A weekend away in Venice

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For my Birthday this year, Mark decided to pull out all the stops (cheers babe) and take me on a little weekend trip to the city of love. and carbs. and wine- Venice! This was a wonderful surprise and a great start to the month- aka the best month because I was born. Jokes. Sort of. Setting off on Saturday morning and smoothly arriving into Venice we were both excited for our lovely long weekend away from the hustle and bustle of London. Venice life is relaxing. Everyone drinks wine for breakfast, lunch and dinner and leisurely strolls around the city soaking in the culture -sometimes underrated here in London where life always feels so rapid.

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On arrival, we walked the quick distance to our bed and breakfast. In a perfect location, just across the main bridge from the bus station and nestled in one of the alleyways of the city, (il Giardino di Giulia- translating literally into Giulia’s garden) was a true gem. Owned by a lovely man named Marco who prides himself in everything his b&b upholds, we had a lovely quaint room on the ground floor, decorated with old-fashioned furniture juxtaposed with modern art touches. It only has three rooms in total, making it lovely, cosy and intimate. For breakfast, which was served on the top floor, decorated with Marco’s vintage furniture, we were served Italian cakes, coffee, tea, toast as well as a list of other organic items made to order, whipped up by Marco himself as smooth jazz played in the background. He made delicious scrambled eggs with chives and porcini mushrooms, as well as fresh pancakes with tasty berries. By having 3 rooms, the breakfast table is essentially shared by all the guests, which means there’s always a chance to talk to Marco, as well as everyone else, discussing restaurants, where they’ve been around Venice, as well as getting to know people. If you don’t really like the idea of socialising- Breakfast is the only likely time you’ll ever see someone, as people spend most of the day out and about exploring.

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On our first day, we decided to do the whole of Venice. WHOLE? – I know what you’re thinking. Damn girl, that’s a bit ambitious. While that may sound like the case, if you look at the map, you can actually go from north to south of the islands in around 50 minutes. Our idea was to get all the main sights done as well as take the famous gondola down the tiny canals. We went to the Rialto Bridge, Piazza San Marco and let ourselves be guided by the city, constantly wandering down little pathways. Note- this doesn’t always work because you end up walking down a path and hitting a dead end, or several in our case. Also- I’d just like to point out gondola ride is 80 euros for 30 minutes. A bit PRICEY IF YA ASK ME, but, nonetheless, I’d definitely recommend it- you truly see the beauty of Venice as you calmly float through the city.

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SATURDAY:

On our first night, we frustratedly walked around looking for a restaurant which would satisfy us and live up to our expectations. I am, the most– pickiest person when it comes to going to a restaurant when I’m on holiday. Especially in a city which attracts more tourists than locals- it is especially important to know you’re eating somewhere that isn’t a tourist trap. Actually, maybe that is just me and Mark, but we love to know that we’re in for a treat. Thankfully, this is exactly what we were in for when we stumbled upon Osteria Enoteca al Artisti. The wine was gorgeous, the food prepared with the freshest ingredients and the tiramisu was THE BOMB.

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Orchiette with Duck Ragu

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Stewed Lamb and Fried Corn Polenta with Veggies

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Tiramisu

 Sunday:

On Sunday, we were knackered having walked all over Venice. Marco suggested we head to Osteria Alba Nova Dalla Maria, tucked away on a small street, away from the main touristy spots. It was also a five-minute walk from the hotel and as I was feeling particularly lazy, this was great news. It is a family run restaurant that is cosy and authentic. If you’re looking for a small, quaint restaurant that serves traditional Venetian recipes then this is your place to go. Just be careful of an old grumpy Italian man that knows the owner, attending regularly for dinner and who ends up getting drunk and hurling abuse at people. I wish I was joking – he must have been about 85 pissed on half a bottle of red, telling mark how only women should wear shorts- bitch, please.

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Selections of meats

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Spaghetti al Vongole (clam spaghetti – MY FAV)

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Dark Chocolate Pasta – (sounds strange, but apparently an ancient recipe and definetly tasty) with cuttlefish

Monday:

DSC03571On Monday, we decided we would head off to the other surrounding Islands of Venice. If you haven’t been, there are no cars so everything is done by boat- imagine moving house and shifting ya furniture down small canals- nightmare! We decided to take the water boat to the north of the island, where you can access further water buses to Burano, Murano and other little islands. I will say, If you don’t want to spend 80 euros on a gondola then this is a cheap way to float through the city- you essentially get an inexpensive tour and can pay for a day pass for 20 euros and take it all around Venice. Burano is a cute little island, famous for knitting intricate lace and is dominated by pretty colourful houses that are fit for an Instagram account’s dream. For lunch, we decided to try Trattoria Da Romano.  As Burano is small and touristy, all the nice restaurants quickly get filled up. We were being consistently turned away or being told to “try our luck in 30 minutes”. Getting hungry and impatient, we were lucky to finally get a table as I had read good things. I’m glad this was the case because the food was worth it! Burano has lots of fresh seafood and I knew we had to take advantage of this.

