Oct 102016
 

A marvelous program, a priceless exploration of some of the secrets of this most secretive of cities. I wish I were fit and free enough to jump aboard.

Victor Hazan
The Eolo under full sail approach the fabled island of Torcello. | Photo: Paolo Spigariol

The Eolo under full sail at the storied island of Torcello. | Photo: Paolo Spigariol

Victor Hazan, who lived in Venice with Marcella, his wife and Italian cookbook legend, knows: Few outsiders ever get to see the real Venice.  You have to get off the tourist route and even off the map to seek out the city’s nooks and crannies, her hidden waterways and odd corners.

Along with native Venetian Mauro Stoppa, our host and skipper, I will take you there, fork in hand. Now you can see the fabled city only native dwellers know, the city that, as Ruskin observed over a hundred years ago, was as probable to continue as “a lump of sugar in hot tea.” To discover its hidden riches, you must step onto our flat bottom boat and glide away…

I never entered it with so much wonder, nor  left it with so strong regret.

John Ruskin

Host Mauro Stoppa | Photo: Courtesy, Mauro Stoppa

Mauro Stoppa in the galley.

Venice was born in the lagoon, though to outsiders, it seems somehow completely separate from it. To really experience la Serenissima, the ancient city of waterways and light, you must ply its inland sea and visit its tiny islands (there are 30 of them, and 150 canals in the archipelago). You need to go beyond the tourist route to find the bustling life of true Venetians that is hidden from the view of foreigners and to enter a quiet world of history, art, and nature surrounding the spectacle of Venice. What better way to explore the real Venice than alongside a native son with deep roots in the natural world of the lagoon, and with an award-winning American food writer, journalist, storyteller, and one-time sailor who has intimately explored Venice and its cuisine? 

Come with me and Mauro Stoppa, a local hero and legendary skipper-chef on a unique six-day journey and see Venice behind the stage set for an experience of a lifetime.

I began my cooking career on a 50-foot sailing ketch.

I began my cooking career on a 50-foot sailing ketch.

Sail its secret estuaries on-board the Eolo, a flat-bottomed sailing bragozzo constructed to navigate the shallow waters of the lagoon. Built in the nearby port of Choggia in 1946, Mauro has lovingly restored the historic boat and appointed it for the comfort of an intimate group of guests. Be transported for six days on the archipelago’s waterways to the grace and rhythm of another time, far from the tempo of today’s battering pace and the throngs of tourists. Immerse yourself in the natural life of this magical and mysterious place, see its unique flora and fauna, savor its seafood, wild game, and the fresh harvest of the lagoon islands in Spring. Drink the delicious “salty” wine that is made from local grapes kissed by the sea air. 

Hemingway decimated the wild duck population on Torcello, where he hunted and wrote. Photo: Foto Graziano Aric

Hemingway decimated the wild duck population on Torcello, where he hunted and wrote in 1948. | Credit: Foto Graziano Aric

Discover nearby islands like Torcello, where Hemingway wrote parts of his Across the River and Into the Trees and hunted; refuge of royalty and international superstars seeking seclusion at Locanda Cipriani, the legendary inn still run by the Cipriani family. Visit Lazzaretto Nuovo with its Bronze Age ruins, where digs over the last 20 years have turned on its head the previously held notion that Venice was settled some 1,500 years ago by mainland tribes fleeing the Longobards. We will stop at Sant’Erasmo, a island of vegetable fields and orchards considered the “garden of Venice,” and untouristed Chioggia, whose ancient mercato puts the famous Rialto fish market to shame. Afterward, feast on sublime meals from the galley, dreamed up by Mauro using the fresh local bounty of the day delivered directly from fishermen to our boat. Dine in the best restaurants and stay in a Venetian palace belonging to one of the city’s noble families. You’ll never get any closer to the real and enchanting essence of Venice. Can you resist?

