My husband Sam and I spent the past Christmas in Venice. We weren’t able to make it back to the States to spend it with our families (my parents were back in Ohio with my grandparents), so we decided to make the most of Sam’s days off of work and travel. We spent a few glorious days in Slovenia and enjoyed excellent meals at two very different tasting menu restaurants (Hisa Franko and Hisa Denk), and then headed to Venice for Christmas proper.
Venice Cheap Eats
My favorite (and the cheapest) way to eat in Venice is by hopping between different bàcari (bars) and enjoying various cicchetti (basically Venetian tapas…but don’t tell any Venetians I said that). This could include anything from meatballs to crostini topped with Baccalà Mantecato (salt cod mousse) to octopus salad and everything in between. Pair with a glass of house wine or a spritz (more on spritzes in our most recent blog post) and you’re in for a great evening! During Christmas, however, many of the bàcari are (rightfully) closed so that the owners and employees can spend the holiday with their family and friends, so we had to make other plans for our Christmas dinner.
An Excellent Venice Seafood Restaurant
After a lot of contemplation, we decided on Corte Sconta – a lovely seafood focused restaurant frequented by locals and visitors alike. It’s located in the Castello district, removed from the bustling crowds that constantly fill Piazza San Marco and the surrounding neighborhoods. On Christmas day, we dined alongside many Venetian families and enjoyed an array of seafood antipasti, squid ink pasta, and expertly prepared fish dishes, but the standout dish for us was the vongole (clams). We devoured the plump little clams, which were served in a moreish lemon ginger sauce, and frantically mopped up every last bit of the juice with crusty bread…and then regretted not ordering two servings.
Ginger in Venetian Seafood Dishes
While ginger may not be a “traditionally” Italian ingredient, Asian influences in Venetian cuisine date back to Marco Polo’s time. Because Venice was a major trade center, it has long been influenced by other cultures, and the cuisine reflects that: corn (used most often in Polenta) became popular after Columbus discovered the Americas, rice (mmmm, risotto!) was introduced to Venice by the Arabs during the Middle Ages, and potatoes (critical for gnocchi) arrived from South America in the sixteenth century. Venice’s cuisine has always been globally influenced, and, luckily, that continues to this day!
Making Venetian Vongole e Cozze (Clams and Mussels) with Ginger Broth
Recently, a new fishmonger opened in my neighborhood and when I saw that he had fresh clams and mussels, I immediately thought back to our indulgent Christmas dinner in Venice. Figuring that mussels would be a great addition to the dish, I promptly bought some of each to make my own version of our favorite dish from that meal. Mussels and clams are super simple to prepare - simply cook your aromatics in oil, add a liquid, then add your mollusks and cook until they open! I added some garlic in with the ginger at the beginning (because garlic makes everything better). You could certainly add in some onion or shallot as well if you’re a big allium fan. For the liquid, I used an easy drinking Grüner Veltliner that we had on hand - which we enjoyed with the meal as well! Of course, if I really had my stuff together, I would have made and served this with a northern Italian white, such as a Friuli Pinot Grigio. Maybe next time! Sam and I enjoyed the clams and mussels with some excellent sourdough focaccia and some seared summer squash. It was a perfect summer meal!
Recipe for Venetian Vongole e Cozze
1 pound clams
1 pound mussels
2 tablespoons olive oil
6 cloves garlic, finely chopped
2 inch knob of ginger, finely chopped or grated
1 cup dry white wine
1-2 tablespoons butter
1 handful of flat leaf parsley, chopped
Crusty bread for serving
Check to make sure that all your clams and mussels are alive (shells should be closed or stay closed when you press the halves together). Discard any that are dead.
Rinse clams and mussels in cold water and drain in a colander. Scrub the dirt/sand off of any particularly dirty shells.
Heat a deep sauté pan over medium heat. Add olive oil, garlic and ginger and cook until garlic begins to turn golden brown (the garlic and ginger should be mouth wateringly fragrant at this point). Add the white wine and bring to a simmer, then add the clams and cook until they open. As they open, transfer the clams into your serving bowl (keep the bowl covered to retain the heat). Once the clams are cooked, pour in the rest of the wine and bring to a simmer. Add the mussels, once again transferring them to the serving bowl as they open.
Once all the mussels and clams are cooked, turn off the heat and stir in the juice from half of the lemon and the butter. Taste the sauce and add salt and pepper as necessary. Pour the sauce over the clams and mussels and garnish with parsley. Serve with a few lemon wedges and crusty bread (to mop up all that tasty sauce!).
Are you planning a trip to Venice and want to find the best places to eat, see, and stay? We can help with that! Remember that we are always available to you and your friends and family for custom trip planning to Europe. We are experts in creating custom travel itineraries and leading small group trips in Europe. You can always reach Betsy at email@example.com. We would love to help you make your travel dreams to Europe come true!
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