A Small Guide on How to Spend a Winter Day in Venice

It was January the day I saw Venice again after several years of forgetting about the existence of this city. Zaira invited me to visit her, and I clearly remember the foggy day we met, walking around in a sort of first-date happiness. Maybe I fell in love with Venice in winter after that day. I have visited this city in great company, with Betty and Skye, and with Valeria and Valentina… but ever since meeting Zaira, and after visiting in all four seasons, winter remained my favorite time to enjoy Venice.

One of the best things to do in Venice, especially if you only spend a day there, is to just walk around and breathe in as much of the city as possible. This little guide was born from my personal experience with the best local guide one could possibly hope for, and I hope it will be of some use to you, as well. Check the bottom of the post for some useful link love and venetian recipes to try at home!

Venice is split in half by the Canal Grande, and divided in neighborhoods or, in Venetian, ’Sestieri’, to the north and south of it. The northeastern sestiere is Castello,mostly occupied by the Arsenale, a mighty shipyard from the XIIth century, and by the only gardens in Venice, all the way south.
The most central sestiere is San Marco, which hosts the famous square and basilica, as well as the Theater La Fenice, the Fortuny Museum, the Bridge of Sighs, and many other famous sights. Moving north, on the same side of the Canal Grande, is Cannaregio, my favorite: its narrow, confusing alleys are not as attractive to tourists as the rest of the city, and the Jewish Ghetto is one of the most beautiful areas to just get lost and walk in. Cannaregio is also where the train station is. Moving south of the Canal Grande, you will find Santa Croce to the west, the part with the bus stop that connects to the land; then Sestiere San Polo, the bustling heart of the city there the Rialto Bridge and market are. Finally, all the way south, Sestiere Dorsoduro, with its beautiful air bohemienne, the Art Accademia, and many other incredible museums of art. 

Venice MapA Small Guide on How to Spend a Winter Day in Venice | Hortus Italian Cooking by Valentina SolfriniA Small Guide on How to Spend a Winter Day in Venice | Hortus Italian Cooking by Valentina SolfriniVenice rendition by Tintoretto(Venice rendition by Tintoretto)A Small Guide on How to Spend a Winter Day in Venice | Hortus Italian Cooking by Valentina Solfrini


1. MORNING

  • Winter mornings in Venice are crisp and shrouded in the almost exoteric aura of an early fog, afloat above the canals. The sounds of the water splashing against the walls and your steps echoing in the ‘calle’ caress your ears.
    As you wake in this magical atmosphere, set out on a hunt for breakfast.
    You can stop at one of the several Rosa Salva pastry shops, and enjoy the most traditional Italian breakfast of cappuccino with pastries. Or, since you’re on vacation, stop at one of the many ‘pasticcerie’ and grab a local delicacy like ‘pan del doge’, a thick sweet bread loaded with dried fruit, nuts and honey, or ‘Baci in gondola’ (gondola kisses), two fluffy meringues glued together with dark chocolate.
  • Get lost amongst canals and Calle and, when ready, head to Rialto, where you will find the wonderful seafood and produce market, open until 12 PM. There, you will witness old Venetian ladies searching for ripe fruit, locals and fishmongers talking and shouting in Venetian dialect, and a variety of Italian seafood you might not have witnessed before.

  • With all that food and walking, you will probably be hungry now. Venice is a place of street food and wine, with many bacári (local rustic eateries) offering quick bites and cheap yet great glasses of wine. Right there, close to the market, you can have the most traditional stand-up lunch at the bacáro Al Mercá: you will find several cicchetti (finger foods) to choose from, but do NOT miss the panini with baccalá mantecato (salted cod, slow cooked in milk and oil until as creamy as a dip)!

  • Slightly more to the west there is another excellent bacaro called Cantina Do Mori, with its old, characteristic hanging polenta pots and large wooden wine vats on display, where you could stop for just a drink as well. While you are in Venice, do try some world-famous Veneto whites, such as Soave, or Recioto ‘della Valpolicella’ or ‘di Soave’, or sweet Moscato, three of my favorites. 