Mauro Stoppa, skipper and chef, on board his beloved Eolo. Photo: Photo: Paolo Destefanis for Veneto: Authentic Recipes From Venice and the Italian Northeast, by Julia della Croce (Chronicle Books)

Host Mauro Stoppa on board his beloved Eolo. | Credit: Paolo Destefanis for Veneto: Authentic Recipes From Venice and the Italian Northeast, by Julia della Croce

VENICE BY LAGOON, MAY 15-21, 2017

…it’s hard to blame people for getting excited when they eat risotto with sea asparagus—the Venetian “salicornia”—or grouper cooked in peaches with a Byzantine basilica as a backdrop.”  —Elisabetta Povoledo, The New York Times

  • See the glittering city on the sea only as natives can while sailing aboard the historic and beautifully restored Eolo, a flat-bottom “bragozzo” whose design goes back to the time of the Doges and is the only one of its size still navagating.
  • Experience the magic of the lagoon, its history and culture; natural life, music, and rich local traditions.
  • Explore the bucolic, lesser known islands by boat and on foot with our native guide.
  • Visit lace, glass, fabric, and food artisans who have been practicing their arts for generations.
  • Eat the genuine local cuisine while under sail and dine in the best restaurants of Venice.
  • Sleep in the islands’ charming inns and historic hotels.
  • Finish with a sojourn in Venice for 3 luxurious days in a magnificent private palace and immersion in the art, history, and culture of this spectacular city.
Experience the magic of the lagoon, its history and culture; natural life, music, and rich local traditions.

Experience the magic of the lagoon, its history, natural life, and rich local traditions. |Credit: http://www.cruisingvenice.com

Day 1

Mazzorbo and Burano

Locanda Venissa, Mazzorbo. Photo: Paolo Spigariol

The island of Mazzorbo and our lodgings, Locanda Venissa. | Credit: Paolo Spigariol

  • We will meet you upon your arrival at Venice Airport and take you by water taxi to the Venissa, a manor house-hotel and wine estate on its own bucolic island, Mazzorbo, top-rated by The New York Times, Michelin, and Travel + Leisure. The tiny, peaceful island, once an important trading center, is known today for its colorful houses, vineyards, and orchards. Settle in and eat a light lunch. After a rest, go for a guided walking tour to the nearby island of Burano, renowned for its lace making. You will have time to visit the artisans, do some shopping, or just stroll the ancient streets lined with colorful houses.
  • Return to Mazzorbo for a rest and dinner at the Venissa’s acclaimed inn and restaurant.

Venissa portico. | Credit: Paolo Spigariol

Day 2

Torcello and the northern Lagoon

Our first stop, the island of Mazzorbo. | Photo: Paolo Spigariol

The Eolo sailing for Torcello. | Credit: Paolo Spigariol

  • Breakfast at the Venissa, then board the Eolo and set sail for Torcello and the northern waters of the lagoon. The original site of Venice and famous haunt of Hemingway, the island has a rich and fascinating history. Visit its impressive Byzantine Basilica of Santa Maria Assunta, built in 639 A.D., and the 11 th century octagonal church of Santa Fosca. Climb the bell tower for a bird’s eye view of the lagoon, and wander the island’s tranquil paths.
  • Board the Eolo again and set sail for a quiet canal in a nearby saltmarsh richly populated with birdlife and carpeted with colorful native flora. Anchor. Lunch on the chef’s freshly cooked specialties based on splendid produce and seafood of the lagoon.
C, 09 23_0218 copy

Flamingoes in an estuary of the lagoon.| Credit: http://www.cruisingvenice.com

  • Set sail for the pristine northern lagoon where thousands of flamingoes can be seen flying over the saltmarsh to join other wild fowl that inhabit the islands nearby.
  • Sail to the Locanda alle Porte 1632 at sunset for dinner and an overnight stay. Constructed in 1632 between the lagoon and the Sile River, the building, once the customs house, controlled the entrance into the Grand Canal. There, Venetian officials collected taxes from both residents and foreigners doing business in Venice. Today it is an inn and a restaurant. Sunset dinner and overnight stay.
16 008_0129 (1) copy

Inside the Locanda alle Porte 1632. |Credit: http://www.cruisingvenice.com

Day 3

Lazzaretto Nuovo and Malamocco

Venetian mask representing the doctor of the plague.

