Tuesday, August 31, 2010

A Taste of Venice — Locanda Cipriani, Torcello

We enjoyed 5 fabulous days in Venice last May as part of my parent's 50th Wedding Anniversary celebration that featured a Silversea cruise from Venice to Civitavecchia, so arriving in Venice five days before the cruise departed we were able to explore the city at length. One of the highlights of our stay in Venice was when we took the 'N' vaporetto to the island of Torcello, located at the northern end of the Venetian lagoon, where I had made lunch reservations at Locanda Cipriani, long a favourite with English royalty and Hollywood stars. The vaporetto departed from Fondamenta Nove near St Mark's Square and took 45 minutes, stopping along the way at the Lido and continuing to the island of Burano. 

It was a gorgeous sunny summer day as we spent an hour or so exploring Burano, the island known for it's lace, and the small adjacent agricultural island of Mazzorbo, before catching the small motor launch to Torcello, a short 5 minute journey from Burano. Torcello is a serene and charming island — a welcome respite from the hustle bustle of central Venice. 

From the wharf, we walked along the inland canal, and past the Ponte del Diavolo (Devil's Bridge), arriving at Locanda Cipriani at noon. We were greeted at the door and escorted through the restaurant to the beautiful outdoor terrace overlooking a rose garden with wisteria and grape-lined trellises, and the 11th century church of Santa Fosca. Being the first people to arrive for lunch, we were given the primo table along the edge of the rose garden! We started with a campari and soda and perused the menu. 

My husband Guy ordered the Tagliolini verde gratinati al prosciutto, rich with prosciutto, cream, cheese and butter. With the area's outstanding reputation for seafood, I had gamberetti, the tiny lagoon shrimp, over white polenta, followed by the restaurant's signature dish of John Dory 'alla Carlina'. But it was Guy's tagliolini that I recall as being unforgettable. Here is the treasured recipe. It is very rich, so a small portion goes a long way.

Tagliolini Verde Gratinati al Prosciutto
Serves 2


3 tbl butter
1/2 cup (60 gr) prosciutto, thick cut, cut into julienne strips
3/4 lb (330 gr) dried tagliolini pasta
1/2 cup (54 gr) parmesan cheese, freshly grated
1/2 cup Bechamel sauce
salt and papper to taste

Preheat broiler. Put water to boil for pasta. Melt 1 tbl of the butter in a copper pan, or skillet, over medium-high heat. Add the prosciutto and cook it for a minute, stirring constantly. Cook the pasta in the boiling water until al dente. Drain it well in a colander, and put it in a copper pan or skillet. Toss it with the prosciutto, add another tbl of the butter, sprinkle with half the parmesan, and toss well. Spread the pasta evenly in a casserole dish. Spoon the bechamel sauce over the top and sprinkle with the remaining parmesan cheese. Cut the remaining butter in to bits and scatter over the top. Broil as close as possible to the heat source (or 475°) until golden and bubbly, about 3-5 minutes. Serve immediately.

Bechamel Sauce
2 tbl butter
2 tbl flour
1 cup whole milk

Put pan on medium heat and place butter in, add flour, mix well. Using a wooden spoon, stir for 2-3 minutes so you cook away the flour taste before adding the milk. Whisk constantly to avoid lumps. Use more milk for looser sauce.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Mamma Styles Tomato Sauce

Today is the first day of my new food and travel blog, with the inaugural subject being Tomato Sauce. Specifically, Mamma Styles Tomato Sauce. Yesterday was the 10th Annual event which took place at my friend Paul's studio. Every year for 10 years we've gotten together to make homemade tomato sauce. The tradition started September 15, 2001 just after 9/11 stunned the world. We had plans to go to a friend's cottage for the weekend, but we were so shell shocked from the news that was coming out of NYC that we decided to stay in the city, get back to basics, and soothe ourselves in an age-old culinary pursuit — making homemade tomato sauce! 

