Friday, October 16, 2009

Venezia: Food and Dreams by Tessa Kiros

Glowing and bronzed, the book whispers from the shelf: open me. I am caught. It’s alluringly rich with memories and recipes, the food seductively photographed. I come away from the first read of Venezia: Food and Dreams enchanted.

You see, I have been to Venice, and this cannot be the same city I visited. I recognize it from the photos, but the food, the food!, so lush and local and homey and ancient. That’s not what I ate. Yet it’s exactly what I looked for when I traveled there, what I expected to find by scouring dead-end alley restaurants and tiny nook cafes for family fare. And the last day of my trip, just before the hours of rushing to the train station on crowded water taxis after carting unwheeled luggage over a thousand bridges, I found exactly the ingredients this sort of food is made of — fat chunks of parmesan, firm-tart olives, wedges of herb-flecked focaccia, handfuls of squid, and baskets of tomatoes, plums, apricots. If only I could’ve followed the food directly to the restaurants that cooked like this, the trip would have been heaven on a plate.

Organized by traditional Italian courses, Kiros empowers readers to create a full menu using whatever ingredients are freshest. As a vegetarian with limited fish intake, I was pleased to find so many things to make, at least one from every category. Mozzarella in carrozza, one of my favorite Italian appetizers, are droolingly photographed in their deep-fried glory, a dripping sandwich of mozzarella smashed between savory, egg-battered bread. An array of risottos, polentas, soups, and fried fish dishes had me salivating. Gnocchi di zucca, winter squash gnocchi, is a toast to fall with nutmeg and sage, though shaping takes a few tries to perfect. Almonds shine as the center of the sbriciolona, or crumbler cake, a divine addition to any casual dinner party as it perfectly finishes any meal without too much fuss.

Though I’m not certain it’s possible to replicate the flavors of some recipes, including Kiros’ intruglio, an appetizer specific to Sergia’s restaurant, without access to the produce and cheeses of Venice, I’m willing to give it a go. I imagine it will taste better if I close my eyes and remember dipping my fingers into the plastic bag of olives from the cheese mongers, following each with a fat bite of focaccia padded with fresh mozzarella. It’s simple yet exquisite, one of my standout meals, and this feels like Kiros wrote Venezia about it.

Review based on a free copy of this book, courtesy of the publisher.

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