Venetian carnival mask originating from the quarantine representing the doctor of the black plague. Vinegar-soaked cloth was wrapped on the face and covered with the long-nosed mask to avoid the infection.|Credit: http://www.cruisingvenice.com

  • Breakfast at the Locanda alle Porte 1632.
  • Board the Eolo. After local fishermen deliver their early morning catch to our boat, we set sail. Mauro and Julia will prepare lunch from what the lagoon has offered this morning.
Mauro teaches how to stuff zucchini blossoms on board the Eolo. Photo: Paolo Spigariol

Mauro shows how to stuff zucchini blossoms on-board the Eolo. | Credit: Paolo Spigariol

  • Drop anchor near the island of Lazzaretto Nuovo, which once serve as a quarantine facility. Venice appears in the distance. Lunch on board.
  • Disembark on the island and find remarkable evidence of inhabitants who lived here well before the Romans. During the Middle Ages it was used solely as a place to quarantine goods and sailors for a period of time before they could enter Venice as a precaution against the spread of disease. Talk to local mask makers to learn about the origins of their craft. This is where the Venetian mask originated, elaborate cloth cover-ups soaked with vinegar to ward off disease. Today, the island is a beautiful and and peaceful respite.
  • Board the Eolo again and set sail for the ancient village of Malamocco. Dinner and overnight accommodations in a beautiful 14th entry villa, Ca’ del Borgo.

The Eolo under sail in the lagoon. |Credit:

Day 4

Chioggia and Venice

  • Breakfast at Ca’ del Borgo.
  • Set sail for Chioggia and take a guided tour of the old port, considered a “little Venice.” See the vibrant fish market, where Mauro will buy the ingredients for our lunch. Stop at the grain store, dating to 1322, one of the most important historic buildings on the island. Visit the island’s Duomo with its masterpieces by Tiepolo, Carpaccio, and Tintoretto.

Fishmonger, Chioggia. | Photo: Julia della Croce

  • Leave Chioggia for Valle Zappa, a remote island that was once a private hunting and fishing area where you will find a unique example of  “mirror architecture.”
  • Lunch under sail. The bell towers of San Marco, which once guided ships into the port of entry, will appear in the distance.
  • Disembark in Venice. Transfer by water taxi to Palazzetto Pisani Ferri, a magnificent private 15th century palace in Piazza Santo Stefano overlooking the Grand Canal, Palazzo Barbarigo, the Guggenheim Museum, and the Accademia Bridge. It is still inhabited by descendants of the wealthy merchants who built it. Spend 3 nights in a suite facing the Canal with a private living room and bathroom.
  • Dinner on your own. Recommendations for Venice’s most authentic and famous restaurants are for the asking.
San Marco. | Photo: Greg Mitchell

San Marco. | Photo: Greg Mitchell

Day 5

Venice

 

On our walking tour of Venice. | Photo: Julia della Croce/Forktales

On our walking tour of Venice. | Credit: Julia della Croce/Forktales

  • Follow your guide through the famous Mercato di Rialto with its beautiful vegetable and fruit stalls and colorful fishmongers. The famous market was once the trade and financial center of Venice. Wander your way through an intricate maze of narrow alleys, bridges and canals to Bevilacqua Textiles. Established by Luigi Bevilacqua c. 1499, it continues the city’s ancient tradition of weaving velvets, brocades and damasks by hand.
  • Lunch in an acclaimed vegetarian restaurant nearby.
  • Conclude your day with immersion in the city’s culture, including a stop at the imposing Gothic Frari church with its precious treasures, including The Assumption, the first public commission for a young Titian who would become the most important artist working in Venice. Also see the exquisite Madonnas by Giovanni Bellini and Paolo Veneziano, and Titian’s burial monument.
  • Dinner on your own. Recommendations for Venice’s most authentic and famous restaurants are for the asking.

Day 6

Venice

Last night in Venice: THe Palazetto Pisani. | Photo: Courtesy of Palazetto Pisani

Last night in Venice: THe Palazetto Pisani. | Photo: Courtesy of Palazetto Pisani

  • Go with our guide to St. Mark’s Square, once the political and social nerve center of Venice’s wealth and power. See the city’s most iconic buildings and learn about their origins and history. Start off the visit at the Doge’s Palace with its perfectly preserved magnificent facade and interior. Adjacent is the opulent St. Mark’s Basilica. With its nearly 90,000 square feet of gold mosaics and precious oriental marbles, it is considered one of the best examples of Italian-Byzantine architecture.
  • Lunch in a bacaro, a typical wine bar that serves “cichetti,” Venice’s answer to tapas.
  • Free afternoon for exploring or shopping.
  • Farewell dinner at the palace for a last taste of authentic Venice.

