A TASTE OF ITALY
Author Skye McAlpine is on mission to introduce true Venetian cooking
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.
1tbsn olive oil
1 small onion, chopped
400g asparagus, trimmed and cut into 3-5cm lengths
A handful of flat-leaf parsley, roughly chopped
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