’s day.
Though every region has its own unique way of celebrating, Venice is one of the most festive, particularly for children. They go around town banging on pots and pans asking for sweets or money to buy the beloved “Dolce di San Martino,” a large sugar cookie in the shape of the Saint riding a horse, ornately decorated with colorful frosting and candy.
This week’s menu takes inspiration from Venetian specialties and ingredients. “Andare a cicchetto” – going for a nibble – is a popular past time of frequenting walk-up windows throughout the city to grab a glass of wine or prosecco with a savory bite, almost always standing up. Cicchetti al Salmone are crostini topped with our house-cured salmon laced with the pungent aroma of star anise and garnished with crème fraiche and fresh herbs.
Risi e Bisi is Venice’s iconic risotto. Vialone Nano rice, grown in the Padano Plain to the south, has a very high starch content, making it perfectly suited for our creamy risotto. It is really a cross between a risotto and a soup giving it a slightly thinner consistency. It is enhanced with frozen (soon after harvest) peas, pancetta, mint and parmigiano.
Sogliola all Mugnaia is a nod to Italy’s norther neighbors, France, who also claims St. Martin as their patron saint. Venice’s lagoon is filled with a plethora of delicately flavored fish. Our flounder is local, fresh from the Chesapeake Bay, fished by a small family fleet. “All Mugnaia,” or "a la Meuniere" in French, is a simple but flavorful preparation using butter and fresh lemon juice.
Torta di Zucca, Pumpkin Cake, showcases one of the Veneto’s most reveared vegetables. Its favorite variety is “Zucca Suca Baruca” (warty pumpkin), a slightly squashed sphere with gnarled dark green skin and vibrant orange flesh. We garnish our spice cake with a dollop of whipped orange mascarpone.
The Pieropan family business was founded in 1880 in the Medieval village of Soave. For four generations, they have been producing some of Veneto’s best wines. The Soave Classico is the youngest, freshest wine they offer, made with grapes from west-facing slopes with volcanic soil. The color is a bright yellow with a hint of green. A wonderful floral nose and well-balanced palate that will pair beautifully with our Venetian menu.
New beginnings – a time to clean out old wine from the barrels to make way for the new. Humm….this sounds very familiar and the analogy to current events is not lost on anyone in Washington today. Maybe we should take heed, no matter how we voted, to assess what has been accomplished while we make way for the newest vintage.
“Chi voul far buon vino, zappi e poti a San Martino.”
"Whoever wants to make good wine, hoe and prune on the day of St. Martin."
Words to live by especially now.