Day 7

Depart Venice

Farewell and thank you from the Eolo.

Farewell and thank you from the Eolo. | Credit: Paolo

  • Airport transfer by water taxi.

Rates and Particulars:

  • 3,950 Euros per person including accommodations as detailed, breakfasts, lunches and dinners as described, private visits as per itinerary, all entrance fees, cooking class on board the Eolo, the service of your tour guide(s). Rates based on double occupancy; 20% more for single occupancy.
  • 10% deposit upon reservation, refunded if the minimum of 6 guests is not reached.
  • 40% upon confirmation, the balance 30 days before departure.
  • Minimum 6 guests. Maximum, 12 guests.
  • Possible extension of a stay at Palazzetto Pisani Ferri, Euro 300 per couple per night.

Not Included

  • Flights, travel insurance, items of personal expenditure (e.g. telephone calls, laundry etc.), discretionary gratuities to boatmen and guides, government levies or taxes introduced after publication of this program (July 7, 2017).
  • Please note that if circumstances beyond our control necessitates some alteration to the itinerary shown, you will be notified of any such changes as soon as possible. 
  • To be sustainable, a minimum of 6 guests is required; maximum 12 guests.
  • Payment terms: 10% to confirm your reservation; 40% when 6 reservations are booked; balance due 30 days before departure.

Contact

  • For information and reservations: Write to Mauro Stoppa at the following email address info@cruisingvenice.com.
Winner of the 2004 World Gourmand Awards.

Julia della Croce’s Veneto: Authentic recipes from Venice and the Italian Northeast, with photography by Paolo Destefanis (Chronicle Books) won the 2004 World Gourmand Awards.

“Everyone knows Venice, but the Venetian cuisine has been somewhat of a hidden treasure. Rich in the use of unique spices left from its Serenissa years, the cuisine sparkles with surprise. Julia della Croce [in her book, Veneto]…has captured wonderfully [its] nuances and sparkle of this regional cuisine.” —Lidia Bastianich

Julia della Croce has been immersed since birth in the tastes and aromas of the Italian cooking she loves. After becoming disenchanted with a political career, she began cooking in the galley of a 50-foot sailing ketch for paying passengers. She is a journalist, and James Beard award-winning cook book author and cooking teacher. Among her thirteen titles, is Veneto: Authentic Recipes from Venice and the Italian Northeast (Chronicle Books), winner of the 2004 Gourmand World Cookbook Awards. She writes about the culture of food and drink for Zester Daily and in this blog, and is a noted authority on the food of Italy.

Mauro Stoppa was born and raised on his family’s farm in a small village near Padua on the southern edge of the Venetian archipelago. He is an agronomist by education but his first love was always the world of the lagoon. In 1998, he pulled up his land roots and bought and restored the Eolo, a vintage bragozzo named after the Greek god of the wind, a flat-bottomed 52-foot fishing barge that is one of the last of its kind. There and then, he decided to fulfill his lifetime dream of living on the sea and to devote himself to the restoration of the Venetian waterways. Stoppa takes small groups on cruises to sail, eat his sublime food, and experience the magic of Venice and the lagoon he loves, a venture featured in the New York Times.

with Mauro at Met

Mauro lands in NYC to cook for a private party at Sotheby’s, bringing his own ingredients with him from Venice. We met at the Met for some down time. | Credit: Nathan Hoyt/Forktales

Aug 252016
 
Spaghetti all'amatriciana. | Photo: Copyright NathanHoyt/Forktales 2016

Spaghetti all’amatriciana. | Photo: Copyright NathanHoyt/Forktales 2016

The quake struck Amatrice and the surrounding area at 3:36 a.m. — amazingly, almost the exact same time as the one that devastated L’Aquila and Abruzzi in 2009, which killed over 300. Some of the dead, this time, were tourists. Travelers go to Amatrice in August for the mild climate, an evening stroll and spaghetti all’amatriciana — a dish famous all over the world, invented by local shepherds in the Middle Ages.

This week, the town was getting ready for the 50th annual festival dedicated to the celebrated sauce. Luckily, most visitors had left for the night. But the Hotel Roma had 70 guests, and at the time of writing they are unaccounted for.

