“The Veneto is a place of water, of lagoons, lakes, rivers and canals. Bound on one side by the Adriatic and crossed by the mighty Po river, the region extends right up to the feet of the soaring red rocks of the Dolomites …”
Francesco’s Kitchen may well be my favourite cookbook. A present, I have kept it close always, and time after time, take it down and read passages I’ve read before, pore over pictures of the most exquisite and exotic food, and sometimes I cook the simplest dishes, or elements from them – like the Venetian-style potatoes, or the Verona-style gnocchi, the salami medallions.
Some of the dishes are not, I think, completely for cooking ourselves just as described, just as this book is not, completely, a cookbook. Part history of Venice, part culinary history of Italy; part family history of the da Mosto clan, part Venetian travelogue – Francesco’s Kitchen is something like an incredible almanac of every morsel of Venetian food, from all times.
I was just in love with the man at the time this came out – from his various television series. I didn’t even know he had a book. I was regaling someone with tales of his presenting style, and the sheer gusto of his travelling and love of Italy, and they maybe remembered this. I was probably going on about the fantastic episode where he tells the story of the murderous composer Gesualdo. Hence the gift. I’ve treasured it ever since – just as I have the madrigals of Gesualdo.
One day, I hope to cook more from this book, it just needs boldness (and a butcher, fishmonger, shotgun, gondolier and palazzo) – just as one day, I hope to go to Venice. Francesco’s Kitchen is such an adoration of the city that it’s impossible to even glance through without being filled with a yearning for these peppered sauces, hare pies and polenta with beans, and for the canals and palaces, and the lagoons where the fishing and hunting are done. It’s all a bit of a dream really, and quite the culinary handbook to Hemingway’s magnificent Across The River and into the Trees.
My favourite photo in the book, which is filled with many amazing photos, is dated now of course in technology terms, but it shows Francesco in his study in Venice, working in the glow of his white plastic iMac, but surrounded in this ancient room by the trappings of a very old Venice: the portraits, the antiques, the grey misty light seeping from the canal through the iron shuttered window. You can just hear the water lapping at the walls. It is a kind of symbolism that Hemingway might well have enjoyed.
Life, in Venice.
Ponte del Mondo Novo by Didier Descouens