small, intensely flavored snacks served in bacari
(bars) and restaurants. Here, spicy rapini over
make it to Venice again this year? Not in the cards? (Or the
yourself instead with a taste of that romantic Italian city.
After all, we eat to remember travels; why not eat to summon
visions we’ve not yet enjoyed?
has a diverse culinary history with myriad flavors. Nowhere
else is that as apparent as with cicchetti — small,
intensely flavored snacks served in bacari (bars) and
restaurants. Think of the tapas of Spain or pintxos of
Basque country. Cicchetti (cheek-KAY-tee) come in a variety
nearly as infinite as the fishes in the sea — an apt
metaphor since seafood figures large among these bar snacks,
as you’d expect in a city built on islands: stewed squid
over polenta, fried tuna balls, baccala (salt cod). And from
the land, you might see hard-cooked egg halves, spicy rapini
over polenta, fried polenta sticks with stracchino cheese
and so much more.
of those are featured in a new book, "Cicchetti and
Other Small Italian Plates to Share" by Lindy Wildsmith
and Valentina Sforza. While Sforza covers the rest of Italy,
Wildsmith zeros in on cicchetti.
just love Venice," says Wildsmith, speaking by phone
from London. And she loves cicchetti, from the years she
spent living and working in the city. "I always wanted
to write about them."
also claims as motivation that everything else about Italian
cuisine has already been written. Perhaps. True or not,
making cicchetti at home presents the Italophile — and
other home cooks — with a wealth of dishes to try.
evolved from the necessity of kitchen economy, Wildsmith
says, from cooks using up leftovers, especially liver and
was not enough for another meal, but enough for a
snack," she says. Today they are served at any time and
at every hole-in-the-wall bar in Venice — people often eat
them standing out in the piazza. And they are solely
won’t find it elsewhere, even elsewhere in the Veneto,"
she says, meaning the region of which Venice is the capital.
platter of cicchetti might include skewered bites (food on
sticks figure big in the bacari) like Wildsmith’s fried
pumpkin here, or a little something over polenta (another
cicchetti staple, whether cooked, cooled, cut and fried or
served creamy), like the spicy rapini here from Bar Ombra,
in Andersonville, which specializes in the snacks, offering
a couple of dozen.
cicchetti are most often as simple as these, they can be
more complex, such as the beans in peverada sauce, a
condiment with a Renaissance pedigree with its combination
of chicken livers, salami and anchovies.
anchovies impart flavor from the sea, as they do in a
piquant sauce from Michael "Mikey" Sheerin that he
created for his fritto misto (a mix of fried items, in this
case vegetables). Sheerin is executive chef of Cicchetti,
which has an opening planned for November or December in
Streeterville. Its focus can be attributed to a motive
similar to Wildsmith’s.
wanted to create something that is unique in Streeterville,"
says Sheerin. Though the restaurant will offer an array of
freshly made pastas, the titular cicchetti will star.
Sheerin, formerly of Trenchermen, Blackbird and other
restaurants, is excited about playing with ingredients of
the Italian pantry, such as agrodolce and gremolata.
a lot of layering of flavors," he says. "I’ve
found an Italian fish sauce I plan to incorporate."
sauce, colatura di alici (made from fermenting anchovies),
grounds his garnish for the fritto misto. The tender
vegetables in a light, crispy batter require a number of
steps but deliver you-can’t-stop-eating-them flavor. A
great addition to your home cicchetti platter.
and don’t forget an ombra, a small glass of wine, or an
aperitivo. A drink is always served with cicchetti, quite
often a spritz, a refreshing combination of a bitter, such
as Campari or Aperol, topped with prosecco.
Venice? Maybe next year.
RAPINI WITH GARLIC AND CITRUS OVER CREAMY POLENTA
15 minutes Cook: 12 minutes Makes: 8 servings
Bar Ombra in Chicago. The rapini stalks are served whole
over the polenta. For a richer polenta, stir in 4 ounces
mascarpone and ¼ cup freshly grated Parmesan.
tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
cloves garlic, thinly sliced
teaspoon dried red pepper flakes
of half a lemon
cooked soft polenta, see note
or cut the rapini into stalks. Trim the tough stems from the
rapini, about the bottom quarter. Cook them in a large
saucepan of boiling salted water, 2 minutes. Drain, save ¼
cup of the cooking water. Cool rapini in an ice bath to set
the color. Drain and dry rapini.
2 tablespoons olive oil and the garlic in a large skillet;
turn heat to medium. When garlic begins to color, add rapini,
reserved rapini cooking water and salt. Cook until rapini is
tender and cooking water has evaporated.
rapini with chili flakes, lemon zest and remaining 1
tablespoon olive oil. Season with salt. Serve over hot
Cook 1 cup instant polenta in 4 cups water, following
package directions. You will have extra polenta for another
information per serving: 200 calories, 3 g fat, 0 g
saturated fat, 0 mg cholesterol, 38 g carbohydrates, 5 g
protein, 9 mg sodium, 4 g fiber
AND SOUR PUMPKIN STUZZICHINI
25 minutes Cook: 35 minutes Makes: 8 servings
"Cicchetti" by Lindy Wildsmith and Valentina
Sforza. For this recipe use a small pumpkin, also known as a
pie pumpkin, or sub with butternut squash. We also liked
this dish when eaten while the pumpkin is still hot.
pumpkin (2 pounds), cut into 8 equal pieces, seeds removed
small onions, finely sliced
1 to 2
tablespoons olive oil
tablespoons white wine vinegar
sunflower or canola oil
flour seasoned with salt and pepper
tablespoon finely chopped flat-leaf parsley
the oven to 350 degrees. Put pumpkin in a baking pan; roast
until just tender, 30 minutes.
cook the onions with olive oil in a skillet over medium heat
until tender, 10-15 minutes. (Do not allow them to color.)
