Amongst the secrets of an atelier | Venetian stuffed squids with green pesto

I often enter my parents’ studios in search for “something”. It can be an old piece of wood, a pot of paint, some brushes – not necessarily made of marten or watercolor ones. Sometimes I don’t know exactly what I’m looking for, that is, I know that I need something else than what I have already collected – which are usually raw materials – to support the atmosphere of a set and make it more fascinating. I often search for it in their studios, which are much larger than mine and full of artistic materials as different as their characters and history. Each time it’s like a small treasure hunt but at the end I always find the right piece and that indefinite “something” takes form and appears, as if it had always been ready for me – the surprise and the solution I was looking for.Anything can be found in an artist’s studio, because the original idea is that everything can be turned into something else and, most of all, there must be a solution within reach, if needed. For example, in my Dad’s study you might wonder why there is fish glue or flour, which you would expect to find in the kitchen. He uses them to prepare the pastes to paint according to ancient recipes. Otherwise, in my Mom’s studio you can find big sheets of cloth, old pieces of wood collected by the sea or verdigris which is usually spread on vines. She uses the big sheets to cover finished paintings, to protect them from dust and to avoid looking and sticking to her most recent works, to be free for new ones. Collecting pieces of wood around is a constant practice, since every piece seems to contain a defined idea of more sculptural artworks. Some wooden tables modeled by the sea have become very interesting works, of course after sandpapering and painting them. Verdigris is made of beautifully colored flakes: intense Prussian blue and malachite green. Just by looking at it you wonder how to use it, because it’s so beautiful… She’s actually been keeping it for a few years because it can be used to make etchings on copper.



Have you seen Rembrandt’s wonderful drawings? Well, they were not only drawings: they were etched on copper plates which were covered by a soft special paint. Once he had drawn on them with sharp points or burins, they were frosted before spreading ink on them.
Then they were pressed on paper and the benefit was that many copies could be made from one single drawing; yet it took so much work to represent light and darkness on each plate. Having light in mind while working is something which comes natural to me. My Dad has always drawn from Venetian painting and my Mom loves Tuscan and Nordic drawings, so maybe they have something to do with it.
In one of my parents’ studios I find more “academic” objects: plaster moulds of hands and heads to study proportions, pots of glue and colored pigment powders, like in a XVI century Venetian shop. In the other studio I find pieces of wood and paper of all kinds and color and shapes; empty pots; recycled rags – cotton only – to clean brushes; pen and pencils; nibs and inks and much more… I’ll tell you later about it.
So, I drop in looking for that “something” which I need to solve my initial idea – that day’s brilliant idea – and I know that I will always find it in their place. What I love is that it is always a surprise! That is precisely how I found, a few days ago, the surface I needed under a big press (a little bit different from the one used by Rembrandt!): it was grayish blue with a few touches of ink and something already drawn on it. It was a real etching plate, but not a zinc one – it was just perfect!


Amongst the secrets of an atelier | Venetian stuffed squids with green pesto | The Freaky Table
You know, fresh squids have that pink color, with a purple hue and so many dots! You can see them only if you observe them for a few seconds and from a short distance. The dots, you see, could be tiny spaces which painters used to touch with the tip of their pencil or brush. I very often consider these apparently irrelevant details as the dotted mantle of the fresh squids I bought at the market this morning, and then I travel with my mind – and staring eyes – on scattered thoughts.
I think of Pointilism after Impressionism: studying light was no longer enough for those anti-academic rebel artists. They finished by pointing every form and space of the painting, just like Seurat.
The squids’ pink dots and that grayish blue plate were enough for me: the idea was ready to be photographed.
And while the drizzle taps on my kitchen window, creating tiny brilliant dots on the glass, I cook the squids using a Venetian recipe which my Mom’s aunt, an incredibly good cook, taught her when she was about my age. My Mom cooked them for my Dad soon after they met, one of the first times she invited him for dinner. They ate in the studio, surrounded by paintings leaning on the wall, on one of those “mobile” tables which are often mounted and dismounted at our home when needed: just two stands with a color-stained table on them.
This is how I like to imagine them every time I use this recipe: two young artists in love, amongst the secrets of an atelier which is still full of surprise and wonder.


Venetian stuffed squids with green pesto
Stuffed squids:
*(Serves 4)
  • 4 medium-size squids
  • 1 cup fresh parsley
  • 1 egg
  • 100 g grated bread
  • 3 tbsp grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1 clove of garlic
  • 50 ml white wine
  • Salt and pepper as needed
  • 1 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
Green pesto:
*(Serves 4)
  • 2 cups fresh parsley
  • 50 ml extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 tbsp grated Parmesan
  • 1 pinch of salt
  • 1 pinch of pepper
  1. Cleaning the squids is quite easy. I found a detailed guide at Food52 which you can follow: For this recipe you only need to clean the squids from their entrails and external skin, because you will use all other parts. So, when you cut off the head and tentacles from the main body, put them aside.
  2. Once you’ve cleaned the squids, let them drip so they will look like some small bags to be filled.
  3. Prepare the filling in a bowl by chopping fresh parsley with garlic, adding Parmesan cheese and grated bread.
  4. Add the whole egg and mix everything with a fork, savoring it with a pinch of salt and a pinch of pepper.
  5. Cut the heads and tentacles you have put aside into thin slices and add to the filling, which should not be too soft (add some more grated bread to harden it, if needed).
  6. Using a long spoon, fill the squids with the mixture, pushing it down to the very bottom with the spoon, stopping just two fingers from the top. The squids must be only ¾ full, otherwise they will shrink and explode while cooking. Close each squid with a toothpick.
  7. Drop 1 tbsp of extra-virgin olive oil in a non-stick pan and cook the squids rapidly at medium heat, until they obtain a golden hue. Drop some wine and let it evaporate, close the lid and cook them for 15/20 minutes, turning them around once in a while.
  8. Avoid cooking them more than necessary, otherwise they will harden.
  9. Serve hot, cut into slices, with green pesto.
Green pesto
  1. Place the fresh leaves of parsley (after drying them from the water you used to wash them), extra-virgin olive oil, Parmesan, salt and pepper in a food processor and mince quickly until you obtain a fluid mixture. If you don’t eat it right away, cover it with a lid and store it in the fridge.


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  • Avatar
    Reply betty 09/03/2016 at 17:53

    This is amazing Zaira!!!

    • Zaira Zarotti
      Reply Zaira Zarotti 10/03/2016 at 12:48

      Thank you my dear Betty, I can’t wait to see you soon – (I hope!)

  • Avatar
    Reply Saghar S. {Lab Noon} 09/03/2016 at 18:07

    Blown away! Really amazing! I love how connected the artist studio and materials to painting schools to the squids, that platter, and everything! You are truly a child of artists! <3

    • Zaira Zarotti
      Reply Zaira Zarotti 10/03/2016 at 12:46

      aah Saghar! You always make me smile! Thank you! I am very happy you like this post, what’s around me it’s my daily inspiration and I like to share a little bit of this with all of you <3

  • Avatar
    Reply Ilaria Guidi 10/03/2016 at 11:37


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