I came to Venice for the first time in the late ‘70s and fell head over heals in love with this beautiful ancient city. We arrived by plane from West Africa via London. It was late and we were tired. So we hired a private motor taxi to take us to our Hotel, which was basically next door to the famous “Teatro La Fenice”.
And over the duration of our stay in Venice, which was normally always two weeks in order to catch up with friends, we were treated every morning early on with a free concert (i.e. rehearsals!!). Sitting in our beautifully furnished bedroom (old, slightly faded silk wall paper, highly polished Italian antique furniture, wonderful paintings on the walls and flowers galore in, of course, Venetian glass!) and having breakfast served ‘the old-fashioned way’, i.e. silver, linen napkins, the whole lot!! We were never in a real hurry to get out and see the sights.
The flowers were sent by friends and even a couple of shops, where we used to buy a few things every year on our return. They all knew that because we were living in West Africa we were starved of ‘European flowers’ – they meant everything to me, chocolates etc. not so much. And being lovers of classical music it is needless to say that we thought we were short of entering heaven. What a wonderful happy start of a day!
When our water taxi entered the Lagoon the ‘lady up in the sky – the sun’ was getting ready to bid this part of the world ‘buana notte’ and the sight of the city being immersed in that special glow created by the sinking sun was, and still is, something which truly takes your breath away.
Claude Monet, the famous French painter, came to Venice with his wife Alice for the first and in fact last time in October 1908. During their 10 weeks stay he painted many of his famous paintings, depicting scenes of Venice, also he apparently said that Venice is a city “too beautiful to be painted”.
This oil painting, ‘San Giorgio Maggiore at Dusk’ (also known as “Venice at Dusk”) is certainly both our personal favourite.
Today this painting is part of a collection in the National Museum Cardiff, which is the National Gallery of Wales/UK.
Very close to the famous and, by the way, the oldest bridge across the Canale Grande ‘Ponte di Rialto’ (Rialto Bridge) is a famous restaurant mainly frequented by the Locals and we learned of this from the then manager of the Italian Tourist Office in London ages ago. I want to write about this place another day – so therefore I keep it ‘secret’ a little longer. Although it was then and still is, the best seafood restaurant in Venice, I had the ‘Fegato’ below – and I never regretted it.
500 g calf’s (preferably) or beef liver, cleaned, washed, dried and cut into small neat strips the length of your little finger
500 g onions, sliced very thinly (I use a Mandolin slicer here)
Juice of 2-3 of our little lemon (or to taste)
3 Tbsp Olive Oil
150 g good Butter
1 Tbsp Balsamic Vinegar
4-5 fresh Sage leaves (if possible) or some dried sage
Salt and pepper to taste
Fresh parsley, finely chopped
First of all, if you are using beef liver, soak this in some milk for 30 minutes before cooking in order to take out any sharp taste.
The next stage is to caramelize the onions – this has to be done on a very low heat and will take some time, 30-40minutes or so. Do not let the onions become dark. Use a wide frying pan, big enough to accommodate all the onions in one layer, add half the butter and 2 Tbsp of olive oil. Add a touch of salt and freshly ground black pepper.
Take another big frying pan and on a low heat melt the remaining butter and oil and a few sage leaves (or ½ tsp of dried sage). Quickly stir once and add the dried liver to this, but do not use any salt here or your liver will get hard. Change heat to medium and cook liver until dark outside, but nicely pink inside, for just a few minutes. Do not overcook the liver or it will get tough like shoe-leather (not that you ever have tried to eat shoe-leather, I am sure!).
Now add the cooked onions to the liver and squeeze some lemon juice over this and mix. Transfer to a pre-heated serving platter, sprinkle with some chopped parsley for colour and bring to your table.
Traditionally this dish is served with cold polenta (for my Kerala readers: ready-to-cook polenta available from the GOURMET House in Thevera), cut into diamond shape, and lightly fried in sage-infused butter – hmmm, just the way I love it.
But, of course you can use whatever you like, Basmati rice, creamy mashed potatoes (to which I like to add a bit of mayonnaise and a little dollop of readymade mustard), small boiled potatoes or just nice fresh Multigrain bread to mop up the juices.
(Photos: 2nd and 4th: Public domain of Wikipedia / Rest: Manningtree Archive)