Think soap opera. But set among crumbling brickwork and evocative frescoes: the story of the squares of Venice. And of the characters who live in them. You see, at the very heart of all that is truly Venetian is the campo – an open square, a patch of flagstones, kind of like a piazza but on a miniature scale. If you know Venice, you’ll know what I mean: the city is a maze of tiny alleyways and campi.
Every Venetian grows up and lives out his life in his campo. That’s where he plays hide and seek as a child, and dries his laundry as a grown up. Were he to move house, he might find a new campo to live in – one that’s no more than a few steps from his newfound home address. And over time, he might grow to love that campo too. But the campo where he grew up forever holds him tight – that’s where the church he married in is, where his butcher and his baker are, where his heart lies.
We live in Campo delle Gorne – it’s not a grand square; not as far as they go. No Palladian Church and no extravagant palazzi. Were you passing through, you probably wouldn’t even stop. There’s a sleepy canal and a few houses; windows open so that you can peer into the neighbours’ kitchens – which, of course, I love to do – or watch their television through their living room window. Like most of the squares of Venice, we have a pozzo – an ancient water well, that once upon a time provided drinking water and now, is mostly used as a climbing frame of sorts. By small children and stray cats alike. And we have a tree. The tree is pretty special: not many campi have a tree.
Then there’s the rickety wooden table with three mismatched chairs, perched just by the edge of the canal. That is where the old men of the campo sit out from May until October, as long as the weather is warm: sometimes chatting, sometimes in companionable silence, often sharing a bottle of wine, which they drink from rough glass tumblers. The old men have bewitchingly wise, wrinkled faces, they wear impeccably ironed checked shirts and, every now and then, sport fishing caps. There’s also the old lady with the exquisitely embroidered floral dresses and the snappy dog; and the plump priest, who wears his hair slicked back like Marlon Brando in The Godfather. All together they make for a colourful cast of characters, and a really good story. The kind of story that you read about in gripping novels. Maybe one day I will write it to down. But for now I just like to watch.
That’s the thing about living in a campo, you get to know your neighbours. It’s like village life, but on a titchy tiny scale. You smile and say hello when you cross paths, you stop to discuss the changing of the tides – that’s very important in a city that literally floats on water. When a blue bow goes up above their front door to mark the birth of a baby boy, you celebrate with them You know what colour their underwear is – because you see it hanging out to dry. You know what kind of fish they’re having for dinner, because you see them cleaning it in the middle of the campo under the tree. And if you’re me, you know how they’re going to cook it too, because you can’t help but stop to ask. As with a good book, you grow to know its characters, you become invested in what they’re up to – who they’re sleeping with and who they’re feuding with – entranced by the gossip.
So, that’s our campo. And here is a recipe for pizza. Like Paolo makes it: thin, crispy and heaped with melting mozzarella. Paolo, by the way, is the pizzaiolo in the campo only a few steps away from Campo dell Gorne, across a rusty metal bridge and to the right. He wears horn rimmed round glasses with something of the Harry Potter about them, though there is nothing of the Harry Potter about him. He likes to sing and loves an excuse to serenade dinner guests with his guitar. Anyway, this pizza is a biancaneve: a snow white pizza, no tomato – just cheese. You see, Paolo taught me that less is very much more when it comes to pizza.
With that in mind, you could top yours with whatever you like, perhaps a spicy salami and a slice or two of creamy rich burrata, or some pickled peaches and a crumbling of ricotta. Here, I’ve dotted on a few shavings of aromatic black truffle – the kind that you buy in a jar, preserved in olive oil – a dollop of mascarpone and a few torn up sage leaves.
Too good. Too too good.
Pizza Bianca Con Tartufi Neri, Mascarpone e Salvia
(Paolo’s Black Truffle, Mascarpone & Sage Pizza)
This recipe for pizza dough is very light adapted from Russell Norman’s book Polpo. I find that if you are likely to make pizza often, it’s also worth investing in a pizza stone which helps get that perfectly crisp base.
Prep Time : 15 mins (and 1 hr resting time)
Cook Time: 20 mins
500g ‘type 00’ flour
1 (7g) sachet of fast action dried yeast
300ml tepid water
1 1/2 tsps salt
2 tbsps extra virgin olive oil
30g sliced black truffles in olive oil
small bunch of fresh sage