Discovering Venice's farms: a day in Sant'Erasmo
Summer is here, the weather is perfect and I finally have some free time. So, I meet my friend Marjorie from OG Venice and head to do some food shopping in Sant'Erasmo.
Sant'Erasmo is the second biggest island on the north side of the lagoon (after Venice), only thirty minutes boat from the city. Pure countryside: plants, trees, flowers, animals, but mostly crops! In fact, Sant'Erasmo is known for its products, real delicacies, especially the artichokes (castraure and botoi). Spending the day on this island is really relaxing, few people, nature everywhere and comfort food.
We got off at the Sant'Erasmo Capannone stop and felt immediately happier. The flowers had blossomed and the island was all purple, yellow and red. We walked in the only street present (so don't worry, no chance you get it wrong), stopping every now and then to nose among the different cultivated plants and take pictures of the beautiful veggies.
It was really hot and the sun was strong, but luckily there was a lovely breeze that made everything extremely pleasant. Our first destination was the farm I Sapori di Sant'Erasmo, a family-run business started in 1996 by two brothers, Claudio and Carlo Finotello. Their products are organic and natural and they have specialized in direct-to-consumer sale, which has allowed them to maintain virtuous growing methods that follow the natural cycles of the seasons. For Venetian residents, they organise different deliveries during the week. People can order online, by filling in a list, and collect their shopping bag at the different delivery points. I used to do it too (now I can't because my schedule doesn't allow me to :-( ) and it was lovely. They would arrive by boat and call every person by name and finally deliver the parcel! I thought it was a real social moment, a sort of ritual! And the value for money more than excellent!
While going there we couldn't help admiring every corner of this island, so rich in mouthwatering food and bright red poppies all over the place. Zucchini flower everywhere, vines, peas, lettuce, basil and lots more.
The best known produce is the artichokes. Here you can see two varieties. The first one recalls the Roman artichoke and is thicker (perfect to deep fry), while the other one is the traditional lagoon artichoke.
About our artichokes: basically, there is the plant and the first artichoke at the top is called castraura (meaning castrated). Once you cut it, other artichokes grow (about 18/20 per plant) and those are called botoi. Finally, after the botoi season is over, you get massette and then the fondi di carciofo. I like them all, obviously castraure are the more expensive ones and their season usually is late April, while the collection of botoi goes on until late June. Unfortunately this year the weather wasn't good and the annual feast of the Carciofo Violetto (purple artichoke) had to be cancelled.
Finally we reached the farm. The path to the stall had a barnyard for chickens -all fed with 100% natural products-, a tractor, lots of work tools and a huge amount of basil plants that emanated a wonderful fresh scent. I got some peas, potatoes, zucchini, spring onions and lettuce, which I used for my dinner (baked potatoes with thyme and a salad with all the above ingredients plus one sliced beetroot and some good quality tinned tuna).
At that point we were hungry, so my friend took me to a lovely place called Il Lato Azzurro, a hotel and cultural centre with cuisine. The location is marvellous, with a beautiful villa and a garden, but don't be intimidated by its look because the prices are excellent. The staff is friendly and their usual offer is a mixed fish starter, pastas, and meat and fish second courses with local vegetables. If my memory isn't playing tricks on me, I think it's 25 euros for the whole menu, otherwise you can order a la cartè. My friend had linguine with lagoon clams, while I had a really tender roast beef with rocket salad and Parmesan. Simply perfect.
After lunch we had a little walk hoping to visit a bee farm, but it was closed. The honey from Sant'Erasmo is deliciously particular, it's produced from the flower of the artichoke and it resembles -in a way- chestnut honey. It's bitter and sweet at the same time, perfect to combine with salty cheese (with sheep's or goat's milk) and with fruits like apples and pears. You can buy it in different shops in Venice and at all the farmers markets (in central Venice the farmers markets are on Monday in Santa Marta or Thursday at P.le Roma. More on this soon).
It was about time to go back home, so we slowly walked towards the vaporetto savouring the last moments of peace before returning to our overly-crowded city. The sky was clear and the breeze never failed to give us a bit of comfort.
We saw a family of ducks happily paddling their way towards who knows where, with mummy duck in the front and the little ducklings behind her. So cute!
I really had a lovely and relaxing day and I recommend this day trip to anyone looking for peace and relaxation and curious to learn more about Venetian food.
Vaporetto: Linea 13 from F.te Nove to Sant'Erasmo Capannone
Recommended for lunch: Il Lato Azzurro
Food shopping: I Sapori di Sant'Erasmo