Cicchetti, Venetian tapas - the perfect way to start your next dinner party

Cicchetti, Venetian tapas - the perfect way to start your next dinner party

Cicchetti Definition: Small savoury snacks typically served in a traditional wine bar or informal restaurant in Venice, Italy.

As the sun dips into Venice's lagoon, the city's bacari (wine bars) throw open their doors. Glasses clink and plates of Venice's colourful cicchetti are put on display. Offered as an accompaniment to a glass of wine, locals stop in for a snack, and a drink, between afternoon meetings or en route home.

The Venetians are experts at presenting simple, chic hors-d'oeuvres. Most are made from seafood procured from the city's famous fish market just hours before.

Rounds of toasted bread are piled with tiny school prawns, or creamy soft white salted cod fished from the lagoon. Baby octopus are dressed with parsley and lemon are eaten with a toothpick. Warm arancini and meatballs have been crisp fried. Tramezzini, Venice's famous triangle-shaped sandwich minus the crusts, are stuffed with artichokes and ricotta, or perhaps tuna and olives. Mozzarella in Carozza - possibly the world's most glamorous cheese toastie, disappear as soon as the hit the counter.

Give your next cocktail, or dinner, party a Venetian theme, inspired by these quintessential cicchetti recipes:

Tramezzini stuffed with a mix of artichokes and ricotta (Makes 16 small tramezzini)

Ingredients:

  • 8 slices of square sandwich bread, crusts cut off
  • 1/4 cup of of finely grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1 jar or can of artichoke hearts, drained and finely chopped
  • 1 cup ricotta cheese
  • 1/3 cup cream cheese
  • 1 Tbs of extra virgin olive oil
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Method:
In a medium sized bowl mix together the Parmesan cheese, ricotta cheese, cream cheese, olive oil and artichoke hearts to a creamy paste. Taste for seasoning.

Spread the mixture across four slices of bread. Place the remaining four slices on top to create a sandwich. Any remaining mixture can be stored in the fridge in an airtight container for two days and used as a dip, or for additional sandwich filling. Carefully cut each sandwich into four slices to create 16 tramezzini.

 

Mozzarella in Carozza (Makes 10 sandwiches)

Ingredients:

  • 20 slices of sandwich bread
  • 2 large rounds of fresh buffalo mozzarella cut into slices (fresh cow's milk mozzarella can be substituted)
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 cup of flour
  • Olive oil for frying
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Method:
Lay the slices of bread on a chopping board. Place two slices on top of each other to create 10 'sandwiches'. With a large glass or cookie / pastry cutter, cut the bread into rounds so that each 'sandwich' is now two discs. Keep the crusts and leftover bread to make breadcrumbs.

Open the bread discs. Lay a thin layer of fresh mozzarella over 10 of the bread discs. Place the remaining bread discs on top, press gently around the edges, to form 10 small round sandwiches.

Whisk the eggs, salt and pepper in a flat shallow bowl until well mixed. Place the flour in a similar sized bowl. Add enough olive oil to a large frying pan to come 2-centimeters up the side of the pan. Heat the oil over medium heat.

Dip the sandwiches in the flour to coat lightly, then into the egg mixture coating them completely. Carefully place the sandwiches in the hot oil.

Cook the sandwiches until the cheese melts and the sandwiches are golden, about 2 minutes per side. With a slotted spoon remove the sandwiches from the pan and drain on paper towel.

Sprinkle with salt before serving.

Insalata di Polpo - baby octopus with garlic, parsley, lemon and mint. (Serves 6)

Ingredients

  • 1 1/2-kilograms of cleaned frozen baby octopus, thawed and rinsed
  • 1 1/4 cups of olive oil
  • 1/3 cup sea salt
  • 1/2 cup finely chopped flat leaf parsley
  • 1/2 cup of fresh mint, torn into small pieces
  • 4 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • The juice of 1 lemon
  • Freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Method:
Place the octopus, 1/2 cup of olive oil, and salt into a large (at least 7-litres) saucepan.

Cover with water by at least 2.5-centimeters. Bring to the boil, reduce to a simmer and cook the octopus until tender, which should take around an hour.

Drain the octopus. Discard the octopus heads, and cut the tentacles into roughly 2-centimetre pieces. Transfer the octopus pieces to a large mixing bowl.

Toss the octopus with the remaining olive oil, parsley, mint, garlic and lemon juice. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Cover and let sit for at least an hour for the flavours to blend.

Italian cooking is all about the ingredients. See where Venetians have been buying theirs since the 11th Century. View our guide to the famous Erbaria Market.

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