Presto — A tradition was born. Tomato Sauce Day starts with buying 2-3 bushels of fresh local roma tomatoes and harvesting our own home grown herbs and peppers, when we can. Paul is the alchemist and creates the aromatic base of olive oil, garlic and a bouquet garni of oregano, thyme and italian parsley, in a large cooking pot. The tomatoes are blanched in boiling water until the skins are loose and wrinkled, squeezed by hand, eliminating the excess water and seeds, then added to the pot with a couple of hot peppers. The sauce is left to simmer 3-4 hours, until it transforms into an intoxicatingly rich complex flavour. It takes the good part of a day to make our way through the 3 bushels of tomatoes, with the obligatory pause for a glass or two of wine!

Mid morning, Paul and I made a brief but wonderful detour across the street to the Liberty Farmer's Market, leaving my husband Guy behind in charge of the Tomato Sauce!  We bought some hot peppers for the tomato sauce and also made a visit to the 'Cheese Lady' —  the charming purveyor of Monforte artisanal cheeses (made in Stratford, Ontario) where we bought a very tasty sheep cheese to add to our lunch. Paul had already popped some sausages into one of the pots of simmering tomato sauce, so once they were done, we took a well deserved break and sat down to our first taste of the 2010 tomato sauce. Coupled with a braised italian sausage, fresh ciabatta bun, a wedge of Monforte cheese and of course, a bottle of wine, we raised our glasses in honour of the 10th Anniversary Mamma Styles Tomato Sauce!
"In a world gone mad for innovation and change, it's the small pleasures that keep us sane. And in the constellation of small pleasures that salve the mind and nourish the body, what trumps the sheer sensual deliciousness of a well-crafted cheese? At Monoforte, we're convinced the small things do indeed make a difference, that agriculture is best practiced on a human scale, and that our cheeses, each in its own quiet way, reflect something a little deeper than the technology behind mass manufactured food – a little of the poetry and passion of life itself."

 I was inspired by this quotation from Monforte. It echoes my feelings about our annual tradition, where good friends make the time, and take the time, to enjoy life's simple pleasures. Because life is too short — a fact we were painfully aware of on the first Tomato Sauce Day, September 15, 2001.

Mamma Styles Tomato Sauce


  • 3 bushels roma tomatoes
  • 2 750ml bottles extra virgin olive oil
  • 4 heads of garlic, chopped coarsley
  • 1 bunch fresh parsley
  • 1 bunch fresh oregano
  • 1 bunch fresh thyme
  • 1 bunch fresh basil
  • 8 bay leaves
  • 6 156ml cans Tomato Paste
  • 8 hot banana peppers (or jalapeno), whole
  • 6 eggplants, sliced and grilled
  • 12 onions, sliced and grilled
  • salt to taste


A day before making the Tomato Sauce, grill the eggplant and onions until golden, then wrap in tin foil overnight. In a large pot of boiling water, blanch tomatoes a handful at a time until skins are loose and wrinkled, about 2 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer blanched tomatoes into cold water, letting them cool slightly. The skins will just fall off. Cut the tomatoes in half, squeezing out the water and seeds, and toss the tomatoes in a colander to drain. Discard the waste. Make the bouquet garni: using a piece of string, tie together 1/4 bunch each of parsley, oregano and thyme, leaving a length of string attached so it can be retrieved from the pot. In a large pot, combine 2 cups of olive oil and 1 head of chopped garlic and sweat until aromatic, then add enough blanched tomatoes to fill the pot to 3/4. Add 1/4 of grilled eggplants and onions, bouquet garni, 2 banana peppers, 2 cans of tomato paste and salt to taste. (Repeat process with additional pots until all tomatoes are used). Simmer the tomato mixture uncovered over a med-low heat, 2-3 hours, stirring frequently, to prevent the sauce from sticking. Cook until the sauce has thickened and become a lovely auburn color. To store, let mixture cool, then portion into tupperware containers, garnishing each with a basil leaf. Tomato sauce can be frozen and stored 12-18 months.