So wrote Beppe Severgnini, a columnist for Italy’s Corriere della Sera in the Opinion Pages of The New York Times today.

Poster advertising the 50th Spaghetti all'Amatriciana festival in Amatrice.

Poster advertising the 50th Spaghetti all’Amatriciana festival in Amatrice.

I heard the news just after midnight, coincidentally nearly a year to the day that Nat and I drove the old Roman roads for the picturesque mountain villages of the Apennines—Norcia, Amatrice, and Ascoli Piceno, where the Umbria, Lazio, and Marche regions merge. As it happens, I was still working in my kitchen, up to my elbows preserving the last of the summer’s tomatoes. My tears mingled with tomato juice on the cutting board as I listened to updates coming in on the radio and called to mind my first stop there many years ago to learn the secrets of the best “sughetto all’amatriciana,” as the now world famous sauce was known in the local parlance.

The following morning, I leapt out of bed to read the news only to see this headline in The Guardian: “Mayor of Amatrice: ‘the town isn’t here anymore.'”

Just the tomatoes, and just enough, for "amatriciana." | Photo: Copyright Nathan Hoyt/Forktales 2016.

Just the tomatoes, and just enough, for “amatriciana.” | Photo: Copyright Nathan Hoyt/Forktales 2016.

The rest of the day was all but lost except for picking up where I left off the night before preserving the remaining tomatoes that my daughter Gabriella had brought me in a big box from her CSA a few days earlier. There were six pounds more of Juliet mini-Romas to cut, seed, and oven-dry and a mere two and a half pounds of a rich red, thick-walled variety to put up that I didn’t know the name of. I’d never seen that heart-shaped type before, but a bite of one that had split open proved dense and succulent without being watery, and it had a bracing sweetness—better than any of the Romas I’d ever tasted outside of Italy. There were just enough of them to make a sughetto to cover a pound of our favorite spaghetti, which we took as a sign; off Nat went to buy a fresh hunk of pecorino and pancetta (guanciale was not to be found) for the proper makings of the dish, the method for which I had been carefully instructed so long ago.

At dinner, we said grace and remembered the little town founded by the ancient Sabines on the soft slopes of the green Tronto Valley that survived Romans and Lombards, Angevines and Aragonese, Fascists and Nazis, and hosts of other menaces in between, but not the earthquake of 2016; a town where the people once regaled themselves with spaghetti anointed with tomato, bacon, and sheep cheese. We ate, grateful for the dish they invented. Tragically, there will be no Sagra degli Spaghetti all’Amatriciana this weekend, but here’s the recipe if you would like to make it in memory of those who died on August 24, the day Amatrice disappeared.

Tomatoes for "amatriciana." detail. | Photo: Copyright Nathan Hoyt/Forktales 2016

Tomatoes for “amatriciana.” detail. | Photo: Copyright Nathan Hoyt/Forktales 2016

Spaghetti all’amatriciana

Spaghetti with Tomato, Guanciale and Pecorino in the Style of Amatrice

For 4 to 6 people

(adapted from my book, Roma: Authentic Recipes From In And Around the Eternal City [Chronicle Books])

This dish, which originated in Rieti Province, is one of Latium’s best-known pasta specialties. The sauce is traditionally made with guanciale, salted and cured pig’s jowl, a specialty of the province and of Latium in general. Pancetta can be substituted. Over the years, the recipe has sometimes seen olive oil replacing the more tasty lard of tradition. The genuine method involves adding grated pecorino (semi-aged sheep cheese) in three stages, once during the cooking of the sauce, once after the pasta is cooked but not yet sauced, and a last time when it is sprinkled on the served pasta. The semi-aged cheese deepens the flavor and gives the sauce a voluptuous consistency.

*A note about the pecorino, which is such an essential part of the dish: A semi-aged pecorino (sheep cheese, or cacio) from the Roman province would be ideal. I found it in the U.S. in recent years in good cheese specialty shops, including the cheese departments at most Whole Foods stores. The aged pecorino romano that has been imported here for so long is exceedingly salty and dry in comparison but if that is all you can get, cut down on the 1/2 teaspoon salt called for to season the sauce.

