On these warmer days it can be nicer to nibble on something daintier than we might usually do. As we cautiously start to gather together again, a tapas style meal is also perfect for outdoor dining. This month we have been reminiscing about cicchetti, a Venetian take on tapas.
The word cicchetti comes from the Latin ciccus, meaning “small quantity” and they can be found served at local bacari (small bars) They are often eaten standing and at the bar on which they are displayed. Meeting friends at the bacari for an early evening drink and cicchetti is a centuries-old ritual whcih is part of the cities maritime history, wine sellers offered glasses of wine along with small portions of food to the traders who passed by at all hours of the day.
Many tiny bars can be found today, squeezed into the narrow streets that run through Venice, where you can peruse the offerings at the counter and select a few to enjoy with your drink.
Crostini style bread is often used, but the various ingredients are also frequently served on slices of cold polenta. These are typically topped with baccala, a Venetian speciality made with salt cod. Here is a recipe if you would like to try it.
However, other toppings such as grilled and/or marinated veg such as peppers, aubergines, mushrooms and artichokes also feature, as well as little bites of other specialities such as eggs topped with marinated anchovies and olives, fried seafood or polpette. What we love is that cicchetti can be as simple or as lavish as you wish. Many say that when creating at home, they are a good way to use up leftovers. Think drops of pesto, the last couple of tomatoes, veg made into a patty and so on... Other examples of popular cicchetti at the bar include eggs topped with marinated anchovies and olives, fried seafood or polpette.
Here is our way of making polenta for topping.
50-100g grated Parmigiano or alternative - to your taste
Extra virgin olive oil
INSTRUCTIONS 1. Firstly cook the polenta. You can use our technique here. Add cheese to the mix and season with salt.
2. Oil an 8-inch square baking pan Pour in the hot polenta in an even layer ½ inch thick, smooth the top and set aside to cool. Put in the fridge to cool completely and become firmer. 3. When set cut the polenta into 1-inch squares.
4. Heat a drop of oil in a non-stick pan or griddle over medium heat and fry the polenta squares a few at a time, until deep golden brown. This should take around 2 minutes on each side. Drain on kitchen paper.
5.Top the squares with your choice of ingredients. We like olive, artichoke or tomato pate, chopped cherry tomatoes, grilled peppers and chopped preserved veg such as mushrooms, garlic or aubergines. Or how about pecorino and truffle honey?
Enjoy with a glass of your favorite wine, which in keeping with Venetian tradition it should definitely be chilled. Wine served with cicchetti is known as Ombra, which translates to shade. Legend says that the name comes from how the wine sellers in Saint Mark’s Square would set their stalls under the shade of the church tower. As the shadow moved, so did they, keeping their wine cool!