Summer is the traditional time to travel and what could be more fun than traveling with your entire family? OK, I heard that! Traveling with kids can be: exhilarating, anxiety-producing, joyous, excruciating, eye-opening, fearful, and downright fun! Recently, our family spent a marvelous day in Venice.
For this trip to Venice we had a mission: to eat and then go to the great square of Piazza San Marco and play. Venice is rich in museums, churches, and history. Just taking the vaporetto, the city waterbus, down the Grand Canal allows one to see the great gothic palazzi that fill so many postcards. Getting lost in Venice is a fabulous experience. Every turn exposes new treasures: beautiful door handles, exquisite glass chandeliers that often hang from the decorative ceilings on the noble (second) floor, and intricately carved water wells that are the focal point of even the smallest square.
Venice is magnificent. No matter how long you stay, it never seems long enough . We only had one day for this trip and our first stop was at Fiaschetteria Toscana, one of our favorite restaurants in Italy. They are known for their fritto misto (assorted fried seafood), as well as the proprietor Mariuccia’s, incredible desserts. Italy is a country that loves kids. Even though the restaurant would be considered fancy by American standards — polished silver, multiple glasses, starched linen, etc — well-behaved kids are always welcome. The waiters, servers (there are multiple layers of service), and owner kept coming by to see the children. Knowing children get antsy at the table, to keep them entertained our waiter brought to the table a couple of the small local soft shell crabs — moeche — that are alive until cooked. We later found out that we were seated at the table next to the Queen of Norway and that there was a princess eating inside the restaurant, yet it felt like it was our children who were being treated like royalty.
One of the items that delighted our children was fried squash blossoms. They so enjoyed them we had to order two servings. These flowers are delicate, and when simply, lightly battered, and expertly fried, they are so delectable they are impossible to resist. Although we can’t get moeche in America, we sometimes can get squash blossoms and the children adore them when we make them. Below is our recipe.
After an amazing lunch we headed off to Piazza San Marco to play. Piazza San Marco is one of the most beautiful squares in all of Italy. A large open area, it is book-ended by the Museo Correr, that houses an impressive collection of works that highlight the art and history of Venice, and the incomparable Basilica di San Marco with its four Greek horses pawing the air. To one side is the Torre dell’Orologio, the most important clock in the city, and dominating the square is the campanile, (bell tower) from which one can get an incredible view of Venice.
Spending the afternoon playing in the piazza is a wonderful experience. People-watching is incomparable. It is fun to watch those dressed in haute couture navigate the uneven sidewalks as well as the myriad of tourists trying to balance their binoculars, guide books, and cameras. Waiters at the famous cafes languidly wait on the mostly tourist crowd willing to pay five times the normal cost of a cup of coffee to snag a table on the square where dueling pianists and violinists create sonorous music.
Just as we were getting comfortable sitting on the steps, we heard sirens go off. We realized they were alerting Venetians of the arrival of acqua alta (high water). For those who may not know, Venice is built on a series of islands connected by bridges in a fairly shallow lagoon. Most of the buildings were constructed on closely spaced wooden piles that don’t decay if covered by water. Unfortunately, nearby artesian wells that drew water for the mainland industries depleted the aquifer and the sinking of Venice began. Those wells are no longer used, and there is controversy as to whether or not Venice is still sinking. However, in early spring and autumn, Venice still regularly gets acqua alta that usually reaches at least three feet in height. When acqua alta occurs the residents of Venice move about on raised planks and continue with their lives.
It was fascinating to be there when the water was rising. We heard a gurgling sound but at first could only see a little bit of puddling at the low point in the square. Along with many others, my children took off their shoes and started dancing in the water. Later the water turned into lakes as the waiters at the grand cafes around the square scrambled to move the chairs and tables to higher ground. There was no fear, only fun. However, with the water rising, we realized that it was time to leave, looking forward to returning to the magical city soon.
Fried Zucchini Blossoms
Copyright 2009 by Giuliano Hazan
Serves 4 as a side dish
1 dozen zucchini or squash blossoms
1 cup water
2/3 cup flour
1. Remove the stamens from the blossoms and make sure the petals are open.
2. Put the water in a medium bowl and gradually add the flour while whisking to keep the mixture smooth. When all the flour has been mixed with water, the batter should have the consistency of buttermilk. Adjust by adding more flour or water if necessary.
3. Pour enough oil into an 8-inch skillet to come 3/4 inch up the slides, and place over high heat. The oil is hot enough when a drop of the batter in the oil will sizzle and float to the surface. Dip a blossom into the batter to coat it well, lift it out letting any excess batter drip back into the bowl, then gently place the blossom in the hot oil. Repeat with as many blossoms as will fit loosely in the skillet. When a light brown crust forms on the bottom turn the blossoms over. When the other side is also light brown, lift them out of the pan, gently shaking any excess oil back into the skillet, and transfer them to a cooling rack to drain or to a platter lined with paper towels. Repeat the process with the remaining blossoms. It’s best to replace each blossom in the pan rather than waiting until the pan is empty before frying the next batch, as this will maintain a more constant oil temperature. When all the blossoms are done, sprinkle with salt and serve hot.