Sautéing radicchio tames its bitter bite in this Venetian pasta dish. Shrimp, garlic, saffron and wine all add their flavor notes. Recipe below.
It’s another bookish week here at Blue Kitchen. This time, we’re looking at a pair of books on regional Italian cuisines, one covering Venice, the other Sicily. Most books on national, regional or ethnic cuisines aim for authenticity. These books immediately up the ante—they’re published in Italian with English translations.
The books in question are review copies we received of Venezia in cucina/The flavours of Venice and Sicilia in cucina/The flavours of Sicily, published by Sime Books. The Venice book is edited by Cinzia Armanini and Alberta Magris and filled with sumptuous, atmospheric photographs by Laurent Grandadam. William Dello Russo is the editor of the Sicilian book; Nino Bartuccio and Alessandro Saffo supply the gorgeous images.
Introductory copy in each book sets the scene, talking of cultures, culinary traditions and indigenous ingredients. The aforementioned photographs place you firmly there. And while many cookbooks adapt the regional cuisines they write about to ingredients you’re likely to find in supermarkets and specialty shops, these do not. These are resolutely authentic recipes translated from Italian into English. No more, no less. No substitutions are offered for schie (small, mud-colored lagoon shrimp), castraure (Venetian artichokes) or cuttlefish ink sacs, for instance.
The recipes don’t strictly adhere to the conventions of recipe writing. Ingredients are listed according to star power rather than in order of usage. Or in some cases, in no apparent order. Measurements are sometimes precise, other times not—1 glass of dry white wine; 1/2 glass of milk; basil. Instructions are likewise a mix of exact and vague. You get the sense sometimes that the recipes were passed along by Italian grandmothers, carefully spelling out crucial steps and glossing over those that they just assume everyone would know.
For travelers who’ve been to Italy—and for armchair travelers—this pair of cookbooks offers beautiful, non-touristy photographs that give you a real sense of place. Daily life and the flavors of the regions are gorgeously captured. For experienced cooks willing to track down arcane ingredients or confident enough to improvise with substitutions, you’ll be rewarded with authentic recipes.
This recipe is adapted from Venezia in Cucina. It’s one of those handful-of-perfect-ingredients, a-few-simple-steps kind of recipes I’m always going on about here. And as those recipes always do, it works beautifully. The star ingredients are radicchio and shrimp, but garlic, saffron and wine all play key supporting roles.
In its raw state, radicchio is assertively bitter. In small doses, it adds a nice bite to salads. Sautéing it calms much of its bitterness, giving it a subtle quality that works well with the sweetness of the shrimp.
Fettuccine with Shrimp and Radicchio
1 medium head of radicchio
3 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 pound small to medium-sized uncooked shrimp, peeled and deveined
2 cloves garlic, minced
salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup dry white wine
a pinch of saffron threads
6 ounces fettuccine or other ribbon pasta
Start a large pot of water for cooking the pasta. Discard any wilted or loose outer leaves from the radicchio. Rinse it under cold water and halve lengthwise. Core and halve each half lengthwise, then slice crosswise into 1/2- to 3/4-inch ribbons. You want about 6 ounces of trimmed radicchio; if you have extra, reserve it for another use (such as livening up a salad).
Clean the shrimp and set aside. Combine the saffron threads and wine in a small bowl and set aside (also note how they color the wine a deep yellow as they impart their flavor).
When water comes to a rolling boil, salt it and cook pasta according to package instructions for al dente. Five minutes before it’s done, heat olive oil in a large sauté pan over medium flame. Add radicchio and sauté, stirring frequently, for about 2 minutes. Add shrimp and garlic. Toss to combine and season generously with salt and pepper. Cook for 1 to 2 minutes, turning shrimp to cook on both sides. Stir in wine and saffron and remove from heat.
Drain pasta, reserving some cooking water. Add pasta to sauté pan and toss to combine. If pasta seems dry, add a little pasta water (I added about 2 tablespoons). Taste and adjust seasonings. Divide between 2 shallow bowls and serve.