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Vongole saltate in padella. Clams quickly tossed in a pan in a white wine sauce, with garlic and parsley. You may tell, I like clams. No, I LOVE CLAMS. In Italy, they are a must try dish- especially with a bit of lemon.

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Calamari with white polenta and deep fried vegetables – again, fresh and tender seafood- crucial for a good calamari dish.

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Gnochetti ala Grancevola (crab and tomato sauce)

Later, for dinner, we went to a lovely Venetian place called La Bitta. A restaurant choosing to focus solely on meats, we went for steak, chicken with red peppers, tomatoes and olives as well as a moreish plate of beef carpaccio. I must admit the pictures look a bit blurry and I think this was because I was slightly tipsy.- As Always. But, I did save you a picture of my favourite part of that meal – the dessert. The Panna Cotta was amazing. It had a perfect consistency and jiggled like me on a club night out- haha, seriously though, it was epic.

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TUESDAY:

Finally, our last food stop of the trip consisted of trying Chichetti (Venetian tapas) traditionally eaten standing up.  You can’t go to Venice and not experience it like a local and Chichetti is no exception! You essentially head to the bar and the food is all on display, as you select which different dishes you’d like. It’s all back to basics here- usually served on paper plates and plastic cups. This is even more enjoyable on a sunny day as revellers sit outside in the sun sipping on crisp, cold white wine. We tried Chichetti in both Cantinone Gia Schiavi and Osteria Al Squero, which are both down the road from each other. You must try the latter as it is always popular no matter what day you walk past and has become synonymous with eating like a venetian.

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I can’t honestly tell you everything we got because we asked for house favourites – I’d recommend doing this so you can try an array of different items rather than go for flavours you’re automatically drawn to

Venice was a lovely trip. I got to forget about work for a few days, eat yummy ice cream every day and justify it because we were “walking around”, practice my Italian and spend time with Mark as we basked in the sun.

A personal shout out to him for organising everything, you really are the best.

Lunch at Palatino

Last week my sister and I went to check out Palatino, a new restaurant following Stevie Parle’s The Dock Kitchen, Rotorino, Craft London & Sardine. Palatino is an Italian restaurant with a focus on food from Rome. We have been to Rotorino before as it is an East London favourite (and five seconds from my house) and we love trying their different regional dinners from various parts of Italy, which they host at the end of every month. Knowing we have enjoyed it in the past, we decided to try our luck with Palatino.

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The decor is modern, with a mix of concrete fittings and warm yellow furniture and as we were seated we decided that in order to fully try out the restaurant’s new menu, we had to order a vast selection. We essentially picked our favourite dishes from each section and had a mini feast, (“it’s for the blog though”) opting to share each dish. I am currently unemployed (anyone looking for a brilliant worker hint hint?) and Rebecca has university so it is nice to be able to meet up in the day now that I am still searching.

For antipasti, we ordered Supli with wild mushroom & mascarpone £3 (essentially small arancini). These were delicious- mushroom and mascarpone are the perfect combinations, especially when fried into a small ball of greatness. Great choice for a sharing starter option.

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For pasta, we decided to go with Ravioli with spinach & squash £14 (main course portion). The pasta tasted fresh, the filling was flavourful and the sauce made a nice accompaniment. I always feel like, with ravioli, the mistake is having it with tomato sauce as sometimes that takes away from the flavour inside. My only complaint about this course would be that I wish there was more sauce as Rebecca and I were scraping the plate for more. Overall, though, coming from an Italian background and having tried a lot of pasta, this was pretty decent!

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Next, nothing seems more traditionally Roman than Saltimbocca, which is veal, surrounded by prosciutto, spinach, sage & Marsala wine £14.

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We also liked the sound of the fried potato gnocchi £4.