A Small Guide on How to Spend a Winter Day in Venice | Hortus Italian Cooking by Valentina SolfriniA Small Guide on How to Spend a Winter Day in Venice | Hortus Italian Cooking by Valentina SolfriniA Small Guide on How to Spend a Winter Day in Venice | Hortus Italian Cooking by Valentina Solfrini

2. AFTERNOON

  • Time to cross the bridge – which will not be crazy crowded in the winter – and head to Gelatoteca Suso and enjoy some of the most delicious gelato ever for dessert. Their forte is Gianduja with salted pistachio, which is every bit as good as it sounds and it would be worth the detour even if you were not in the area.

  • At this point, you could pay a visit to Fontego dei Tedeschi, an ancient palace-turned-luxury shop, which would be of no special interest if it weren’t for the fact that its rooftop terrace, with a view on all of Venice, is absolutely worth the trip. This beautiful palace right on Canal Grande is packed on weekends, so make sure to book your spot. Me and Zaira just dropped by there on a Monday afternoon and found but a very small crowd, and enjoyed a wonderful sunset over the rooftops, altane and crips breeze.

  • You are very close to one of the most wondrous places in Venice: Libreria Acqua Alta. Here you will find old books and prints stacked in piles, in old gondolas, in messy heaps that smell like mold and sea and paper and is absolutely magical. There is no place I would recommend visiting more than this one.

  • Let us take the large walking tour, and head down south to San Marco. When the days are short, the sight of Piazza San Marco sparkling over the water, with its porticos and huge lamp posts, is absolutely breathtaking. At this point, you can double up on coffee and stop at one of the Rosa Salva here, if you didn’t already try it for breakfast. Or, if you have a good amount of disposable income, you can try sitting at one of the fanciest cafés in Italy, the fresco-ed, gilded, baroque Café Florian, right under the porticos of St. Mark’s place.

  • Head all the way west to Ponte dell’Accademia, and cross over to reach Dorsoduro. If you like art (and if you do you are in the right place), consider visiting Gallerie dell’Accademia, a beautiful museum home of paintings by Tintoretto, Tiepolo, Veronese, Tiziano, and all the most important exponents of the Venetian School. I, who have such deep love for art and have been studying it my whole life, have not been here yet and dying to go.

  • It is aperitivo-time. Do not miss your chance to try a good Spritz (a Venetian cocktail made with Campari, Prosecco and Seltz), or a really good Prosecco, at yet another bacaro. In this area, try one of the oldest in Venice: Bottegon giá Schiavi. You will immediately recognize its tattered wooden front, and might incur into a small crowd at the entrance.
    In case you feel like doubling your gelato intake, head all the way south to the coast – the area known as Le Zattere – to Gelateria Nico . This gelato shop is not just any gelato shop: aside the classic flavors, you can order a tall cup of Gianduja with cream: a thick slab of solid Nutella-like creamy chocolate, topped with fresh whipped cream. I decline any responsibility for any clothes you might not fit into after this one – wear loose pants. 
A Small Guide on How to Spend a Winter Day in Venice | Hortus Italian Cooking by Valentina Solfrini

Pardon the flare!

A Small Guide on How to Spend a Winter Day in Venice | Hortus Italian Cooking by Valentina SolfriniA Small Guide on How to Spend a Winter Day in Venice | Hortus Italian Cooking by Valentina SolfriniA Small Guide on How to Spend a Winter Day in Venice | Hortus Italian Cooking by Valentina SolfriniA Small Guide on How to Spend a Winter Day in Venice | Hortus Italian Cooking by Valentina SolfriniA Small Guide on How to Spend a Winter Day in Venice | Hortus Italian Cooking by Valentina Solfrini

(Valeria Necchio‘s Spritz and recipe for Polpette di Baccalá)

A Small Guide on How to Spend a Winter Day in Venice | Hortus Italian Cooking by Valentina SolfriniA Small Guide on How to Spend a Winter Day in Venice | Hortus Italian Cooking by Valentina SolfriniA Small Guide on How to Spend a Winter Day in Venice | Hortus Italian Cooking by Valentina Solfrini

(Pardon the flare in this photo!)

