I’ve got a bit of a crush on Francesco da Mosto. Do you know him? He is a chatty Venetian architect and host of several BBC tv shows. He looks like an eternal boy, with his great mop of greying hair and a huge smile. He tells a story with typical Italian drama, in delightfully accented English, emphasizing salient points, talking with his hands and holding a cigarette, as a prop to show his serious pensive side.
Some time back I discovered he had also written a cookbook, Francesco’s kitchen. Francesco can cook as well?! Is there anything the man can’t do? The book is not new (published 2007) but it has lots of interesting historical facts about why Venetians eat the way they do. It also has some terrific photos of the Rialto Market, which is one of my favorite markets in the world.
I don’t think for a minute that Francesco cooks all the meals in the book, however he does provide a vast number of recipes with occasional photos of himself as a cheeky young man in Venice, and photos of his ancestors, who were quite a prominent Venetian family. The book is written in a conversational style that makes it a very easy read. I have made several recipes from the book, including the recipe for zaleti biscotti in a previous blog post and my Christmas favorite, sarde in saor is based on the recipe in Francesco’s book.
I was at the Rialto market in July, it was summer and the reds, yellows and greens of all the beautiful fresh produce from local producers was incredible. Peppers, tomatoes, chillies, zucchini, eggplants, peaches – what an amazing feeling to be seeing and photographing these right next to the Grand Canal.
In memory of my wonderful day in Venezia at the Rialto Market, I would like to share with you Francesco’s recipe for eggplant with a tomato sauce (melanzane in tecia). The eggplant is cut into thin rounds, fried and then topped with a rich tomato and parsley sauce made from fresh tomatoes. This simple summer dish is perfect with some baked ricotta (my recipe below), a slice of crusty bread and a glass of crisp white wine, such as the La Zona Pinot Grigio that I have been enjoying since my visit to the King Valley.
Melanzane in tecia (Stewed eggplants with tomatoes)
2 large eggplants (about 700g)
plenty of olive oil for frying
50 g butter, unsalted
50ml olive oil
Parsley, small bunch, leaves picked and chopped
1 garlic clove
500 g tomatoes, skins and seeds removed and chopped
Wash the eggplants and cut the eggplant into thin slices. Sprinkle salt over them and place on a wooden board to drain.
In the meantime, prepare the tomato sauce. Plunge whole tomatoes in boiling water for a minute and then drain and remove the outer skin. Roughly chop and remove as many seeds as possible. Heat up 50 ml oil and butter in a medium saucepan and add the parsley and the garlic. When the garlic has become golden and flavored the oil, remove it and discard. Add the tomato and cook on low to moderate heat until all the liquid has evaporated. Add salt to taste.
Whilst the tomato sauce is cooking, you can prepare the eggplants. Once they have sweated their excess moisture, toss the slices in flour. Heat the 200ml oil in a heavy bottomed saucepan and fry the eggplant slices. When cooked, pat on absorbent paper to remove excess oil. If you are worried about using so much oil, you can also cook them in a 200 degree oven (brush with oil before placing them in there) – just keep checking on them frequently.
Arrange the eggplants on individual plates or a serving platter, and spoon over the dense tomato sauce. I like to scatter on a bit more parsley to serve.
100g italian parmigiano cheese, grated
3 eggs, lightly beaten
Zest of half a medium sized lemon, finely grated
salt and pepper to taste
Heat the oven to 160 degrees and line a 20cm round baking tin (mine has a removable base). Place all the ingredients in a bowl and mix until well combined and place in the tin. Brush the top with a bit of olive oil. bake for 60 minutes until firm (it will puff up a bit then flatten when you remove it from the oven). Allow to cool in the tin. Remove from the tin and serve wedges cold with melanzane in tecia and some crusty bread. It will keep up to a week covered in the fridge.
When I am in Venezia and I want to feel like a local, I rent an apartment. It is by far the best way of enjoying the city if you want to stay a couple of nights. Venice Apartments has a great selection of places to stay and that way I have a kitchen in which I can cook all the beautiful produce I have bought at the Rialto market. For me this is far better than a tiny hotel room!