MAKES 1 1/2 QUARTS
Venice is an amphibious city with its grand palazzi seemingly suspended on water and whose aura of opulence evokes magic and mystery. The food of Venice brings me down to earth; it is honest and homey if you know where to look, and it won't be in piazza San Marco where a sea of tourists congregate to marvel at the mosaic encrusted faÃ§ade of San Marco or the Campanile (bell tower).
No, the best food of Venice is found along the narrow streets in the small hidden neighborhoods called campi. One such place is al Mascaron Osteria on calle Longa Santa Maria Formosa 5225. The décor is rustic, with wooden tables and chairs that lend family-like atmosphere and the clientele is strictly local - no English spoken here. So be prepared to practice your Italian while anticipating the arrival of true Venetian food.
An outstanding dish is the zuppa di succa, smooth and creamy pumpkin soup with just a hint of freshly grated nutmeg that is served with a delicate shredding of cheery radicchio over the top. I have re-created the dish using a combination of acorn squash and butternut squash, which best approximates the taste of this wonderful soup. Succa is the Venetian dialect word for zucca (pumpkin).
1 1/4 pounds acorn squash, quartered and seeded
1 1/2 pounds butternut squash, quartered and seeded
1 cup water
1 tablespoon butter
1/2 pound (2) leeks, washed, leaves trimmed and bulb thinly sliced
2 cups chicken broth
1/2 cup nonfat half-and-half or light cream
1/8 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
Salt to taste
2 ounces radicchio, thinly shredded
Preheat the oven to 350ºF.
Place the squash quarters in a 15 1/2 x 10 1/4-inch pan. Add the water, cover the pan with aluminum foil, and bake the squash for 45 minutes to 1 hour, or until soft. When cool, scoop out the flesh and place it in a food processor. Discard the skins.
In a soup pot, melt the butter over medium heat, then add the leeks and cook slowly over low heat just until the leeks are limp. Stir in 3 tablespoons of the chicken broth and continue cooking until the leeks are very soft. Transfer the leeks to the food processor with the squash and puree the mixture until it is blended. Slowly pour the broth through the feed tube with the motor running and process until the mixture is very smooth.
Transfer the soup to the soup pot. Stir in the half-and-half or cream, nutmeg, and salt. Heat the mixture slowly until hot. Ladle the soup into individual bowls and top with some of the shredded radicchio. Serve immediately.
Tip: To save time, cook and puree the squash several days ahead. Squash can be frozen for future use.
Note: Did you know that radicchio is a member of the chicory family? This dark-magenta-colored lettuce with white veining and a slightly bitter taste comes from the Veneto region and is a favorite with Venetians, who use it not only raw in salads but also grilled with olive oil, stirred into risotto, steamed, and shredded as a garnish for fish, vegetables, and soups.
This recipe is from CIAO ITALIA - BRINGING ITALY HOME by Mary Ann Esposito, published by St. Martin's Press is 2001.
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