3. EVENING

  • If you’re longing for a nice sit-down dinner, do your research first and beware of the many unfortunate tourist traps Venice is famous for. Seafood will definitely rob your wallet, but it is a nice experience if you decide to go for it. For something more chill, try Osteria Bancogiro back in Rialto, or Al Mascaron, a place Zaira told me she really wants to try at some point. Wherever you decide to go for dinner, make sure to book your table in advance.
  • In my numerous trips to the city, I have never stayed overnight, but if I did, I would definitely look up the concert and opera program at La Fenice, or the shows at Teatro Goldoni, or – my dream – a concert in one of the churches where camera ensembles play Vivaldi.
  • End your day with a nice nighttime stroll through the lights floating above the water and the silence, as the lull of the waves etches the very soul of this ethereal city into your heart.

A Small Guide on How to Spend a Winter Day in Venice | Hortus Italian Cooking by Valentina SolfriniA Small Guide on How to Spend a Winter Day in Venice | Hortus Italian Cooking by Valentina SolfriniA Small Guide on How to Spend a Winter Day in Venice | Hortus Italian Cooking by Valentina SolfriniA Small Guide on How to Spend a Winter Day in Venice | Hortus Italian Cooking by Valentina Solfrini

LINK LOVE

~ Valeria Necchio wrote a *wonderful* guide to Venetian eats, which you should check here.
~ Read Emiko Davies‘ article about the ‘Art of Cicchetti-ing‘ to eat vicariously through her words and photos.
~ Again by Emiko, a little guide to walking through Venice (with little ones) with more ideas and suggestions.
~ A beautiful guide to shopping and eating in Venice’s Sestieri by Skye McAlpine.
~ I have no doubt that the most beautiful photos of Venice belong in the gallery of Marco Paris, on Instagram @ilchiaroscuro_ .

VENETIAN RECIPES TO TRY AT HOME

~ A Classic Venetian Risotto (Recipe coming soon!)
~ My Winter Fennel Risotto
~ ‘Scartosso de Fritolin‘ (fried seafood in a paper cone) by The Freaky Table
~ Mussel Gratin & Venetian Style Octopus Salad by The Freaky Table
~ Venetian-style Artichokes by Valeria Necchio
~ Bigoli in Salsa (long pasta with anchovies and onion sauce) by Betty Liu
~ Giulia made Zaletti (corn cookies) from the same book I took my Venetian Risotto recipe from, so they are sure to be a hit.

Have any suggestion for places you loved in Venice? Have you ever been? How was your experience like? Leave a comment below!

A Walnut, Rosemary Chestnut bread from Lunigiana, Tuscany

When God created Tuscany, he must have been in a particularly good mood.
It is a region I always loved with a passion, and going back to visit is always a pleasure. Along the eastern border of Tuscany, which is connected to both my regions – Le Marche and Emilia Romagna, run the Appennines hill chain, and during the fall this land is especially generous, beautiful, and enjoyable (yes, even more than it usually is).
Today, I want to talk about chestnuts, and specifically chestnut flour, which is such a huge tradition of this region.
The flour I am using for today’s recipe comes from a very special place: A part of Tuscany called Lunigiana, which is famous for its Chestnut flour.
Malgrate castle. Image credit goes to http://www.turismoinlunigiana.it/

