Unexpected Flavors: Lost and Found in Venice

I don’t need a paddle, I need pasta.

Upon returning to Venice for a day trip with my brother I had set my heart on finding the little patio restaurant I discovered on my last trip into town. Only problem was I couldn’t remember the name… or where it was…or what the dish was called. Only that we decided to find an authentic meal in Venice on a Friday night, and that was going to take some reconnaissance. We waited till around 8:30 near one of the piazzas, and watched for the most Venetian looking group of adults speaking Italian and walking with purpose…and followed them.. Down the maze of winding streets and bridges we walked a few feet behind until finally they darted down an alley. This was either exactly what we were looking for or we were about to get yelled at in Italian.

There is pistachio ravioli here somewhere, and I intend to find it.

A charming courtyard of winding green foliage and hanging lights, like a quaint garden party. They spoke little English and we spoke just enough Italian to order and It was perfect. Out of everything that was memorable about that meal the pistachio shrimp ravioli with cream sauce was otherworldly. It has haunted my dreams and was the kind of course you return to a place just so you can try to recreate a moment of perfection….and find what else they can blow your mind with.

So with this in mind I racked my brain on the flight, checked Google keywords  as we checked in at the hotel, read through hundreds of restaurant reviews and as we wandered the winding streets and shops and asked strangers while the regatta boats partied on by, still it eluded me. Tired, cranky and hungry, I opted for a quick nap before venturing out for replacement dinner. When I opened my eyes as if delivered by dream, “Al Profeta” was magically on my tongue! It came up in Google Maps! It was mine!

I poured over the menu again and again,  searching in vain through the menu for my long lost pistachio love. When I still came up empty my Italian still proved insufficient in my attempt to ask If it might still exist. The waiter pointed out another dish with pistachio, but it seemed a little strange.. But I had come this far. So I picked the entree with pistachio even if the other ingredients didn’t entirely make sense to me.

And a believer was born.

Pistachios, Ricotta, bacon “jumps” and… Cocoa pasta? I admit, I doubted it’s power. God help me I doubted.

I wasn’t sure what to expect,  but dammit I was on an adventure and not stopping now. When it arrived, I was intimidated by the inky color and silky black noodles. But if anything ever inspired me to soldier on it was the happy little bacon squiggles on top that dared me to dive in. The biggest shock in the first bite?  IT WAS NOT SWEET AT ALL. The predominant flavor was the bacon “jumps” throughout, which I at first somewhat unappealingly  mistook at first sight for onion. But the cocoa pasta had no sweetness in the flavor but rather added depth to the savory tones (not unlike a good buckwheat noodle) but with a lighter texture. The ricotta was smooth and fluffy and carried the lightly nutty flavor of the pistachios. Never before had I really considered cocoa as a savory ingredient, even knowing it wasn’t always sweet. But hello darkness my old friend, I will never underestimate you again.

And Al Profeta…we will dance again soon.

The Official Bolognese Tortellini Recipe

This is the official recipe, registered with the Chamber of Commerce of Bologna, disputed hometown of tortellini, by the Italian Culinary Academy and the Dotta Confraternita del Tortellino (Learned Brotherhood of the Tortellino), to ensure the quality of a dish that has become a source of pride of Bologna.

On Christmas Day, every Bolognese family eats tortellini in brodo as the first course of the Christmas meal. It is also a very popular winter dish, especially for Sunday lunch.

The finished product was worth two days of work

For the filling:

100 gr pork loin

100 gr prosciutto crudo

100 gr Mortadella from Bologna

150 gr Parmigiano Reggiano aged three years

1 Eggs

pinch nutmeg

The pork loin should be left to rest for two days over a mixture of salt, pepper, rosemary and garlic, then slowly cooked with a bit of butter and then removed from the pan and cleaned up of the mixture. Mince very finely the loin, ham and mortadella and knead with the Parmesan cheese and the eggs, adding a bit of nutmeg. This mixture must be well blended and left to rest at least 24 hours before filling the tortellini.

For the pasta:

3 eggs

300 gr flour

Notice no oil or water. Put the flour on a wooden board and make a well in the middle. Pour the eggs into the middle. Mix together with bare hands until the pasta is smooth to the touch. Roll up in a towel for about 20 minutes so it can get slightly dry, then put the dough back on the board and roll it out. Cut into 3 x 3 cm squares. Place a small amount of filling in the middle of each square. Fold the pasta over the filling to make a triangle. Then is the hardest part: wrap the triangle around your index finger and squeeze very tightly to close it and hope.