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Again, the veal was tasty! The meat was tender, the sauce was just right and the spinach on the side provided a bit of relief from the saltiness of the prosciutto. The fried Gnocchi were also extremely moreish and made a good alternative to having potatoes on the side.  However, I found that because they were bite size I kept going back for more. They were also covered in cheese and sage and who doesn’t love anything covered in cheese? (I LOVE cheese).

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As some of you will know if you read these posts often (and I’m not sure how many people that actually is.. Hey mum & Rebecca) I always love dessert and a meal is never finished without something sweet. We couldn’t decide between the Almond lemon & ricotta cake, rhubarb & creme fraiche or the chocolate cake, pistachio & honeycomb (both priced at £7) so we let the waiter surprise us. In the end, he picked the almond ricotta cake. This was light, tangy and the creme fraiche and rhubarb gave it some tartness. It was nice but not my favourite dessert I’ve ever had. Nonetheless, it was still worth it to round off an overall lovely meal.

If you’re looking for a cute Italian restaurant to bring you fond memories of a past trip to Rome, the food at Palatino will do just that.

 

 

 

 

 

Cooking with my Italian Grandma

Earlier in the week, my grandma from Italy arrived in the U.K. As some of you may (or may not) know, recently, my mum officially moved back here after living in the Middle East for fourteen years, a place where I spent most of my childhood.

I’m not sure how many of you will be familiar with Italian culture, but basically, everything in Italy revolves around food (and carbs!). Your lunch times are strictly classed within the order of antipasti (starter) primo (usually pasta), secondo (followed by meat/fish) and dolci (desserts.. I think this is where my rule of always finishing a meal with something sweet came from).  Seriously, it still takes me an effort to convince my grandma that I don’t particularly like having a three-course meal every day. Nonetheless, when my grandma arrived, she had naturally stocked up her suitcase and bought over an abundance of fresh Italian produce (Lucky me!). She had items like fresh buffalo mozzarella (you can buy these at Naples airport), ricotta, among other delicious things. Unsurprisingly, one of the things she enjoys most is cooking, usually waking up super early most mornings to start making fresh pasta dough and regularly yearning to cook us all something. While her old fashioned beliefs still startle me, (she tells me that it’s vital for a woman to cook for her man- I don’t think so sister!) it’s always nice when we can come together and make something tasty.

We decided to make both fresh ravioli and fusilli (another type of pasta pictured below and made by yours truly). The ancient trick to making the perfect fusilli? My grandma uses the inner rods from an umbrella (no lie).

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For the pasta dough itself, her recipe is as follows:

1 egg

250g of pasta flour “00.”

You simply mix the two ingredients together and add some water to help bind it all together. Leave it to rest for a bit before attempting to use.

As for the filling, (roasted butternut squash and ricotta), I decided to take inspiration from Jamie Oliver’s new recipe book- ‘Super Food Family Classics’. If you follow me on my food Instagram, then you will know I’ve recently been using the book and replicating dishes (to convince myself I am an actual chef). I roasted a butternut squash whole at 180c for an hour and then added the ricotta in for an additional 30 minutes. When the butternut squash had softened, I scooped out the flesh discarding the seeds and mixed both the ricotta and squash together with some salt, pepper and basil.

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As Italians, my mum obviously owns a pasta machine (i think almost every Italian does), which makes rolling the dough out easy, to spoon the mixture and fold the pasta sheet over. Of course, if you don’t have a machine (like myself in my kitchen) then you can use a rolling pill to still get a similar effect.

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Next, using a mould especially made for ravioli making (see, I told you- italians are dedicated to our food), my grandma pressed and discarded the surrounding dough. Once everything was done and enough had been made, I boiled water with some salt and cooked the pasta for about two minutes. For the cherry (tomato) on top of my fabulous food day, we also had fresh parmesan from Italy AND tomato sauce that my mum had made earlier. While it took time and effort, nothing quite beats a plate of fresh creamy pasta!

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In true Italian fashion, the day couldn’t be over without making desserts. We made Pasticelle, or Stelline di Natale- because they look like stars and they are made during Christmas in the south of Italy. However, my sister and I love them and have usually never got to go to Italy during the Christmas season, so my grandma is happy to make them 365 days of the year! It is essentially a sweet pastry that is fried and has a gooey chestnut, coffee and dark chocolate filling. They are also lightly dusted with icing sugar. My favourite time to eat them is when they are fresh out the fryer and the chocolate filling oozes from the inside.

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I think it’s safe to say that I was left pleasantly satisfied (along with incredibly full- which is what every Italian grandmother aims to accomplish) and if you ever get the chance to meet her, I’m sure you’d feel the same.