Add the vinegar; leave to cool.
the pumpkin is ready, allow it to cool. Then pull the skin
away from the flesh; cut the flesh into bite-size pieces.
the sunflower or canola oil in a deep heavy pan over high
heat. Put the pumpkin pieces in a large plastic bag with the
seasoned flour; shake well. (Discard the excess flour.)
Lower the pumpkin pieces into the hot oil to fry quickly,
working in batches if necessary; scoop up the pieces with a
slotted spoon as they turn golden. Transfer to paper towels
to drain; arrange on a serving platter.
all of the pumpkin pieces have been fried, cover them with
the onions. Leave to stand for at least an hour before
serving. Dust with the chopped parsley. Serve on toothpicks
or in dishes.
information per serving: 91 calories, 5 g fat, 1 g saturated
fat, 0 mg cholesterol, 11 g carbohydrates, 1 g protein, 2 mg
sodium, 1 g fiber
BEANS IN PEVERADA SAUCE
25 minutes Cook: 25 minutes Makes: 4 servings
"Cicchetti" by Lindy Wildsmith and Valentina
Sforza, which calls for dried fava beans. The sauce can be
used over other legumes, game or poultry. We used it with
steamed green beans.
ounces dried fagioli beans (dried fava beans), soaked
overnight, or 2 cans cooked fava beans tossed with a bay
leaf and 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
ounces chicken livers
ounces sopressa or other top-quality salami
handful flat-leaf parsley (or a sprig of sage), plus more
extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling
of 1 lemon plus 2 to 3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
wine vinegar (red or white)
ounce fresh breadcrumbs, about 1/3 cup
polenta or crusty bread
the soaked beans; heat to a boil in a saucepan of water with
the bacon and bay leaf. Reduce heat to a simmer; simmer
until tender, about 1 hour. Add salt to taste toward the end
of cooking time. Alternatively, use canned fava beans; rinse
them before using.
chop the chicken livers, salami, anchovies, and parsley or
sage together on a board.
cup olive oil in a skillet; add the garlic. Cook over
low-medium heat. Discard the garlic when it starts to brown.
Increase the heat; add the chopped ingredients and lemon
zest. Add salt and pepper to taste; cook 5 minutes. Add the
lemon juice, wine vinegar and breadcrumbs. Cook over low
heat, stirring from time to time, until the sauce turns
velvety, 20 minutes.
the sauce over the beans in a serving bowl. Stir well;
drizzle with olive oil. Sprinkle with more parsley. Allow to
stand for a few minutes before serving; serve in dishes over
polenta or with crusty bread.
information per serving: 261 calories, 21 g fat, 4 g
saturated fat, 120 mg cholesterol, 7 g carbohydrates, 12 g
protein, 907 mg sodium, 1 g fiber
50 minutes Brine: 2 hours Cook: 3-5 minutes per batch Makes:
recipe is from Michael "Mikey" Sheerin, executive
chef of Cicchetti, a new restaurant with an opening planned
for November, at 661 N. St. Clair St. The recipe makes
enough for 16 small bites, or it can serve half that many
people with a more substantial serving. For the Brussels
sprouts, smaller pieces work best, about 1 ¾ inches in
diameter. Colatura di alici, an Italian fish sauce, is
difficult to find. You can substitute with another type; we
used Red Boat fish sauce.
plus 1 tablespoon kosher salt
of 2 lemons
pound each: Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, baby artichokes
and juice of 2 lemons
ounces colatura di alici
habanero, seeded, chopped
clove garlic, chopped
cup each: cornmeal, cornstarch
teaspoon smoked paprika
teaspoon cayenne pepper
tablespoon granulated garlic
teaspoon kosher salt
bottle (12 ounces) lager beer, such as Peroni
quarts frying oil
the brine, stir water, salt and lemon juice together in a
large container until salt dissolves. Clean and trim the
vegetables; cutting the cauliflower into bite-size pieces.
Place into lemon brine; allow to rest, 2 hours.
the sauce, combine lemon zest and juice, fish sauce,
habanero, honey and garlic in a bowl, mixing well with a
whisk; set aside.
the batter, combine the dry ingredients in a medium mixing
bowl; add 1 Peroni beer a little at a time, stirring with a
whisk (looking for thin consistency). Heat the oil in large
pot or home fryer to 375 degrees.
vegetables from brine; discarding brine. Spread on a kitchen
towel. Once oil is heated to 375 and vegetables are
semi-dry, add veggies to batter and mix thoroughly.
vegetables from batter in batches; fry carefully, stirring
the veggies every so often so they don’t stick. Remove
from oil when golden brown. (They should be cooked through
and crunchy.) Place on paper towels to drain for a minutes.
Season with salt. Serve, drizzled with the sauce.
information per serving: 79 calories, 3 g fat, 0 g saturated
fat, 0 mg cholesterol, 12 g carbohydrates, 1 g protein, 350
mg sodium, 1 g fiber