• Nicoletta Fornaro

A visit to Sant'Erasmo and a Vegetarian Pumpkin Pie Recipe


There are places in Venice that call for slowness and relaxation, among them, the island of Sant' Erasmo. I have mentioned this place many times, mostly because it is the historic vegetable garden of Venice and I am very fond of its produce. Second biggest island in the lagoon ,it is an extremely quiet place, with almost nothing except crops, houses and the few seasonal tourism-related activities (bike rental, bakery, restaurants, etc.).

To reach the island I took a vaporetto number 13 at F.ta Nove, which takes about 30 minutes (see timetable). The boat was half empty, so I stayed outside to enjoy the perfect September breeze and the view of the marshlands, which never seems to tire me. The weather was perfect, the sky clear and the light warm. Once arrived at Capannone, a family of ducks greeted me shyly, before changing their mind and turning their back to me. So cute, they made me immediately feel one whole thing with nature!

Sant' Erasmo is commonly associated to the purple artichoke, but the production of vegetables is actually quiet varied. Right now it's still possible to find the last nightshades, bell peppers and tomatoes, as well as grapes, chards and the first early pumpkins. Around the end of September, the island will also host its annual Sagra del Mosto (feast of the grape must), event I particularly enjoy for the general atmosphere of merriness.

While walking, I looked at the different villas and houses, some very fancy and others so simple to recall the atmosphere of some Italian novels of the beginning of the 20th century. The farms I usually go to are I Sapori di Sant'Erasmo, which delivers in Venice 3 times a week, and the i&s, the organic farm that has recently opened a shop in front of the Irish pub in Strada Nuova (Cannaregio 3018, Corte dei Pali). By the way, talking about vegetable deliveries, those of you who were used to ordering food from Donna Gnora (farm based in the mainland), will be happy to know they have a new delivery spot in Venice: the shop Da Fioi dei Ruga, a quality grocery store that opened a couple of months ago just below my house in Ruga Giuffa! [For general food shopping tips in Venice, refer to this post here]

Whenever I go to Sant' Erasmo, I also visit Mr Elio, a super kind bee-hiver. Elio is an elderly gentleman who started keeping bees many years ago and has now more than 120 beehives. I once asked him if he had the precious miele di barena, a special type of honey derived from the plant limonium, real delicacy from the lagoon, but I could see the question annoyed him. Before answering, he stopped for a moment and then kindly replied that I should mistrust those who say they have that honey throughout the year, that the season of the limonium is very short and the plants so few due to the pollution of the waters of the lagoon that the production is extremely limited. Instead, he produces Tilia and Acacia honey, which are still delicious, so I bought a jar of both! Elio realised he had been a bit brusk (although I can totally understand how he feels, as it mustn't be easy to hear everyone ask for that specific product and have to explain the same thing over and over), so he kept chatting with me and then invited me to follow him to his personal vegetable garden. There he picked some tomatoes and peppers, put them in a bag and offered them to me! So sweet of him...

Anyway, after visiting him I went to I Sapori to buy some more greens. Of all the ingredients I brought home, for today's recipe I decided to use the pumpkin and make a savoury pie. If you have been reading this blog from the beginning, you already heard me say how particular the pumpkin from the lagoon is, slightly salty and with a special texture. Deliciously unique! The recipe I'm sharing is very easy and although the cooking time is long, the things to do are only a few. It's a sort of revisited and vegetarian version of the famous Shepard's pie, made alternating layers of potato and pumpkin mash with layers of lentil ragout. I didn't add too many ingredients: just potatoes and pumpkin for the mash (with salt, of course!) and even in the ragout, I just used garlic, chilli and tomato sauce (no onions or carrots), because I wanted to contrast the sweetness of the pumpkin. Then I topped everything with breadcrumbs. Both Vito and I thought it was delicious, an easy and very healthy comfort dish, soft, warm and very flavoursome, perfect for the first autumn evenings!

Let me know if you liked it... bye for now and talk to you soon!

RECIPE: VEGETARIAN PUMPKIN PIE WITH LENTIL RAGOUT

Prep. Time: 15'

Cook Time: 100'

Yield: 2 (generous)

Ingredients:

1/2 pumpkin

2 medium/small potatoes

1 can organic canned lentils

1 can of tomato sauce

2 cloves of garlic

1/2 fresh chilli

salt

breadcrumbs to garnish

Directions:

1) Pre-heat oven at 180/200°

2) Peel and wash the potatoes and the pumpkin. Slice grossly, put in a baking pan, add a pinch of salt and some olive oil and bake for 45/50 minutes.

3) In the meantime, rinse the lentils under fresh water, heat a pan, pour a few drops of oil, two crushed cloves of garlic and the chopped chilli and when the oil starts popping add the lentils. Stir, add the can of tomato sauce and let simmer for about 40/45 minutes.

4) When the potatoes and the pumpkin are ready, mash and taste to see if you need to adjust the salt.

5) Grease a baking pan, sprinkle some breadcrumbs at the bottom and at the sides, then add the first layer of mashed pumpkin and potatoes, then a layer of lentil ragout and repeat until you have finished the ingredients. Top with more breadcrumbs and bake for about 30 minutes. I suggest to use the grill mode for the last 10 minutes.

#vegetarianrecipes

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