Venetian aperitif | Tiziano, a cocktail inspired by the Master of color & some roasted grape cicchetti

The large, heavy wooden doors at the entrance of the Basilica creak a little.
I have to push them hard to enter into the typical darkness of many Italian churches. My eyes – dazzled by external light – need a few seconds to adapt to that new condition.
The pungent smell of liturgical incense, a mixture of natural resin and myrrh, overwhelms me immediately, as soon as the doors close with a slight blow behind me.It’s like moving from one dimension to another. The doors close, leaving out the usual chattering of the crowded Venice of our days. For a few seconds I find myself in complete darkness and I walk a few steps ahead squeezing my eyes to allow my pupils to fit in.
This continuous getting through lights and shadows, between narrow Calli, wide Campi, dark churches and shimmering canals is what I call “Venetian Chiaroscuro”.
Then, all of a sudden, out of the darkness, my gaze is caught by something red. An amazing red. It’s a powerful explosion of colors I can almost breathe; it’s the reason why every time I find myself near the Basilica di Santa Maria Gloriosa dei Frari, usually called just Frari, I push that door to enter. It is not any kind of red, it is Titian red (rosso Tiziano as we say in Italian), that of the Virgin Mary’s robes, who with open arms seems almost to invite us to move towards the Altar, in front the great painting in which she is depicted.

I walk along the central aisle, towards the extraordinary masterpiece of Master Tiziano Vecellio, the most important Venetian painter of the 16th century.
The vibrant and sinuous red on the clothes seems to live of its own light. It looks inflamed at times, when the Gothic windows next to the Altar permeates the last ray of the sun at sunset, revealing as well the slight haze produced by the smoke of incense. No need to be religious – I think – to be intrigued by the magnetic charm of a Saint who seems to welcome you in a kind of hug.
That particular kind of red, warm, firm – “welcoming” I would say – has really taken the name of Tiziano over time.
In the old Venetian fine-art stores, where the loose pigments can still be bought per grams (or less, when they are terribly expensive!), if you ask for rosso Tiziano everyone knows what kind of red you’re referring to. They will weigh the pigment on the scale and they will serve it inside a small bag of raw paper.

The red Tiziano used to paint with assumed different shades and meanings according to the subjects of the painting. Perhaps we could say that the red of the dressed woman’s sleeve and slipper and of the naked woman’s cloak in Sacred and Profane Love represents passion. The profuse purple red in Pope Paul III and His Grandsons underlines power so convincingly that passersby once used to bow before the canvas, as Vasari recounts. The blonde copper hair of the beautiful Venetian Ladies depicted as pagan Goddesses suggests sensuality.
Instead, the red of the Venetian cocktail I am proposing today, which bears the name of this great painter, may suggest something else: a fabulous aperitif with a bright color, like the grape juice it is made of.
Bellini cocktail’s younger brother (Bellini is the most famous Venetian cocktail whose name was inspired by the color of the Saints’ robes which were often portrayed by the famous artist Giovanni Bellini), Tiziano cocktail is a light, autumnal aperitif, with a fruity taste. It’s perfect if accompanied by some cicchetti made with grapes as well, for which I leave instructions below.

I close the door of the Basilica dei Frari behind my back and, with it, all the intimate and mysterious mysticism that this place still preserves.
It’s like taking a journey through time; from 1500 to 2018, through an old wooden door.
It is like going back to the real world after a short break along the way I was on.
It is like remembering that Art after all lives a life of its own, immortal behind those gates, like those artists who live through the ages and always return, even within the simplest things of worldly life.

Tiziano cocktail + Roasted grape cicchetti with goat cheese, thyme and balsamic vinegar
Tiziano Cocktail:
  • Uva fragola (Concord Grape) / 1 part
  • Prosecco or Spumante Brut / 2 Parts
Roasted grape cicchetti with goat cheese, thyme and balsamic vinegar
  • Sliced bread (Filoncino type)
  • 80 g creamy goat cheese
  • ⅘ bunches of sweet black seedless grapes
  • 4 sprigs of fresh thyme
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • Balsamic vinegar glaze to taste
How to make Tiziano cocktail:
  1. Wash and dry the grape. Using a potato masher, press the grape directly into the glass or flûte, preferably after chilling it in the fridge, to get the juice (approx. ⅓ of the glass).
  2. Fill the remaining ⅔ of the glass with Prosecco or Spumante Brut. Serve immediately.
How to make cicchetti:
  1. Wash and dry the bunches of grapes and place them on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Bake them in a ventilated oven at 150 C * for 8 minutes, extract and let it cool down.
  2. Slice the bread and toast it on a cast iron pan. Spread the goat cheese on the bread slices when they are still hot.
  3. Place the roasted grape on the slices, add a few leaves of fresh thyme, a sprinkling of black pepper and a few drops of balsamic vinegar glaze. Serve when they are still warm.


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