A visit to an island and two recipes with tomatoes
Sometimes it's good to detach from the world and find time for ourselves. When I do so, I usually escape to an island and do nothing but walk, wander around and relax. Last Monday I happened to be free in the afternoon, so after lunch I went to Fondamenta Nove and took a vaporetto for Sant' Erasmo.
It was quite hot and the boat was half empty. I stood outside and enjoyed the comfort offered by the lovely breeze. Although those were the hottest hours of the day, the light was soft and the sky clear. As always, the boat passed by San Michele first, then Murano, Vignole and finally Sant' Erasmo. I got off at Capannone, hoping to see the family of geese I had met the previous year, and took the right. Not that there are many options, after all, being Sant' Erasmo an island, one either goes right or left...
I tend to go right for a frivolous reason, and that's just because you get to the bar faster! Its official name is Chiosco Al Bacan, but we Venetians call it Ai Tedeschi... nothing fancy really, just a relaxed place where you can enjoy food and drinks. As for the rest, the island has nothing but crops, villas, a bike rental, a bakery and a supermarket. That's it.
When I arrived, it was so peaceful that I forgot all about my initial plan, which was to buy vegetables directly on a farm, and found myself a spot under the shade of a tree where I sat for a while to read -distractedly- and admire the lagoon and the sight of Venice in the distance. Incredible how well I could see our Campanile di San Marco and the domes of the Basilica.
Before falling asleep, I got up, drank some water from my flask and followed the main road. Besides myself, only a couple of happy visitors and some locals. Along a canal, I saw a family of ducks with mummy duck in the front and about 8 small ducklings right behind her, moving their bottom in that funny way that always makes me laugh! Father duck, instead, was on the far right, maybe keeping an eye on the situation.
I just kept walking and walking, passing by fields of artichokes, zucchini, grapes and more, until I arrived in front of the beehive of Mr Elio Maravacchio. I couldn't see anyone and because of the time I didn't want to disturb, so I just looked at the colourful hives and went back.
To be honest, once there it was so hot that I gave up the idea of shopping on a farm and carrying heavy bags all the way back. Consider that there are only 2 vaporettos every hour, so I could either run hoping to get the next one or... take it easy and let life follow its course. And that's what I did. The sound of the wind kissing the leaves of the trees was just too nice and too soothing to be spoiled, besides... it was doing me good. While walking, I tried to imagine how it could be to live in a nice and big villa in the middle of nothing, where if you need food you don't go to a supermarket or to a green grocer but directly to your family field...
Of course, you'd need to have a boat to live in a place like Sant' Erasmo. At least, I tend to get a bit claustrophobic if I think I can't leave a place whenever I feel like it, but maybe it's just me... Anyway, like all islands, it's a 'particular' place, where the few inhabitants all know -and have to cope and tolerate- one another. Besides the story of the beekeeper Mr Maravacchio, another interesting story is the one of the French sir Michel Thoulouze, who started producing white wine recovering the old dorona grape. The label is called ORTO and if you decide to go, I strongly suggest considering taking a tour or, at least, buying a couple of bottles of local wine!
As for myself, as previously mentioned, I had given up the idea of buying my veg there, but I still wanted to bring home greens from Sant' Erasmo, so when I arrived back in Venice I went to the i&s stall in a side calle of Strada Nuova, which is the direct sale point of the organic farm i&s, and got my greens there. Among other things, I bought lots of datterini tomatoes (are they called plum tomatoes in English? According to Wikipedia it's date tomatoes, but some foreign friends told me they never heard that name...) and am going to share two recipes featuring this marvellous ingredient: the first one is a simple bake of tomatoes stuffed with a sun-dried tomato pesto (addictive!), while the second one a vegetarian black rice salad dressed with pesto and served with raw veg and herbs. Two easy recipes to welcome summer. Let me know if you like them!
By the way, if you are interested to learn more about Sant' Erasmo, have a look at my older posts:
GRATIN TOMATOES WITH RED PESTO
500 gr datterini tomatoes
15/20 sun-dried tomatoes
a tiny amount of finely chopped garlic (optional)
1/2 finely chopped fresh chilli
basil to garnish
1. Roughly chop the sun-dried tomatoes. In a steel bowl, combine them with the garlic, the chilli and a good amount of oil (the oil should cover the tomatoes) and mix with a hand-blender until you get the consistency of a spread. It won't be completely smooth, so don't over blend it.
2. Pre-heat oven at 180°. Wash and slice the datterini tomatoes lengthwise and press them a little over a bowl, so you can re-use their juice later.
3. Grease a baking pan, place the tomatoes and gently stuff them with the sun-dried tomato pesto.
4. Pour a few drops of oil into the bowl with the tomato juice, mix, pour over the stuffed tomatoes and bake for about 25 minutes.
5. When ready, serve with your main.
BLACK RICE SALAD WITH RAW VEG AND SUND-DRIED TOMATO PESTO
160 gr black rice
10/12 datterini tomatoes
2 small peppers (yellow, red or green)
2 Tbsp sun-dried tomato pesto
basil and mint to garnish
1. Bring a pot of water to the boil, add a pinch of sea-salt and cook the rice for the time indicated on the pack.
2. In the meantime, wash your vegetables, chop roughly and keep aside.
3. When the rice is ready, drain and let cool.
4. In a bowl, combine the rice with the raw vegetables, two table spoon of sun-dried tomato pesto, fresh mint and basil leaves and serve.