Malgrate castle. Image credit goes to http://www.turismoinlunigiana.it/

Lunigiana Chestnut Flour has obtained the DOP seal (Protected Designation of Origin). All products that are labeled DOP must be produced and packaged in their specific land of origin, and nowhere else. This ensures that these Italian products are kept wholesome, genuine and authentic all around the world. To make an example using a much more popular product, Balsamic Vinegar of Modena can only be produced in the province of Modena to be labeled DOP. This chestnut flour is stone-ground to a powdery-like consistency after an ancient process of drying the chestnuts by burning chestnut wood for 40 days. It has a nutty, sweet, smoky flavor that  is absolutely unique. It can be used for sweet or savory preparations alike, in pastas and for crepes and fritters, and in all sorts of baked goods like breads, cakes, and the like. Fresh batches are usually put up for sale after november 15th, and each part of Tuscany puts it to good use in their own local recipes.
Lunigiana, the area in which it is produced, is the northernmost part of Tuscany which sits in between Liguria (where chestnut flour is also widely used), the Ligurian sea and the Appennini hills of Emilia-Romagna. This land’s activities are at their peak during the fall: chestnuts, olives, mushrooms and truffles abound here (like in Le Marche!) and every week there is a fair or some sort of event to celebrate all the wonderful products of this land. Fall is definitely the time to be here!
Tuscan Chestnut, Rosemary  & Walnut Bread | Hortus Natural Cooking
Lunigiana Chestnut Flour | Farina di Castagne della Lunigiana
This post is sponsored by Regione Toscana – yes, Tuscany itself, and Vetrina Toscana, a website that promotes products, tourism and activities throughout Tuscany. I am super proud to have been picked along with 5 other bloggers to celebrate this region. Each of us has been given a local product to cook with, and I have been chosen to represent chestnut flour. This batch of flour was kindly sent to me by Montagna Verde – Borgo Antico, a stunning place deep in the lush green of Lunigiana which has a tradition for producing special, local foods with chestnuts. They also sent me the most fragrant chestnut honey ever, which is beyond wonderful drizzled on the bread I made with the flour. All their products are organic and local. This place is a real Italian-style place where you can take some time off and spend the night, have a wholesome meal assembled with local products, and is basically a little dream come true (as many places throughout Italy are).
Last year, I used chestnut flour to make these Italian Vin Santo Cookies, which I encourage you all to try for a totally unique cookie experience. But this time, as I said, I made bread. There are few things I find as comforting as baking a loaf of bread while outside the weather is getting chillier and chillier, and the leaves crispier and crispier.
I have not baked bread in a while, and as soon as I pulled this out of the oven I remembered why. It is so rich, nice and tasty! And when bread is this good, we all know how easy it is to overeat, and we know it’s quite calorific, and then my mom’s on a constant diet and I am always wary of bread and my dad complains he’ll get fat and all the jazz, until my brother will come around when nobody sees him and the day after everyone’s wondering whatever happened to that half loaf that was sitting around. Story of our life.
I never even made chestnut bread before, and I had to exert some serious willpower to stop eating this with homemade chocolate nut spread.
This recipe will make a dense, wonderfully flavorful loaf that will make your whole kitchen smell like fall in Tuscany, with hints of rosemary and smoky undertones. The walnuts complete this loaf perfectly. This bread may not pair with everything, but it is so wholesome and tasty that you will have no problem eating it on its own. It uses the same process I used in my basic guide to bread making, which I encourage you all to check out for better understanding of how baking bread works. Still, because this bread is made heavy by the chestnut flour, which contains no gluten, and the whole grain flours, there is no point in letting it raise too long, so it is slightly quicker to make. In fact, I find this so pleasurable to eat because of its denser consistency!
Chestnut flour is kind of sweet, and this bread has a subtle sweetness that makes it great for breakfast, too. It would also make a great addition to your Thanksgiving table, as it pairs wonderfully with most fall foods! I can picture it dipped in some gravy (vegan, maybe?) or some mushroom pasta sauce. Try it with:
– Some ricotta and chestnut honey
– A homemade chocolate nut butter, or any chocolate sauce (rosemary pairs SO well with chocolate!)
– In a bruschetta spread with seasoned cheeses and fruit compotes or fresh fruit
– Toasted, and dipped in soup (try it with this Pumpkin creamy soup or My beloved Mushroom Soup)
– As a PB+J toast
– On its own, dipped in warm milk or plant milk!
Tuscan Chestnut, Rosemary  & Walnut Bread | Hortus Natural Cooking
Lunigiana Chestnut Flour | Farina di Castagne della Lunigiana

