Thursday, November 29, 2012

Gelato & Grissini- Dispatch from Verona & Venice

On a whirlwind trip through Northeastern Italy, what started as an exercise in cultural and language immersion for my three-year old (why couldn't she learn the difference between Grana Padano & Parmigiano Reggiano?) quickly turned into a joyous battle for how often she could eat gelato and bread sticks (ie. 'grissini') while eschewing all other food "groups". I think any impartial observer would see how daddy/mommy won this battle, for we also were able to get her to eat gobs of pasta!

From a wonderful wine tasting with the pregnant Tessari sisters of Suavia to the lifetime supply of cuttlefish dishes in Venice there were many highlights from this trip, but my favorite is the new restaurant/inn on the tiny island of Mazzorbo (40min. water bus ride from Venice) called Venissa.

A former monastery, this walled-in compound is now home to a small five-room hotel, less than a hectare of vineyards growing the ancient grape Dorona, and one of the regions finest restaurants. Venissa is truly a gem in the lagoon of Venice.

The restaurant is tiny, maybe 8 tables, but housed in a beautiful new building with a state-of-the art kitchen. We enjoyed three meals here over our short stay, from exquisite hand-crafted pastas and foraged greens from nearby wild meadows to seafood bartered from the docks a few meters away. Not to mention a wonderful server names Stefano who took my daughter on numerous trips to the kitchen for fresh grissini! At some point we all need to concede...

Here's my favorite grissini recipe:

Grissini Bread Sticks

Quantity Produced:  25 Bread Sticks

1 teaspoon active dry yeast (from a 1/4-ounce package)
1 1/2 cups warm water (105-115°F), divided
1/2 tablespoon sugar
1 1/4 cups semolina flour
1 1/2 cups Italian "00" flour
2 teaspoons salt
1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil

Preparation Procedure- Preheat oven to 450˚.
Stir together yeast, 1/4 cup warm water, and sugar in bowl of mixer and let stand until foamy, about 5 minutes. (If mixture doesn't foam, start over with new yeast.)
Add semolina flour, "00" flour, and salt to yeast mixture along with oil and remaining 1 1/4 cups warm water and mix at low speed until a very soft dough forms. If necessary, mix in just enough "00" flour (up to 1/4 cup) to prevent dough from sticking to side of bowl. Increase speed to medium and beat, scraping down side of bowl occasionally, until smooth and elastic, about 5 minutes (dough will be soft). Scrape dough into center of bowl and dust with 2 tablespoons additional "00" flour. Cover bowl with plastic wrap and a kitchen towel and let dough rise in a draft-free place at warm room temperature until doubled, about 1 1/2 hours.
Preheat oven to 350°F with racks in upper and lower thirds. Line 2 large baking sheets with parchment paper.
Punch down dough and turn out onto a floured surface (do not knead), then cut dough in half. Keeping 1 half covered with plastic wrap, cut other half into 16 equal pieces and roll each into a 15- to 16-inch rope (1/8 to 1/4 inch thick), lightly dusting your hands if dough is sticky. Arrange ropes 1/2 inch apart on 1 baking sheet, then make more ropes with remaining dough and arrange on second baking sheet.
Bake, switching position of sheets halfway through baking, until grissini are pale golden and crisp, 30 to 35 minutes total. Transfer to racks to cool.