Spring is blossoming. Finally the temperature is getting warmer and during the day being outside and allowing the sun kiss our chins is just amazing. I too feel the birds and the bees and whenever I can I head to Sant' Elena, hope to find a free bench, possibly under the sun, and read.
In fact, this is more or less what I did the other day. I left the house latish, around 10 am, and went on my mission. From my house in Ruga Giuffa, I went inwards passing by Chiesa dei Greci and Salizzada Sant' Antonio, reaching Riva deli Schiavoni at the height of Ca' di Dio, where the big groups of tourists don't seem to arrive (at least for now). Although this is the route I follow almost every morning when I go jogging, I never seem to get tired of it. On the right the usual sight of San Servolo, and in front of me water and stones. Crossing the bridge I resist the temptation of stopping at Gelateria Pinguino, and go straight to Via Garibaldi to do some food shopping.
I love Via Garibaldi, as it resembles a small little world of its own, in the sense that there is a strong presence of locals and many shops addressed to them (although, I have to admit that in the last three months quite a few new bars and eateries have sprouted from nothing). When there, I usually shop from the boat, not only because the veg is delicious, but also because one of the two green-grocers is the father of a girl who was in the same class as me in elementary and middle high school. Anyway, I bought a variety of tomatoes, a couple of leeks and a few more things, then I went to Caffe la Serra to collect the paper bags for recycling and drink a quick coffee standing.
Caffè la Serra is managed by a co-op and it's a place I go to quite often. Divided between green-house and cafeteria, I find it extremely relaxing. They also organise concerts and workshops and occasionally host exhibitions, the latest being the one showcasing the watercolours by Venetian artist Luigi Divari.
Once finished the coffee, I walked through the Giardini park, inhabited by half-hidden statues, and finally arrived in Sant' Elena, where I was so lucky to find a free bench! Before reaching it, I stopped at the open bookcase shaped as a small house and hanged on a tree, to see if there were any interesting books I could bring home. I don't know who built it, but this outdoor book crossing is really nice and the last time I came I found a crime story by Rex Stout for dad and Carofiglio's latest book for Vito, which I was very happy about.
I relaxed for a while and then walked around the island. Excluding the area around the church, most of Sant'Elena was built in the 1920s. I would describe it as a quiet residential neighbourhood immersed in the green, excellent location to see the sunset and perfect for people with kids and/or dogs. In the park there is a playground, a small basketball court and other training equipment.
Once home, I started preparing lunch. Two simple and quick recipes with tomatoes: bruschette to start and a soup as main. For the bruschette I used a whole wheat bread with a hard crust and sufficiently sturdy to hold topping and dressing. In general, whether white or black, opt for breads like the Italian ciabbatta or any type of sourdough loaf, rub with garlic and toast. In Venice, my to-go spots for bread are NaturaSi in Rialto, or the bakeries Emilio Colussi in San Luca and Crosera close to Campiello Widman. For the dressing, I combined some olive oil with the juice of half a lemon, and that was it.
As for the soup, I used organic canned beans, because...unfortunately, my relationship with dried legumes is a total failure. So it's either fresh or canned, and most organic types have no added salt or sodium, so it's sufficient to wash them well. If you prefer to use dried legumes, don't forget to leave them soaking overnight and cook the soup more (about 50/60'). The recipe is extremely basic: leeks, tomatoes, beans, fresh chilli and some fresh basil leaves to top. For the stock, I usually have some in the freezer, but if I don't I just add water (as I'm totally against stock cubes!), the vegetables will release all their flavours, thus there is no risk for the soup of not being tasty. We enjoyed it warm, but in summer it's excellent also served cold and accompanied by a good glass of wine.
A lovely lunch, perfect conclusion to an easy-going morning spent wandering in the park. Let me know if you like it!
TWO RECIPES WITH TOMATOES
Easy, Vegan, Summer
SIMPLE BRUSCHETTE WITH TOMATOES
4 slices of bread
250 gr small tomatoes (cherry or datterini)
1 organic lemon
1 clove of fresh garlic
basil leaves to garnish
1. Pre-heat oven at 180 degrees.
2. Slice the bread, rub some fresh garlic on the top (remember to remove germ from garlic) and toast in the oven for about 6 minutes, or until it's golden and not burnt.
3. In the meantime, slice your tomatoes horizontally and place in a bowl, then combine in a glass some olive oil with the juice of half freshly squeezed lemon and dress the tomatoes.
4. When the bread is ready, put on a plate or wooden board and top with the tomatoes. If you wish, add a pinch of salt, pepper and garnish with fresh basil leaves.
BORLOTTI BEAN, TOMATO AND LEEK SOUP
1 can of organic borlotti beans 400 gr/240 gr)
350 gr of small mixed tomatoes of choice (I used tiger tomatoes and datterini)
1 fresh chilli
1 clove of garlic
1 lt veg stock
a pinch of sea salt
basil leaves to garnish
1. Wash the vegetables. Roughly chop the leek, removing the harder top part, then slice the tomatoes in half and rinse the borlotti beans under fresh water.
2. Heat a pot, add a few drops of olive oil, a crushed love of garlic and some roughly chopped chilli. When it starts popping, add leeks and tomatoes and stir. Lower the heat, cover the pot and let cook for about one minute.
3. Now add the borlotti beans, the vegetable stock and bring to the boil. When the water boils, add a pinch of sea salt and let simmer for about 30/35 minutes, giving the soup a stir every once in a while.
4. When the soup is ready, let cool, garnish with basil, add a few drops of oil and serve.