Image on the left: Credit to terredilunigiana.blogspot.it

Walnut Rosemary & Chestnut country bread
 
Prep time
Cook time
Total time
 
(Makes a loaf weighing about 800 grams)
Author:
Cuisine: Italian
Ingredients
  • For the Poolish
  • 150g Strong bread or Manitoba flour
  • 130 to 150ml Water
  • ¼ tsp Active Dry yeast, or 2 grams of fresh yeast
  • For the Bread
  • The Poolish
  • 150g Spelt or whole wheat flour
  • 100g Strong bread flour
  • 100g Chestnut flour
  • 130 to 150ml Water
  • ¼ tsp of Active Dry Yeast
  • 1 very generous tbsp Barley malt, or chestnut honey (or brown sugar)
  • 1 abundant teaspoon of salt
  • ½ cup to 1 cup walnuts, very roughly chopped
  • A couple rosemary sprigs, needles finely chopped
Instructions
  1. Assemble the poolish the evening before the day you want to bake your bread. Dissolve the yeast in the water and stir all the ingredients in a bowl. If 130ml of water make your poolish somewhat loose and wobbly, perfect. If it looks too much like a kneadable piece of dough, add more water. Cover well with plastic wrap, and let it sit for at least 10 hours and up to 18, in a place with a room temperature anywhere from 20C˚ to 28C˚. When ready, the poolish should look bubbly and quite sticky.
  2. Once you are ready o assemble the bread, combine the flours and salt in a bowl, and stir. Again, dissolve the yeast in the water, along with the sweetener of choice. Pour the liquid mixture into the poolish and stir well to combine, then pour this mixture into the bowl with the flours. Add the walnuts and rosemary and mix well - get your hands dirty! The dough does not need to be kneaded for long, but make sure all the ingredients are well combined. You should obtain a smooth ball of dough that does not feel dry but is not really sticky. The water absorption of flours change a lot, so start with less water and add more if you see that you need it. Cover the bowl with the dough with plastic wrap and let it raise for 1 hour. After this time, you will need to perform the first stretch & fold: grab one edge of the dough, stretch it, and fold it on itself. Repeat this several times, for a couple minutes. For more specific instructions, refer to my post on bread making (see above the recipe).
  3. Let it raise for another hour.
  4. Preheat the oven to 480 F / 250 C. Put some water in an ovenproof bowl and place it in the bottom of the oven when you turn it on.
  5. If you have a baking stone, make sure it gets nice and hot. If using a regular tray, oil it slightly to get a better bottom crust, and heat it in the oven when you turn it on.
  6. When the oven is hot, turn the bread carefully and very delicately on your tray or stone, and bake for 5 minutes, before turning down the oven to 450 F / 230 C. After 10 more minutes of baking, remove the bowl of water from the oven - be careful not to burn yourself!
  7. Let the bread bake for another 10 minutes, but check it after 7 minutes or so. The bread is ready when the crust is nice and deep brown, and, if you knock on it, it sounds slightly hollow.
  8. As soon as you pull it out of the oven, cover it with a clean cloth and let it cool. This way, the crust will stay crispy.
Do you have any special use for chestnut flour? Is there something you would like to see using it? I am thinking fritters or pancakes…or both. Do tell!
Thanks a bunch to Tuscany and to all those who got me involved in this post! Thanks, guys!
Tuscan Chestnut, Rosemary  & Walnut Bread | Hortus Natural Cooking
Tuscan Chestnut, Rosemary  & Walnut Bread | Hortus Natural Cooking
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A Menu For the Day of the Dead, & a walk through Le Marche

On November 1st, all the people who have any reason to visit a graveyard, will go and bring some flowers to the dead.
Though I am not a fan of those religious occurrences where you do this and that only once a year, this November we have been blessed by beautiful weather and hazy, fog-shrouded sceneries of orange-tinted trees and fields. It is also a time to cook and eat together, and gather for some family time.

