All of Italy has delicious cuisine, but food addicts swear the heart and soul of the best cooking and eating is in the north. But is it true? I needed to know. I started my quest for the best food in northern Italy with a trip to Venice. I discovered that it’s possible to find bad food in Venice, but not if you take a class with Enrica Rocca ( www.enricarocca.com ), a Venetian chef who runs cooking and culture classes in her home overlooking a canal in the area known as Dorsoduro.
I spent two days in Venice shopping, cooking, eating, drinking, and laughing with the vivacious Enrica. We started both days at the Rialto Bridge and walked the short distance to the historic Rialto Market. As we meandered around the market wheeling Enrica’s green shopping cart, she pointed out the best stands. We talked about choosing quality products, and how to cook seasonally. She sprinkles her shopping with hilarious sidebar stories about food. One of my favorites was her description of mezzano; a cheese that is especially delicious with wine. It’s known as the sex cheese because the more you eat, the more you want and you drink so much wine to wash it down, all inhibitions are lost and one is inclined to…well, to want sex.
The Rialto Market is open every day. There are multiple meat and fish stands, as well as seductive rows of fresh produce arranged like art exhibits. The presentation is colorful and symmetrical and made me so hungry I bought a peach; the warmest, juiciest piece of fruit I’ve ever tasted.
We returned to Enrica’s home with a full basket. The apartment is part of her family’s palazzo and she has redesigned it to be a modern, gracious loft-like space where she can accommodate cooking lessons for up to ten people. She gives her classes in both English and Italian. We began the lesson with a glass of prosecco, a sparkling regional wine considered by Italians to be an aperitif.
For two days we cooked in Enrica’s inimitable style; intuitively, passionately, and with joy. We made roast pork, ribs, risotto, asparagus, peas, pasta with mussels and clams, and baked fish. She uses a little of this and a little of that and recipes are unheard of in her kitchen. I furiously took notes in the hope of recalling what we had done. Enrica uses few ingredients and teaches you to use them well. Herbs are fresh and wine is splashed into every pot and pan. There were moments I wanted to lick the plate. Everything we cooked was incredible, but there were two standouts.
The first was a simple bruschetta made by toasting rustic bread on a grill. The bread was rubbed with garlic and sprinkled with fresh parsley, luscious cherry tomatoes, and olive oil. If I’d eaten nothing else in the week I spent in Venice, this bruschetta would have satisfied me. It was that good.
But the best meal was risotto that we slowly cooked, using a broth we made from the heads and shells of fresh prawns. Each grain of rice tasted like the sea. I have never eaten better risotto anywhere in any restaurant.
Venice is magical and full of surprises that the guidebooks don’t reveal. The best surprise was finding Enrica Rocca. If there is a food heaven when you die, I’m certain that she will be there ruling over the kitchen.
Written by: Tina Gordon
Featured Photo by: Dgt84
Tina Gordon is addicted to writing, travel and food. She shares her travels, food experiences and recipes on her blog: www.teethetrav.travellerspoint.com. Tina’s first trip to Italy inspired her first novel, “Siena Summer.” She has written and published award-winning poetry for many years and is currently working on a young adult novel called “Hardscrabble Road” and planning a trip to Provence in June.