I could tell you about a romantic dinner, among the violet flowers that tint the Lagoon at the beginning of Autumn.
I could tell you how the last golden rays of sun at sunset have slashed a leaden sky, reflecting themselves on the surface of placid waters between the emerged shoals which are called barene.
I could also describe the salty, unmistakable, sometimes pungent smell of dried seaweed and dark mud. The smell of the Venetian Lagoon, the one I perceive getting off the train at the railway station, returning from a distant journey.
I could stuff this post with little and poetic visions about what is still an untouched and wild spot, my own escape, the place where I feel an authentic bond with the earth and the sea, while the city implodes in the bustle chaos.
I come home, sailing among (pretty much always) gentle waves, with wet hair and dirty nails. Sometimes with some fish or wild herbs to eat, some mosquito bites, dilated eyes to peer into the darkness – real darkness – and new ears that can appreciate complete silence.
I could, but this is not a romantic story. It is not just about a dinner at sunset in the idyll of a flowery violet sea. It is not because reality and fiction have always been the boundary I am interested in exploring. I tell stories and build images. They are as real as the food I patiently cooked, packaged, loaded on the boat, and brought to this place so dear to me.
They are fiction because they tell an indefinite time, a dinner which perhaps was never consumed, a suspended moment between what was before and what will come later, something that you would never know if I weren’t here to tell it.
I could also pursue the illusion that these images perhaps create, but there’s something comic behind it and, above all, there are two real people with their own limits (and talents!) who only imagined what you are seeing now, one afternoon of a few weeks ago.
There are also two previous failed attempts, because sometimes the sea and the weather are unpredictable.
There is me, methodical and precise: I do lists of things to bring and then I forget half of them home. There is Francesco, who heroically decides to challenge the coming storm and the suddenly threatening waves to go and pick up the forgotten things, speeding away by boat towards a confused horizon until he disappears. Then me again, left alone in the middle of nowhere, with the thunders rumbling on that handkerchief of land in the middle of the water where I am standing, with a table and some wicker basket full of food.
I wait for his return and the rain at any moment, while the light fades more and more.
Some fishermen pass by and, seeing a laid table where you would not expect to find it, and a young girl dressed in linen, they widen their eyes watching the weird vision while the boat takes them away. They disappear too. Only silence remains, broken by thunders and some crashing waves.
Something catches my eye, it is moving on the horizon like a rustling among the plants. There are animals. My heart beats, I’ve never seen animals in the lagoon. Hunting dogs maybe? I keep my eyes on that point, expecting to die any moment, and I realize that they are actually goats. Maybe I’m already dead and I’m dreaming. They disappear into the bushes before I can close my mouth which has been hanging open, and I remain there catching flies, until the buzz of a motor boat distracts me from that strange vision.
I see a red beard which is illuminated by a sudden ray of sunshine that opens the dark sky and brings me back Francesco and all that I had forgotten home. Ten exact minutes of time to take pictures, and then the storm reaches us by watering down the soup and Pan del Doge, bending the stems of purple flowers, making us laugh at being so merciless. Night falls.
We never sat down, not even for a second at that table, which was lit by a fleeting and fortuitous golden light. It has been real though, even if only for a while.
We imagined to have dinner there, to toast and laugh as we always do when we are together, to light candles, to say how delicious everything was. It never happened, but this does not make it less authentic, and in my memories this was one of the most beautiful dinners of my life.
I thank Francesco for always being my hero and for making the The Freaky Raku pottery that you see in this post.
I thank my sponsors for providing me with so many wonderful things that I use and carry with me in my photographic adventures:
Dress linen and napkins by Linenfox
Hand carved wooden spoons by Polder’s Old World Kitchen
Francesco’s Apron by Gastrometry
Purple kitchen towel by Tinek Home
I thank La Repubblica D magazine for publishing this story, which was released in Italy on September 29 (issue n. 1109).
The recipes I prepared make up an entire menu, you can read them all in Italian on D magazine.
