It was a few weeks ago and it was a lifetime ago. Christmas, New Year, Epiphany (which here in Venice we celebrate with a visit from la befana, an old witch who travels on a broomstick and comes bearing sacks of coal). Somehow, already the new year doesn’t feel ‘new’ any more. It’s a little worn, more comfortable perhaps than when we first greeted it with plots, plans and lofty resolutions. Rather like a pair of shoes, that while all very nice and fancy when you take them out of the box – still wrapped in crinkly tissue paper, the leather stiff and sharply polished – somehow you enjoy them more once they’ve begun to mould to the shape of your foot. Twenty-sixteen, shall we say, has begun to mould to the shape of my foot. And I like how it’s looking. It feels like we’re old friends already. Twenty-fifteen a fond memory – and this year stretching out ahead is full of promise, ready to be filled with much cooking and eating and many new memories.
New Year’s Eve itself was chaotic. But in the very best kind of way. We spent the day wandering from bacaro to bacaro with friends, stopping off for cichetti, until we had eaten so much salame, baccalà and polpette that we could eat no more. Then we walked through the frosty streets to the Frari and the Scuola Grande di San Rocco, where the ceilings sparkle with gold leaf and I could sit for hours just gazing up at the frescoes above me. By the time we got home, it was late in the day. By the time we had warmed ourselves with hot ginger tea, later still. We had had grandiose plans for celebrations on the night itself involving dinner at an extravagant restaurant and waiters in white jackets, but in the end we settled for a cozy candlelit dinner at home, followed by fireworks in Piazza San Marco.
The menu was oven roasted whole turbot with a tray of baby artichokes and roasted potatoes, drenched in lemon juice and freshly chopped parsley. I whipped up a salsa verde to go with the fish. And then we had ordered a panettone filled with mascarpone cream and iced like a cake in sugary white icing from our local bakery for dessert. Spritz (made with Aperol) and (more) salame to nibble on before dinner while I busied myself in the kitchen.
At the last minute, we tossed together a decadently large bowl of tagliatelle with gorgonzola, added a few slices of pear and crushed whole walnuts, and then spent the rest of the evening marvelling at what an exquisite a combination it makes for. The tagliatelle came as an afterthought. That morning, we had stopped off at La Casa Del Parmigiano, a little cheese and charcuterie shop just on the edge of the Rialto Market, to buy provisions. The shop itself is minute and alway packed, never more so than on the day before a holiday. We squeezed through the sliding doors, wedged ourselves among the old ladies in thick fur coats , and began to queue. Queuing is not an activity I ever really enjoy (I am by nature terribly impatient) – but funnily enough at La Casa del Parmigiano I never mind so much. The shop is heady with the scent of rich spices, the shelves laden with whole wheels of parmesan, brilliant yellow pecorino that is infused with saffron and whole peppercorns, bags of creamy buffalo mozzarella and whole burrata wrapped in fig leaves. Ham hocks, Parma hams, salame and mortadella all hang from the ceiling. As you stand and wait your turn you can almost hear the taleggio calling out to be tossed atop a pizza (perhaps with a little fresh mint and a few slices of zucchina), and the mascarpone (oh, their mascarpone!) begging to be whipped into tiramisù.
People are chatty at La Casa del Parmigiano. And mostly they chat about cheese. On that day in particular, we ordered a generous chunk of gorgonzola: as the salesman hovered with his knife over the wheel of cheese, I quibbled over how much we should take before, in a flurry of decisiveness, settling on a hefty slice round about the half a kilo mark. As I began to pay, the stranger behind me made approving noises. He was a handsome man, of some years, but dressed in a dapper fashion with a crisply pressed linen shirt, and a padded paddock jacket. He wore a tweed flat cap – as so many Venetian men of his generation seem to do – and thick rimmed glasses. He too, it turns out, has a particular fondness for gorgonzola. And he suggested that we toss lumps of the cheese in among a plate of hot, plain pasta, then swirl it around to make the creamiest of sauces. Dutifully, we followed his instructions. Then, we added a little cream (because: New Year’s Eve, why not?), a few sweet slices of pear and a couple of walnuts (because: pear gorgonzola and walnut is a match made in heaven). And so began the new year.
Though that night we ate the tagliatelle with fish and other fancy trimmings, the pasta is a meal in itself. It is rich and decadent enough that, rather like a good wine, it needs space to breathe. And that is how I have been eating it ever since: one dish, one meal. To go with it – because, in my book, no meal however simple is complete without a sweet to finish it off – I wanted to share with you a recipe for pomegranate, rose and meringue semifreddo. It is a timeless favourite of mine, and a dish that I look forward to cooking (and eating) often in this year to come. Twenty sixteen is going to be a good year. I like how it looks and feels already.
Tagliatelle con Gorgonzola, Pere e Noci
(Tagliatelle with Gorgonzola, Pear and Walnut)
Prep Time: 5 mins
Cook Time: 10 mins
450g Gorgonzola cheese
1 small pear
a handful of whole walnuts
Fill a large saucepan with water, add a generous pinch of salt and bring to the boil. When the water is galloping, add the pasta and cook for 7 mins or until al dente, as per the instructions on the packet. Pour the cream into a small saucepan, roughly chop the cheese into small pieces and add them to the pan, then set over a low-medium heat and stir occasionally until the cheese is almost completely melted. Core the pear and slice into small pieces, and roughly chop the nuts. Drain the pasta in a colander, toss in the cheese sauce, then just before serving core add the pear and the walnut pieces.
Semifreddo di Melograno, Meringa e al Profumo di Rosa
(Pomegranate, Rose and Meringue Semifreddo)
Prep Time: 15 mins
Freeze Time: 6-8 hours
370ml double cream
4 egg yolks
200g pomegranate seeds, and more for decoration
Line a 20cm round cake tin with cling film, allowing a generous overhang on all sides and set to one side. Whisk the cream until stiff and set to one side while you make the custard. Crack the eggs and yolks into a heatproof bowl and pour in the sugar. Set the bowl over a pot of simmering water, and whisk the eggs vigorously for 4-5 mins until they become tick and creamy. Then take them off the heat and whisk for a further4-5 mins until cool. Gently fold in the whipped cream. Pour in the rosewater and the pomegranate seeds, and crumble in the meringues then fold gently through. Cover with cling film and freeze overnight or until firm.
Before serving, stand at room temperature for 5-10 minutes, then turn out on to a plate and decorate with pomegranate seeds.