A November walk through Le Marche Region, Italy

A November walk through Le Marche Region, Italy

Two dear people took me through many amazing places in the Le Marche region, of which I am incredibly fond of.
I live in an awkward zone. Gradara, with its beautiful castle, sits on the border between the Romagna and Marche regions, and things can get quite confusing. The dialects can be very diverse even within the very region, and foods, people and traditions change an incredible lot.
Le Marche, with its lush, dark green forests, medieval castles and villages on top of each hill, vast fields and wild beaches, has always been in my heart for many reasons. It was amazing to have the chance to visit three beautiful villages and learn something new (including two recipes that I had no idea about and that I would like to present to you in the future).
November is far from a cold, dull gray month in places like these.

This is just one part on what I saw this weekend. I am keeping the rest to share in the next post!
I went to a place called Corinaldo, and it was so, so pretty. And so large for a medieval village! Me and a friend took some pics. I am waiting to see his! He took quite a cool pic of me.

A November walk through Le Marche Region, Italy

The day after, me and my vegetarian coworker/friend went up to another small castle called Montefabbri. It is labeled as one of the most beautiful places in Italy, but it is so small, and nobody knows about it. The village per se is beautiful, but not nearly as beautiful as the skies that we saw from high up there.
It was so breathtaking I even forgot to take a picture.
The moments you forget to take pictures of are always the best.

These days count as a holiday, so here are two holiday recipes. The Ravioli with pumpkin, mushroom and Gorgonzola is out now on the Corriere website!

Fave dei Morti - Italian Almond Cookies for the Day of the Dead

But the real protagonists of this post are these cookies. They are very common throughout the whole country, but this version is especially popular in both my regions.
“Fave dei Morti’, the cookies of the dead, are crispy cookies that are usually only baked for November 1st and 2nd, when in Italy the days of the Dead and All Saints are celebrated. They are crispy and crunchy, and are usually meant to be eaten dipped in sweet wine, much like cantucci. They are, of course, also gorgeous dipped in coffee, tea, or any other liquid (even water, I daresay). the recipe varies a lot throughout Italy, and every region, bakery and family has its own version. Fave from Veneto, for example, are colorful little nugget dyed with food coloring. All of my coworkers can vouch for my mom’s version, as they happily devoured them and loved them – even dipped in the crappy coffee we have at work.
Make them healthier by using coconut or linseed oil, and by using some natural raw sugar like Muscobado or coconut.

Fave dei Morti (Almond Cookies of the Dead)
 
Prep time
Cook time
Total time
 
Makes many cookies
Author:
Recipe type: Dessert
Cuisine: Italian
Ingredients
  • 100g Almond meal / flour
  • 100g Whole wheat flour (sub your favorite gluten-free flour for a GF version)
  • 50g Potato starch
  • 200 to 250g brown sugar (depending on your sweet tooth)
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 2 eggs
  • 80g softened butter, vegetable oil or coconut oil
  • Grated zest of 1 lemon
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • ¼ to ½ tsp cinnamon
Instructions
  1. It is as easy as put all the ingredients in a food processor and mix until well combined, or mix everything in a bowl and knead to combine. You should end up with a sticky but stiff dough.
  2. Wrap it in cling film and let it rest in the fridge for 30 minutes or an hour.
  3. Preheat the oven to 180 Cº / 355 Fº.
  4. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper, take out the dough and form 1-inch sized balls. Line them on the tray, leaving some distance in between each other, as they will expand in the oven (much like chocolate chip cookies)
  5. Bake for 15-20 minutes, until golden brown and until your whole kitchen smells like candied almonds (this depends a lot on your oven - keep a close eye on it). Wait for them to cool before eating, as they will still be slightly soft fresh out of the oven, and might look like they are not 100% cooked.
  6. Serve with something to dip them in - preferably sweet wine, like Moscato or Vin Santo, but any dipping liquid will do, really. Even water, and I am not kidding.
  7. Enjoy!

What are your November traditions, and what are you cooking/baking this month?

Fave dei Morti - Italian Almond Cookies for the Day of the Dead