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During the week in Venice that Tom and I are just back from, we indulged in so much seafood that we could almost feel gills beginning to form on our necks. Most fish and shellfish from the Adriatic Sea and the Venetian lagoon are so unlike anything we get at home that every meal was an adventure. Here are highlights.

 

Antipasti at Giorgione

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Friends who live part of every year in Venice took us to this simple family-run trattoria in their neighborhood. We started with granseola, a kind of spider crab, and cicale di mare, mantis shrimp. Both were simply boiled, chilled, and dressed with olive oil and lemon. Neither flavor resembles those of our blue claw crabs or shrimps of any size, but both were delicious.
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Main courses at
Al Covo

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This is a handsome, chef-owned, Slow Food member restaurant with a mission to “research, appreciate, defend and propose” the products of the territory around the Venetian lagoon. We ate there with our Venetian friends also, who patronize it often.
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My main course, above, was breaded and fried sarde “de alba” (“dawn” sardines: a name for fish caught first thing in the morning and cooked that same day) and canoce (another local name for mantis shrimp).
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These are the two halves of Tom’s main course, a fritto misto dell’Adriatico. It was served that way, in sequence, apparently so that none of the fried things would get cold. They were sole (smaller and sweeter than any variety we get here), anchovies, scallops, squid, shrimp, monkfish, polenta, and several vegetables. Enough food for a hungry boy scout troop..

 

Dinner at Ai Barbicani

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On our first visit to Venice, many years ago, we had two very pleasant dinners at this little restaurant in the city’s medieval section. We were delighted this year to find it still in business, warm, charming, and even better than we remembered. They presented us with welcoming glasses of Prosecco and good-night glasses of grappa.
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We each had this most unusual antipasto of marinated raw seafood. There were shrimps in raspberry sauce; anchovies in vinegar and currants; thin, thin strips of cuttlefish mantle, and nuggets of monkfish. Fascinating flavors and textures, very attractively presented.
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Then we had an extravaganza of mixed grilled seafood: There were two big sweet-fleshed scampi, two even bigger mazzancolle (king prawns), a large sole, a small salmon steak, and chunks of coda di rospo (the ubiquitous monkfish), all perfectly grilled and amazingly fresh and moist. Even the platter on which they were served was almost a work of art.
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Dinner at Osteria da Fiore

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This entire trip to Venice was a gift to ourselves for our 50th wedding anniversary, and on the day itself we dined luxuriously at this Michelin one-starred restaurant. It had what for us is an ideal combination of elegant French ambience and service with the best of lightly modernized traditional Venetian cooking. We adored it.

Our first courses were spaghetti with tartufi di mare (Venus clams) and agnolotti filled with fresh peas in a sauce of astice (spiny lobster) with fresh ginger – the latter a particularly intriguing exotic note.
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Small soft-shell crabs from the Venetian lagoon – moleche in Italian, moeche in Veneziano – are available only briefly in spring and fall. Delighted to find we were there just before the end of the season, we both chose them for our main course. Perfectly deep-fried, they were the best dish we ate in the entire trip.
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We also had our best wine of the trip at Fiore, which Tom talks about in his blog. All in all, a great celebratory trip and a wonderful meal for an important anniversary.

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It all started when by mistake I bought too much mascarpone for my holiday cooking. I needed two cups of crème fraiche and one of mascarpone but I switched them around. So I wound up with three-quarters of a pound of leftover mascarpone, which went into the freezer until I could think what to do with it.

After a prolonged holiday binge of cookies and cakes and pies and tarts, I didn’t want to make any more desserts, so that ruled out gazillions of recipes, especially for tiramisù, which seems to be the world’s favorite dessert to make with mascarpone. Savory dishes were what I wanted.

As I browsed numerous recipes in my cookbooks and online, I began to realize that you can put mascarpone into almost any dish that wants a subtle creamy presence. That gave me my double-O designation to start to play with it.

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First, in mashed potatoes. I added about a quarter-cup of mascarpone, rather than butter or milk, as I mashed three Yukon gold potatoes, to accompany a grilled steak for two. The mascarpone instantly disappeared into the potatoes, adding a gentle sweet-sour flavor and a velvety texture. We probably wouldn’t have been able to identify the difference as due to mascarpone if we hadn’t known it was there.

mascarpone mashed potatoes

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Next, in pasta sauce. Even though it was January, I had a hankering for a springlike sort-of-primavera pasta. I sauteed cut-up mushrooms and asparagus in butter and olive oil, tossed in freshly cooked vermicelli, and then stirred in several big dollops of mascarpone. Again, the mascarpone was immediately absorbed – you can’t see it at all in this photo – and again it gave the dish just a faint pleasant tanginess, very slightly different from a sauce made with heavy cream.

mascarpone pasta

The dish didn’t even need to be dressed with grated parmigiano, though it did love freshly ground pepper. It was also very rich. Though I’d used only six ounces of pasta, Tom and I couldn’t come near finishing it all. The leftovers made an excellent – also very rich – fritatta.

mascarpone pasta fritatta

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Then in polenta. We had some veal stew meat in the freezer whose time it was to use. Tom created a tasty brown braise, with fresh sage leaves, dried porcini, a splash of white wine, and a tiny quantity of broth, in a new black Chamba ware pot we’d given ourselves for Christmas. These handmade clay cooking vessels from Colombia are wonderful for stews, sauces, and braises; in my mind, they’re the original slow cooker. When the braise was almost ready I made the polenta, stirring in mascarpone near the end of its cooking.

mascarpone polenta

Another successful dish. The mystery-ingredient mascarpone made for a very creamy polenta, an excellent backdrop for the tender veal and its succulent gravy.

.veal on mascarpone polenta.

Likewise in risotto. I was getting the idea: Any kind of starch dish that likes cream will love mascarpone. I had some asparagus that didn’t get used the other day in the pasta, so I made a risotto with it. This time I didn’t add the mascarpone until the risotto was out of the pot and on the serving dish – you can actually see it in this photo – and that worked very well.

mascarpone risotto

In fact, once stirred in, the mascarpone was more noticeable and interesting here than it was in the three previous dishes. It gave the risotto the lovely dense creaminess that usually comes when you add parmigiano near the end of the cooking, without the good-but-assertive flavor and slight gumminess that grated cheese provides. My version made a perfect accompaniment to some fairly delicate sauteed filets of scrod.

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And . . . After these good meals, I still had a quarter-cup of mascarpone left in the refrigerator. So, determined not to let any mascarpone go to waste, I stirred it into a pair of scrambled eggs that I made as a lunch for myself. Again, a lush texture, only slightly different from using butter or cream. A little indulgence for me, combined with good, housewifely frugality, added up to a simple but tasty lunch: not bad for finishing off an unanticipated leftover.

mascarpone scrambled eggs

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All in all, this was a good learning experience. I now know a lot more about how to use mascarpone than I did before. It hasn’t been an item I buy very often, but given what I’ve found out about its versatility, it may very well show up on my shopping lists more frequently now.

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