Au­thor Skye McAlpine is on mis­sion to in­tro­duce true Vene­tian cook­ing

The Herald - - FRONT PAGE - In­ter­viewed By Pru­dence Wade

Start with what you like – that’s best way to get ex­cited. We all have dif­fer­ent tastes

MANY of us claim Ital­ian to be our favourite cui­sine – and what’s not to like, with all the pasta and red wine? How­ever, this is a slightly one-note view of the coun­try’s food. Lon­don-born Skye Mcalpine grew up in Venice, and is on a mis­sion to in­tro­duce peo­ple to true Vene­tian cook­ing, in all its va­ri­ety-filled glory.

Although she’s not a pro­fes­sion­ally trained chef, Mcalpine’s recipes have won huge pop­u­lar­ity as lov­ing­ly­formed slices of Ital­ian life.

Her food jour­ney started with a blog, From My Din­ing Ta­ble, which has been trans­formed into a cook­book, called A Ta­ble In Venice. Here, Mcalpine talks about her love of cook­ing, and how we could all make our din­ing ta­bles a lit­tle more Vene­tian...

The per­sonal con­nec­tion of food

Mcalpine is ob­sessed with por­ing over cook­books.

“I re­ally en­joyed my PHD in 17th and 18th cen­tury English trans­la­tions of Latin love po­etry, but it was a real con­ver­sa­tion killer at din­ner par­ties,” she says with a gig­gle. “What was so lovely about writ­ing about food is it’s a fan­tas­tic way to con­nect with pretty much ev­ery­one – ev­ery­one eats.”

Mcalpine started her blog in 2014, and has won a le­gion of fans.

It’s straight from the home

Few things could be more per­sonal than Mcalpine’s recipes. She and her hus­band An­thony, and their tod­dler son Ae­neas, now split their time be­tween Lon­don, where Mcalpine was born, and Venice where she grew up.

She does all her own pho­tog­ra­phy – but ad­mits it has been a learn­ing curve. “When I started the blog, it was frus­trat­ing. The food looked nice on the ta­ble, but it didn’t look like that in the picture,” she re­calls.

Ever the stu­dent, Mcalpine swot­ted up on food pho­tog­ra­phy and styling and in­vested in a de­cent cam­era.

“Shoot­ing the book my­self feels like a way of telling my story more per­son­ally,” Mcalpine ex­plains. “It’s def­i­nitely not per­fect, but it feels very hon­est, and it’s very me.”

Us­ing her own kitchen adds to the homely feel of the book – and in­deed her whole ap­proach to food. “It’s a big ram­bling house, and it’s very Ital­ian of us to have three gen­er­a­tions liv­ing there at one time,” Mcalpine adds of the fam­ily’s Ital­ian home.

Why Vene­tian cui­sine is king

Mcalpine is pre­oc­cu­pied with the his­tory of Ital­ian food – some­thing sharp­ened by the sur­round­ings of Venice.

“Be­cause it’s such a crumbling and old city, it does en­cour­age you to fo­cus on the his­tory,” she says. “If you love his­tory and sto­ries like I do, Venice is like a toy box full of won­ders.”

This feeds into the recipes that she has cre­ated, such as her favourite break­fast of kiefer – al­mond paste crois­sants that be­came part of Vene­tian cui­sine dur­ing the early 19th cen­tury Aus­trian oc­cu­pa­tion.

So what sets Vene­tian cui­sine apart from other ar­eas in Italy? “Ital­ian food is usu­ally very fresh and sim­ple flavours, so what’s most in­ter­est­ing about Vene­tian food is its un­usual use of spices,” Mcalpine ex­plains.

“Be­cause of Venice’s his­tory as the top of the spice route and a melt­ing pot of cul­tures, there is a lot of spice – car­damom, cin­na­mon, pink pep­per­corns, bay leaves and saf­fron – all these flavours run through oth­er­wise quite plain and sim­ple dishes, which I think is re­ally nice.”

But she’s not afraid of mix­ing things up

Hav­ing roots in two coun­tries has given Mcalpine a fresh take on Vene­tian cui­sine. “If you grow up in Italy, you have a strong sense there is a right and a wrong way to eat things. An­glo-saxon cul­ture is more ad­ven­tur­ous, and we get more ex­cited by fu­sion and blur­ring the lines and new ways of us­ing things,” she says.

This means that while Mcalpine is strictly Ital­ian in some senses (you won’t in a mil­lion years find her eat­ing pasta with chicken), she’s more open to ex­per­i­men­ta­tion in oth­ers – she tells a hi­lar­i­ous story of a fruit seller’s hor­ror when he found out she was mak­ing a dis­tinctly un­tra­di­tional ap­ple, rose and thyme tart. “That is the weird thing when you come from one place and live in an­other – I’m not re­ally Bri­tish, I’m not re­ally Ital­ian,” she says. “It is nice to pick and choose.”

As for her ad­vice to any­one want­ing to dip their toe in Vene­tian cook­ing: “Start with what you like,” she says sim­ply. “That’s best way to get ex­cited, be­cause we all have dif­fer­ent tastes.

“Be­cause I’m a self-taught home cook, and these are recipes I cook at home, they’re all incredibly sim­ple and quite in­tu­itive,” Mcalpine adds.



(Serves 4)

1tbsn olive oil

1 small onion, chopped

400g as­para­gus, trimmed and cut into 3-5cm lengths

100ml pros­ecco

A hand­ful of flat-leaf pars­ley, roughly chopped

400g lin­guine

30g salted but­ter

30g Parme­san, grated

Sea salt and freshly ground black pep­per


1 Heat the olive oil in a large fry­ing pan over a medium heat, then add the onion and a gen­er­ous pinch of salt. Cook, stir­ring, over a low-medium heat for five to 10 min­utes, until the onion be­comes translu­cent.

2 Add the as­para­gus and pros­ecco, then sea­son with salt and pep­per. Cook, stir­ring, for about five min­utes, until all the liq­uid has evap­o­rated and the as­para­gus is ten­der. If it is not quite done by the time

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