Updated: Aug 25
For me the fatal charm of Venice is stronger than ever. After COVID the crowded vaporetti and tourist hype seem a small price to pay to see Venice again. To see the reflected light off the water that uniquely shines onto the colors of the buildings and magically morphs into shadows.
The light of Venice is legendary. Canaletto’s 18th century scenes of Venice’s Grand Canal play on the reflections of light and shadow. The light and shadows of Venice are so embedded in the look and feel of the city that they extend to the Venetian phrase bere un’ombra “to drink a shadow” and un’ombra, “the shadow”, referring to a glass of wine.
In the past, Piazza San Marco was filled with vendors of all kinds. At the foot of the massive Campanile across the square was a wine seller. During the day, he used to adjust his stand to stay in the shade (shadow) of the bell tower and soon “let’s go in the shade” became an in-the-know way of saying “let’s go have a glass of wine”. The movable wine shop is no more but “drinking a shadow” remains the traditional phrase for drinking un’ombra, for drinking a glass of wine in the seductive city of Venice.
However un’ombra is not a typical bicchiere di vino, (glass of wine) drunk with a meal but a small glass typically ordered with a cicchetti,* an assortment of appetizers or tiny snacks served at a Venetian bàcaro, a tavern or wine bar unique to Venice. Un 'ombra typically is an inexpensive, young wine (vino sfuso), a glass in bars served with a cicchetti. It is an essential Venetian ritual for a person’s health and well-being.
*the word cicchetti is derived from the Latin ciccus meaning very small
Small Bites in the Shade
Two Venetian cicchetti to enjoy in the summertime shade.
Pesto Genovese & Sun-Dried Tomato Crostini
8 ounces Mascarpone cheese, softened 8 ounces cream cheese, softened 1 cup La Bella Angiolina Ligurian Basil Pesto 1 jar Italian Sun-Dried Tomatoes packed in extra virgin olive oil 1 loaf of rustic Italian bread
In a mixer or with wooden spoon, blend softened cheeses until smooth. Gently fold in pesto or place a dollop on top. Spread on bread slices and top with a piece of roasted or sun-dried tomato.
Grilled Polenta with Cod Fish Mousse1
10 oz. dried salt cod 4 cups milk 1 medium yellow onion, halved 1 rib celery, halved 1 clove garlic, crushed 1⁄2 cup olive oil, plus more 1 1⁄3 cups Biancoperla white corn polenta 24 small radicchio leaves 2 tbsp. finely chopped parsley
Place cod in a 2-qt. saucepan, and cover by 2″ with cold water; boil for 20 minutes. Drain cod, return to saucepan, and repeat process twice more. Transfer cod to a 6-qt. saucepan and add milk, onion, celery, garlic, and 10 cups water; boil. Reduce heat to medium-low; cook until cod is tender, about 20 minutes. Drain cod, reserving 1⁄4 cup cooking liquid; discard vegetables and skin and bones from cod. Process cod and cooking liquid in a food processor until smooth. While processor is running, drizzle in 1⁄2 cup oil; continue mixing until smooth. Transfer to a bowl and season with salt and pepper; chill cod mousse.
Cook polenta according to package instructions. Transfer to a greased 12″ x 9″ rimmed baking sheet; smooth top and chill until set. Cut polenta into 2″ x 3″ rectangles; brush with extra virgin olive oil. Grill polenta, turning once, until slightly charred, about 4 minutes. Top each rectangle with radicchio leaf and a dollop of cod mousse; sprinkle with parsley. (adapted from a recipe at Saveur Magazine)