Today I translate and share here just some of them: the autumn soup that warmed us once we turned back home from the Lagoon, the Pan Del Doge, an old Venetian dessert I like a lot, and an easy recipe for stuffed eggs.
Stuffed eggs with sun-dried tomatoes and paprika
(1 egg per person)
- 4 eggs
- 2 tablespoons of dried tomatoes pesto
- 1 tablespoon of tomato concentrate
- Sweet paprika powder to taste
- Pepper to taste
- Prepare the hard-boiled eggs by putting them in a small pot with enough cold water to cover them completely. Place the saucepan on the stove and bring to a boil. Boil for 9 minutes, drain and cool the eggs in a bowl of cold water.
- Peel the eggs and cut them in half. Using a spoon, gently remove the egg yolks (the egg whites must remain intact!) and place them in a bowl. Place the egg whites on a plate with the hole facing up.
- In a bowl, smash the yolks using a fork to get a mush, then add the dried tomatoes pesto, the tomato concentrate and a pinch of paprika. Mix well with the fork until you get a smooth cream.
- Fill a pastry syringe with the filling and stuff the egg whites. Sprinkle with pepper and a pinch of paprika.
Autumn creamy soup with chickpeas, pumpkin and chestnut flour
- 350 g precooked chickpeas
- 3 carrots
- ½ golden onion
- 300 g pumpkin
- 1 rosemary branch
- 80 g of chestnut flour
- 100 g roasted chestnuts or steamed chestnuts
- 1.5 l + 300 ml of water
- Salt to taste
- Fresh thyme (to taste)
- Some slices of grilled pumpkin (optional)
- Peel and wash carrots, onions and pumpkin, then cut them into cubes.
- Place the vegetables in a pan together with 250 grams of pre-cooked chickpeas (keep the remaining 100 grams aside) and a sprig of chopped rosemary.
- Cover the vegetables with 1.5 liters of cold water, and place the pot on medium heat with the lid. Cook for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally.
- Separately, mix into a bowl the chestnut flour with 300 ml of water, stirring with a whisk to avoid lumps.
- Add it to the vegetable soup and continue cooking for 10-15 minutes, stirring every so often. Salt the soup to taste.
- Blend the soup with a kitchen blender to get a dense and smooth velvety cream.
- Serve hot, garnish with chestnuts, the chickpeas you left aside, fresh thyme to taste… and some slices of roasted or grilled pumpkin, if you like.
Pan Del Doge
(20 cm cake mold)
- 200 g butter (cubed, room temperature) + a knob to butter the cake mold.
- 100 g sugar
- 250 g flour 00 + a sprinkle to flour the cake mold.
- 60 g honey
- 3 whole eggs
- 100 g sultanas raisins
- 50 g minced almonds
- 60 g pine nuts
- 50 g candied cedar
- The peel of 1 grated orange
- 1 pinch of salt
- 1 shot of rum
- ½ tsp of vanilla powder
- 5 grams of baking powder
- Put the raisins to soak in the rum about 1 hour before preparation.
- Preheat the oven to 180 ° C.
- Meanwhile, roughly chop almonds with a knife and keep aside.
- Using an electric whisk, mix the butter, sugar and honey in a bowl at room temperature, until creamed.
- Add the eggs, one at a time, always mixing with the electric whisk until you get a frothy cream. Add a pinch of salt, vanilla powder, the grated orange peel, squeezed raisins and dried fruit, mixing everything with a wooden spoon.
- Sift the flour and the baking powder a little at a time directly into the bowl, and stir well the mixture with the spoon. You should get a thick dough, but too sticky to work it with your hands.
- Grease and lightly flour a 20 cm round mold, even on the edges.
- Pour the mixture into it and lightly tap the mold on the surface to level the dough. Bake in preheated static oven for 35-40 minutes at 180 ° C until the cake surface looks golden brown.
- Let it cool down in the oven.