This article is about the Veneto.
It’s been four months since I wrote my article about my return to my poor neglected Venice, and I’m happy to report that since then I’ve been a regular visitor. And it’s been really interesting to see the way in which the mood of the city changes with the seasons as the light moves from watery winter to sandy-coloured spring. This weekend was noticeably warmer than my last visit, back in February, and some intrepid tourists had even begun stripping down to t-shirts, even though my Italian blood was more comfortable with a t-shirt, shirt, pullover, and jacket!
The 19th and 20th of March were the Giornate FAI, two days of special cultural and historical events organised by the Fondo Ambiente Italiano, a body set up to uphold Article 9 of the Italian Constitution, which states that the government must protect the natural, historical, and artistic heritage of the nation. On these days, all over Italy, buildings of historical or artistic interest which are normally closed to the public are opened, and there are special guided tours. In Venice, the Ca’ Morosini, an ancient house which once belonged to one of the richest and most important families in Venice was opened, and we decided to go and visit it.
The day began with a short walk from the apartment where I was staying, via Campo di Santa Maria Formosa, to the Ca’ Morosini. The campo, one of the largest open spaces in Venice, is named after the church of Saint Mary the Beautiful (Santa Maria Formosa) which is in the middle of the square. It’s in the Castello district of Venice which is less famous than the adjacent San Marco, and one of the places where you can witness real Venetian daily life.
As we crossed the square, we passed a market stall selling local fruit and vegetables and I noticed they had bruscàndoli, a vegetable only available for a few weeks at the beginning of spring and a real sign that the season has begun. Although people often think that bruscàndoli are a type of wild asparagus, they are actually the early shoots of the hop plant. They have a very delicate flavour which is indeed similar to asparagus, and in the Veneto are traditionally cooked in either a frittata, or a risotto.
The Ca’ Morosini is now home to the Andrea Barbarigo Institute of Enogastronomy and Hospitality, and the tour was organised by the students. It had originally been the home of Michele Morosini, who in 1382 served briefly as the Doge of Venice, the third of four family members to hold that office. His descendant Morosina Morosini was also Dogaressa of Venice when her husband Marin Grimani was the Doge (1595-1605).
We entered the palazzo through the back into a courtyard which is considered to be one of the most beautiful in the whole of Venice. It has a well and a 16th century staircase leading to the first floor, allowing the Morosini family to access their apartments, bypassing the rooms from which they exercised their operations as merchants on the ground floor. This arrangement, was extremely common in medieval and renaissance Venice where all of the so-called noble families owed their riches to their trading activities.
The palazzo has been recently restored with painted beams, glass, and terrazzo flooring being returned to their original state. There is one room which is currently undergoing restoration which has some fine examples of 18th century stucco decoration.
After the tour, we returned to the apartment via Campo di Santa Maria Formosa where I bought some bruscàndoli, to take home and cook. I decided to make a risotto for dinner, following my grandmother’s technique. I chopped the bruscàndoli into small pieces and added it to the soffritto. I used a local Friulano wine—an interesting dry wine made with tokay grapes, grown in the region of Friuli-Venezia Giulia— for the sfumato, and for the mantecato, extra butter and parmigiano reggiano.
The flavour was quite delicate with the bruscàndoli tasting very mildy of asparagus, very sweet, and very tender. The next time, I’d like to try using an artisan beer instead of the white wine, which would, in my opinion, bring out the hoppy flavour of the plant.