In today's post we are visiting a private Venetian home, where I shall have the pleasure to introduce you to brilliant cook and dear friend Barbara. I met Barbara back in 2006, when we were both working at Osteria Bancogiro in Rialto, a special place that -in a way- changed my life. She is the sort of Venetian who was not born in the lagoon, but has lived here for so long to know the exact location of every stone and every brick of the city, one of those people I often happen to meet at the market or on the street, always available if I ever need a helping hand or a shoulder to cry on.
For as long as I've known her, she has always been passionate about good food and even better wine. I remember that back in 2006, while I had just finished high school, she was attending a course to become sommelier and was already quite involved in the industry. I've had the pleasure to dine at her house a couple of times, and there are some dishes I will never forget (like her risotto with porcini mushrooms and scallops and her fish soup...OMG!!!), in fact, if I had to choose two adjectives to describe her cooking style, I'd go for peccant and lustful.
Anyway, since Bancogiro changed management, she has kept working in this field and about a year ago, at the repeated suggestion of her friends, she also started to host private cooking classes.
As you can see from the above pictures, she pays great attention to the quality of the ingredients and, just like me, puts into practice the theory according to which 'cooking starts at the market'. Like a true Venetian, when she goes to Rialto she walks around all the stalls and gets different things from different fishmongers. She's also a big veggie lover, thus all her recipes involve something green or something fruity.
When I went to her house, she had chosen to prepare three recipes, as this is what she normally does during her cooking classes. Needless to say, I was enthusiastic! She had bought so much fish that my eyes were shimmering and I would have skipped the cooking all together and eaten everything raw... but I restrained myself and patiently waited for the magic to happen...
For our starter, she took out the steamer and in a few minutes arranged a lavish plate with scallops, zucchini flowers, Chinese tangerines, ginger and herbs. The scallops were just perfect, moist but still firm, and with a lovely fresh flavour.
To drink we had a glass of Terlano and after some chit chat, while I stopped to take pictures, Barbara returned to the kitchen and went back to work. She was about to serve me one of the most scrumptious fish soups I've ever had.
Spicy, with tomato, this soup featured: mussels, clams, prawns, gamberoni, mantis shrimp, razor clams and scallops. So rich I didn't't know where to start from... The base for the liquid part of the soup had been made with the water of the previously sautéed mussels and clams and with a bisque made with the prawn's heads. Then the varieties of fish were added at different times, so as not to result overcooked. As you may imagine, it was exquisite. We ate with our hands and then finished all the soup doing what we Italians call 'scarpetta' (dipping bread).
We accompanied the soup with a glass of Verdicchio and relaxed for a little while, until she went to check on what was coming next: duck leg with cherry sauce, rosemary and orange zests.
It was a bit funny because the same morning I had posted on Facebook a picture of the new book 'We can save the world before dinner' by Safran Foer, and then there I was, enveloped in a cherry sauce scented atmosphere, with my friend Barbara tempting me with this mouthwatering -meaty- dish. But I suppose I should have known... after all, hadn't I just described her kitchen as lustful?!
Anyway, now in front of a glass of Pinot Noir, we talked about her cooking classes. Everything started almost by chance: one day, following her friends' suggestion, she decided to put herself to test and open her home to anyone curious about Italian cuisine, with a proposal based on fresh seasonal ingredients, mostly local. When I asked her which moment of her classes she prefers, she wasn't sure whether to reply 'the shopping' or 'the eating'. One thing she noticed is that most people are interested especially in how to choose the best fish and how to clean it properly. The specific requests, then, vary. Some people prefer to meet her directly at home, others prefer to join her during the shopping, some are eager to eat fish, and some others would love to learn how to cream the perfect risotto. Whatever the expectation, she does her best to exceed it.
Having spent a morning watching her cook, I would recommend this experience to anyone looking for a friendly and laid-back cooking class, filled with wine, chit chats and Mediterranean spices. If you ask me, her best strengths are anything fish, definitely the risotto and, last but not least, her hospitality.
So, this is more or less what to expect from a day with Barbara. My suggestion is that you contact her directly and arrange your morning together!
Barbara - Venice Cooking Classes
WhatsApp: 0039 3467134829