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, or lard

1/2 small onion, finely chopped

4 ounces pancetta, thickly sliced and cut into julienne (strips 1 inch long and 1/2 inch wide)

1 small, fresh hot pepper sliced in half, or 1/8 teaspoon red pepper flakes, or to taste

2 tablespoons tomato paste

2 1/2 pounds fresh vine-ripened tomatoes, peeled, seeded, and chopped, juices reserved, or 28 ounces canned Italian plum tomatoes in juice, drained (juices reserved), seeded, and chopped

1/2 teaspoon sea salt

4 tablespoons freshly grated semi-aged pecorino (cacio romano), or good pecorino romano, plus more for serving

1 pound imported Italian spaghetti

2 tablespoons kosher salt for cooking pasta

In a large skillet, warm the olive oil over medium-low heat. Add the onion and pancetta and sauté until golden without allowing the onion to brown, about 12 minutes. Stir in the hot pepper and the tomato paste. Add the tomatoes, their reserved juice, and the sea salt. Simmer, uncovered, over medium-low heat until thickened, 15-20 minutes or as needed, stirring occasionally. Stir in 2 tablespoons of the pecorino. Remove the pan from the heat, cover, and keep it warm.

Fill a large pot with 5 quarts of water. Bring it to a boil and add the pasta and the salt. Stir immediately. Cook over high heat, according to package directions (cooking times vary from one manufacturer to another depending on their particular wheat blend and drying process), stirring occasionally to prevent the pasta from sticking together until it is 1 minute shy of al dente. The pasta must not be overcooked.

Drain the pasta, setting aside 2 tablespoons of the cooking water; return it to the cooking pot and toss it together with the reserved cooking water and 2 tablespoons more of the grated cheese over a high flame until the moisture is absorbed, 15-30 seconds. Transfer the pasta to the skillet with the sauce, and toss well. Sprinkle in the 2 more tablespoons of pecorino and toss again. When the strands are well coated with the sauce, remove the skillet from the flame and serve it at once, piping hot. Pass more pecorino at the table.

Aug 232016
 
Italy's Sweetest Little Salsa: "Exploded Tomatoes"

I’ve had a stellar crop of cherry tomatoes this year and they’re ripening on the vine faster than I can pick them, never mind eat them. Time for one of Italy’s sweetest little tomato sauces —pomodorini scoppiati, literally, “exploded cherry tomatoes.” The recipe and story just out in Zester Daily today, here.  

Aug 192016
 
Consider Venice's Golden Cookies

Zaletti are one of Venice’s favorite biscotti. Made with the region’s favorite grain, corn polenta, and often served with a fruit sauce for dipping, you could call them Venice-in-a-cookie. My ever curious friend, James Beard award winning author, chef, and master baker Greg Patent was intrigued when I told him that I like to have them for breakfast alongside a cup of cappuccino. So he made them and wrote up the recipe with step-by-step photos for his terrific blog, The Baking Wizard, here. Their name comes from the Venetian word for yellow, “zalo.” Ground corn, or polenta, substitutes for wheat throughout […more…]

Jun 302016
 
Tour Unknown Venice with Me: Sign Up for Our May, 2017 Culinary Cruise!

Almost in the very middle of this little sea, enclosed between the water and the sky, lies Venice, a fairy vision, risen as if by miracle out of the water that surrounds it and like green shining ribbons, cuts through its beautiful body. So wrote Giulio Lorenzetti, in his famous 1926 guidebook, Venice and its Lagoon: A Historical and Artistic Guide (updated in 1994 and still the most authoritative source). Yet there it is, the ancient “Serenissima,” a glittering city decorated with gold, arising out of the lagoon, firm and fixed. We can barely grasp how architects could have imagined its plan and […more…]

Mar 262016
 
The Olive Oil Scandals: Italy Fights Back

A trip to Rome at this time of year is usually timed for a feast on the region’s spring vegetables that overflow in the market stalls and somehow seem to taste better in the Eternal City than they do anywhere else. But this year, I was in Rome on a mission to hear what the Italian government had to say about the state of the country’s olive oil production, whose reputation has been damaged by scandal after scandal in recent years—and the bad publicity just doesn’t seem to let up. Here’s my report from a high-powered conference called by government officials and the country’s consortium of […more…]