This July, we began a private walking tour in the magical city of Venice. Famous for its canals, the Republic of Venice has a fascinating history as a major maritime and economic power for hundreds of years. Exploring the history, and understanding how it plays a role today in the culture and cuisine of the area is always part of our experience.
We joined Alessandra and Elena from the Pecatti di Gola cooking school to prepare some traditional dishes of the Veneto. Sarde in Saor is a classic Venetian dish, dating back to the 13th century. This was a fisherman’s dish, fried sardines preserved in a marinade of sauteed onion. It could last for several days (without refrigeration then), and onions are high in Vitamin C, very important for avoiding scurvy.
Our visit to Venice had just missed one of Venice’s favorite festivals, the Festa del Redentore, or Redeemer’s Feast, a two day celebration held annually the third weekend of July. This feast dates back to 1577 to celebrate the end of an outbreak of the plague, and Venice marked the occasion by hiring renowned architect Andrea Palladio to build a church on the waterfront of the Canale della Guidecca. Known as the Chiesa del Santissimo Redentore, this landmark contains a number of paintings by artists including Veronese and Tintoretto.
On the Saturday, the residents of Venice decorate boats and terraces, and haul long tables out to the Piazzas to prepare for a night of festivities. A massive fireworks display is the highlight, with people gathering on boats and in the squares, watching the impressive show reflecting off of the waters of lagoon while feasting on traditional dishes like Sarde in Saor.
Here is the recipe for Sarde in Saor from Peccati di Gola, with a few additional instructions from me. Enjoy a room temperature with a glass of prosecco.
Sarde in Saor
2 pounds sardines
2 pounds white onions
1 cup red wine vinegar
4 tablespoons vegetable oil, plus more for frying
Flour for dredging
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
Finely slice the onions. Place the 4 tablespoons of oil in a large saute pan, add the onions, cover, and slowly stew the onions until cooked through and tender, about 45 minutes. Do not allow to brown. When they are almost ready, raise the flame for a minute. Then add the vinegar, season with salt and pepper and let boil for few minutes. Remove from heat.
In winter, Venetian people used to add raisins and pine nuts to the onions, in order to make the sauce richer and tastier. Add them now if you wish.
While the onions are cooking, clean the sardines: slit the belly and open, removing the heads and stripping out fish-bones. Then open the filets flat, like books.
Coat the sardines with flour, fry them in vegetable oil in a saucepan, season withe salt and pepper and set them aside. After the onions have been cooked and the sardines are fried, alternate layers of onions and layers of sardines in rectangular glass pan, ending with the onions. Allow to sit, it is best made 2-3 days in advance.