There are a lot of magical places in Venice and one of them is San Pietro di Castello, located at the far end of the north lagoon. Formerly called Olivolo, San Pietro was the first residential, commercial and political centre of the city and until 1807 it was also the seat of the Patriarch of Venice. The church we see today was built at the end of the XVI century and is dedicated to Pietro the Apostole; before that time there was another church which had been originally dedicated to the Byzantine Saints Sergio and Bacco.
The notable bell-tower in Istrian stone was restored around 1480 by Mauro Codussi, one of the most active Venetian architects during the Renaissance, author of a quite significant number of religious buildings; then some other interventions were planned by Andrea Palladio in the mid 1500s. From 1807, with the loss of its central role, the state of the church, of the tower and of the area in general fell into a sort of abandonment. To this, let's add that during WW1 the area was bombarded and it was only in the second half of the 20th century that some international funds (in particular, the World Monument Fund) helped contributing with precious restoration and renovation works, intervening on church, bell tower, pavements and organ! Thank you!
Although small, this tiny island connected to central Venice only by two bridges, is very rich in history. San Pietro di Castello is the only square in Venice whit a pre-designed path that leads straight to the church and, if you ask me, it is just wonderful. I don't know if I have already told you, but in summer, when the city gets unbearably damp and crowded, Vito and I like to go there on Sunday mornings to read the papers seated on the red benches under the shade of the trees, in a super quiet and relaxed atmosphere, and get the most of that nice breeze.
San Pietro is known also for its "sagra", the popular feast that takes place every year from the end of June to the first days of July, an event I strongly suggest to participate in! During those days, the square is full of events, concerts, kids playing and people having fun. The food consists in fried and grilled fish and/or meat, polenta, sandwiches and cakes, but beware that the queue is endless, so it's up to you whether you prefer to fill your tummy in Via Garibaldi first and then just go to drink and meet friends (that's what I do).
Anyway, the part I like most is the slightly hidden Caserma Sanguineti, the former patriarchal seat which was turned into a barrack in 1807 and was used to host orphans and people in need from the late 1800 to WW1. At the time there were two places in the city where the Salesians helped these people, one was Coletti in Cannaregio, the other was San Pietro di Castello. Then, around 1917, because of the bombs, guests were moved to the mainland. When the war ended and it became possible for these people to return, the space dedicated to them had been unified and entirely moved to the Coletti building. From the 30s to the 80s there was a community of nuns and, in addition to this, from 1943 the Caserma Sanguineti also hosted the Italian refugees arriving from Istria. In fact, when Tito unified the territories in Jugoslavia, the Italians living in Istria were deprived of all their private properties, so most of them escaped to different towns in the north-east of Italy.
The entire little island, the imposing church and the quiet and truly stunning cloister are wonderful and still exude a mystical feeling of peace. San Pietro di Castello is the sort of place where it is easy to see the beauty of everyday life and the magic of small little things. One day (when I'll be old and rich), I will buy a house here, not just any house, but one with a garden overlooking the lagoon, where I'll grow my own veg, keep at least 2 cats and a nice big dog, a huge wooden library and where I'll organise a weekly brunch with my girlfriends.
That'll happen one day, but for now I'm just going to share a recipe inspired by Saint Peter. Remember that a couple of posts ago I mentioned a book called "Santa Pietanza"? Well, this lovely cookbook, bought at the Studium bookshop, gathers a selection of recipes from different Italian towns made to celebrate the relative patron saint or, anyway, a specific religious occasion. I found it very original and I immediately thought to use it for my blog combining the recipes with my wanderings... but (please, forgive me for this) the recipes are all a bit too fatty and old-fashioned for my home cooking, thus I just picked the ingredients and totally re-interpreted them. In other words, today I'm making something completely different (more contemporary, lighter and healthier)!
The recipe proposed in the book comes from the town of Rochemolles in Val di Susa (Piedmont), where there is a strong devotion to Saint Peter. In fact, not only is there a small church dedicated to the saint (built in the XIV century), but every year on the 29th of June the locals gather up and, in the town's oven, bake a huge savoury pie with potatoes, broad beans, chestnuts, rosemary and nutmeg.
Although the recipe seems delicious, I just picked some ingredients and made something else. I chose potatoes, but will be using the purple variety instead, broad beans (I'm using organic beans in a jar, not in season yet) and replaced rosemary with fresher herbs and the chestnuts (not in season) with crushed almonds. So, basically I'm making a warm salad with white quinoa, veg, herbs and nuts, delicious and filling. Trust me!!!! And, anyway, even if I'm making a different recipe, I still enjoyed the story!
By the way, this easy to make salad is perfect as a take-away lunch for a nice summer picnic to enjoy in San Pietro di Castello or in the nearby Sant'Elena. If you don't have the possibility to cook while in Venice but like the idea of a healthy meal, consider stopping at the vegetarian eatery Le Spighe in Via Garibaldi.
I'll say goodbye for now and hope you enjoyed the post and, also, that you will appreciate this homey and hearty lunch! Buon appetito amici!
QUINOA SALAD WITH BROAD BEANS, PURPLE POTATOES AND HERBS
INGREDIENTS (for 2) 3 medium/small purple potatoes 160 gr white quinoa
120 gr organic broad beans (in a jar/canned)
a bunch of fresh tarragon, dill and chives
8 organic almonds to crush
pepper to grind
Italian extra virgin olive oil
1) Peel the potatoes, cut them in small squares and steam them for about 20 minutes (or, anyway, until they are fully cooked!)
2) In the meantime, bring some water to boil, add a pinch of sea salt and cook the quinoa for the time indicated by the pack (usually 10/15 minutes). When ready, drain and keep aside.
3) Finely chop dill, tarragon and chive, then crush your almond and keep aside.
4) Drain the broad beans and rinse well to remove extra sodium, put them in a bowl, add the chopped herbs, a few drops of extra virgin olive oil and stir. 5) When the potatoes and the quinoa are ready, just add them to the bowl and give another stir.
6) Top with the crushed almonds, grind some pepper and garnish with some more herbs.