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Aug 15

The History of Tiramisu

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Today (February 2010) I went to the town of Treviso, 20 minutes north of Venice, to discover the real story of how and where Tiramisu was invented. I had read a story on the internet that it was a creation of Alle Beccherie, a restaurant in Treviso. I had also read, however, that it was invented by a chef now in Baltimore (Carminantonio Iannaccone), at his restaurant Piedigrotta in Treviso. Other stories had also pointed to Treviso, but to different restaurants. As my mother was raised in Treviso, I decided to ask friends, elderly relatives, and locals what they know about the true origins of my favorite northern Italian dessert.

My first stop was a small cafe where a girl no more than 20 years old was working. “I'm not sure where exactly, but I know it was invented in Treviso.”, she said. This was no help at all. At the next cafe, where the Tiramisu seemed more traditional, with the free-flowing zabaglione covering the Savoiardi cookies, a man in his 30s offered that Tiramisu was invented “...right down the street, where there was a bordello. Downstairs, a man asked the madam for something that would pick him up. The madam made a concoction of mascarpone, sugar, eggs, espresso, and amaretti biscotti. This picked the man up, and made him a satisfied customer of the bordello (“Tiramisu” means “Pick Me Up” in Italian). “Later”, the man in the cafe continued, “the amaretti were replaced with the more readily available savoiardi biscotti we see today.”

This was an interesting story, but when I went to my 70 year old aunt (a lifelong resident of Treviso) to confirm the story, she said, “Cipriani's, that's for sure.” Wow. Everyone had their own story. As it turned out, two days prior, I had an hour long conversation with Chef Piccolotto, executive chef of Cipriani's. During the interview about both the chef and Cipriani's, not once did he mention Tiramisu. And so I continued to the next cafe. The waiter here could only confirm that it was invented in Treviso. A young girl in her twenties said, “Wasn't it invented in a bordello?”

At a visit to the final cafe, I asked an old man (who admitted to being in his 90s) where Tiramisu was invented. “In Treviso, in a bordello”, he chuckled.

My original plan was to capture these locals on video telling their stories of Tiramisu. But no one, that is no one directly connected to a supposed inventor of Tiramisu) wanted to be filmed talking about it. Exhausted, I headed back towards the train station, intent on taking the next train back to Venice. Hungry for something other than Tiramisu, I stopped at a local trattoria to dine on octopus, calamari, anchovies, sardines, and to discuss Prosecco with the owner, as he is very active in a local Prosecco club. Before leaving, I asked him, “Tell me, where was Tiramisu born?”

“Here”, he said.
“Here in Treviso?”
“Yes, right here.”
“But where in Treviso?"
“In a house of pleasure. A client wanted something to pick him up, like Viagra, but years ago”, he laughed.

My appetite for fish, Prosecco, and stories of Tiramisu satisfied, I took the next train home to Venice, where I was certain that this evening my dessert would be anything but Tiramisu.

For a great recipe for "Original" tiramisu including a step-by-step video, click here.

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Mar 25

Fast Food Venetian Style - Tramezzini

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Over the past 40 years, fast food “restaurants” have sprung up all over Italy. While this makes it easy for the tourist to understand the menu, it deprives one of the opportunity to taste local fresh food, even if it is local fast food.

The Italians typically have very little for breakfast. In Venice, the typical fare is a brioche (apricot jelly filled croissant) followed by a shot of espresso. As lunch is generally eaten at 12:30 or 1:00, a small sandwich is eaten in between breakfast and lunch, to help tide them over. These sandwiches are known as “tramezzini”.

The true origin of the word “tramezzino” is difficult to trace. Some simply say it means “in between”. Others say that it was a word created by the facist regime to replace the foreign word “sandwich”, popular at the time. But the dictionary defines “tramezzo” as a wall or partition; therefore, “tramezzino” would be a small partition, connecting breakfast and lunch.

Whatever the origin, when you don't have time (or money) to sit and enjoy a full Venetian meal, stop in a cafe or bar and have a tramezzino. They are made on a special type of bread called pan carré. It looks like standard American white bread without the crusts, and is filled with fresh ingredients, typically mayonnaise-based such as tuna and olives, egg and tuna, ham and mozzarella, ham and artichokes, shrimp and asparagus, or mozzarella and tomatoes. While the tramezzino exists in many parts of Italy, both the bread and the fillings vary substantially from what you see in Venice.

In 2010, these sandwiches were EU1.50 if you stand up, and between EU2.00 and EU2.50 if you sit down. They are a great deal, and go down well with a spritz or a glass or Prosecco.

So when you are in a rush, eat like the Venetians. Your tummy will thank you.

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Mar 24

An Interview with the Top Chef of Cipriani

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Cipriani's Venice – the name brings to mind the famous Harry's Bar started by Giuseppe Cipriani, and the Cipriani restaurants in Venice, New York, and London.

Behind these great restaurants is a great chef – Renato Piccolotto. Born in the province of Treviso, Italy, Renato got his start at 17 working for Guiseppe Cipriani in Asolo. He joined the kitchen at the Cipriani Venice in 1970. His 40 years of experience at Cipriani, including 20 years of spectacular dishes as executive chef makes him one of the top chefs worldwide.

In February 2010 Chef Piccolotto kindly came into Venice so that my friend Donna Jackson and I could interview him. He shared some great advice with us – advice intended for those who would like to become true top chefs. Don't miss this video! - Barry

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Feb 23

Five Great Venetian Restaurants

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Tagged in: Venice
Trattoria Da Remigio in Venice, Italy

As a past resident of Venice, people frequently write me and ask for the name of a good local Venetian restaurant. Here is a good selection of five truly local restaurants, frequented more often by Venetians than by tourists. Other than at Tre Archi, reservations are pretty much required for dinner, less so for lunch, but a simple phone call a few hours in advance usually does the trick. Please keep in mind that service in these restaurants is usually at the local pace – slow. Venetians tend to spend the entire evening dining. The restaurant is not simply a place to stop and get a bite on the way to your destination – it IS the destination.

Seafood is big here: Fried seafood, grilled fish, octopus, squid, razor clams, shrimp, mackerel, even fish lasagna. And if the menu is in only one or two languages, it's usually pretty good. These are some of our favorites. Of course, some we will continue to keep a secret! Trattoria Da Remigio in Venice, Italy
Shrimp at Da Remigio

Da Remigio
Castello 3416
+39 0415 230089
Local Seafood, meats
Closed Tuesdays
Da Remigio is a bit more formal than the others listed here, but only in the sense that the waiters wear suits, the food is plated a bit nicer than at the others, and some of the food is a bit more upscale. Soft Shelled crabs and razor clams are two of their specialties.

Il Refolo in Venice, Italy
Il Refolo in Campo San Giacomo Dall'Orio

Il Refolo
Santa Croce 1459 (Campo San Giacomo Dall’Orio)
Pizza, roast chicken
Open during warmer months of the year
+39 0141 5240016
Closed all day Monday, and Tuesday Lunch
This is the restaurant owned by the family which runs “Da Fiore”, the most prized restaurant in Venice. It’s a simpler restaurant “for the rest of us”; no special dress code, pizza is as popular here as the chicken and roast potatoes. It’s a great setting in the non-touristy Campo San Giacomo Dal’Orio along a quiet canal.

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