Friday, March 29, 2013

Focaccia alla Veneziana

"Every Thursday," writes Fred Plotkin, "[Pasticceria dal Nono Colussi] makes focaccia alla veneziana... It is sold until Sunday but is best sampled on the day it is made."

My only Thursday in Venice was yesterday, which was also the day I arrived. So no matter that I was jet lagged and dopey; my one and only goal for yesterday (okay, my goal after finding our apartment and taking a shower) was to hike across town from Castello to Dorsoduro and get some focaccia.

Focaccia alla veneziana, or fugassa alla venexiana in the Venetian dialect, is not the same as the focaccia we're familiar with in the US. That flat, savory bread, topped with olive oil and herbs, is a product of Liguria, a region on the Italian riviera. Focaccia alla veneziana is a sweet yeasted cake. It looks a lot like panettone, an Italian cake eaten at Christmastime that's shaped like an oversized muffin with straight sides and a puffy top. In the picture above, the things that look like muffins on the left are mini-focaccie; some standard-sized focaccie are partially visible on the right.

In fact, the resemblance to panettone is not an accident; focaccia alla veneziana is the Easter equivalent of panettone. The main difference is that panettone usually contains raisins and bits of candied citrus. Focaccia alla veneziana has no little bits of anything scattered in the dough, though it is flavored with candied citrus. Both are mildly sweet and have a light, fluffy texture.

I've seen focaccia alla veneziana in pastry shop windows and at grocery stores all over town. Usually, they're displayed right next to another, even more Easter-focused cake: colomba. Colomba, which means "dove" in Italian, is made from the same dough as focaccia alla veneziana, but it's topped with almonds and shaped like a dove.  (Or, at least, that's the idea. To me, it's shaped like a lower-case 't,' but with no tail and very fat arms.) In the above photo, the pastries in the middle are colombe.

Though I've seen focaccia alla veneziana in many places, I'm glad I bought it at Pasticceria dal Nono Colussi. Stepping inside the shop was heavenly: after perhaps an hour of meandering through narrow streets and over countless bridges in a chilly afternoon drizzle, the small shop was warm and bright and the air was perfumed with the sweet aroma of fresh-baked pastry. The shop was filled almost entirely with foccaccie and colombe of various sizes, along with a very limited selection of other pastries.

The largest focaccie at Nono Colussi are much larger than my head and sold for 34 Euro each. I opted for one muffin-sized focaccia (labeled simply "venexiana") and one small colomba for 6 Euro total. They are outstanding - light and fluffy, sweet without being cloying, with a citrusy flavor like lemon or orange. If I were feeling really decadent, I'd go back and get a big one, bring it back to the apartment, slice it up, and make French toast.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Italy bound

A few weeks ago, during a long weekend in Baltimore, I dragged a friend across town to Fell's Point. I needed to visit a shop that I was hoping would have a certain map of Italy in stock. My friend indulged me, in part because she is a good friend and in part because a visit to Fell's Point was also a good excuse to pick up some gelato. Our trip was a success; we both got gelato and I got my map. Now it's hanging above my desk, just beyond my computer screen as I type these words, a happy distraction.

Italy has been a happy distraction for the better part of a year now, ever since I started imagining the month I'll be spending there this spring. A few months ago imagining transitioned into planning, and since then every shelf and side table and spare flat surface has been buried under stacks of guide books and tomes of Italian cookery. Now that my trip begins in two weeks (!!), many of those books have been buried under to-do lists.

Here's the plan as it stands now. I'll fly into Venice, where I'll stay for about a week. After that, I'll spend about five days in Bologna. Then I'll be renting a car (my first time, not only in Europe, but ever) to visit smaller towns and food producers in Emilia-Romagna and Tuscany. That road trip will end in Florence, where I'll stay for about five days. Next comes a week-long buyer's tour with aTTavola, a company that imports many of the Italian foods we sell. And finally, I'll end with about six days in Rome before returning to the US.

In the past, I used this blog as a record of everything I saw and did and ate during every day of my time spent living and traveling in France. (If, after that persuasive pitch, you'd like to know more, read on! It's all still here for your perusal.) This time around, I want to use this blog as a tool to share my learnings and epiphanies and banal observations on shorter topics. Less diary, more topical. I expect the posts will be much shorter, but also (I hope) much more frequent. And my fingers are crossed that I'll write about things - at least some things - as they actually happen, rather than doing most of the writing months after the fact.

I hope you'll join me for the trip!