credit: Pixabay.com / Anestiev
You’re in for a long hard fight if you wanted to declare the best region for food in Italy. After all, how could anyone choose between Tuscany’s ricotta and spinach gnudi, Umbria’s wild boar and truffles or Calabria’s nduja? Spoiler: you can’t. But one foodie fact that’s not up for discussion is that Venice is the hands-down best place for cicchetti. Cicchetti (pronounced chee-kay-tee) are little snacks or side dishes that are traditionally served in bars or small restaurants in the city - and guess what? They’re the perfect partner to a glass of the local Prosecco too.
Back in the UK, and just three minutes walk from the Oval Space - the venue for this year’s Prosecco Springs - you can find the best traditional Venetian cooking in London in a canalside restaurant called Ombra. If the sun is shining and you’re sitting outside on their sundeck supping an Aperol Spritz and eating an arancino rice ball, you could almost be in Venice (well, if you ignore the red buses of Mare Street behind you!).
We spoke to their head chef, Mitshel Ibrahim about the four best cicchetti to pair with a glass of Italy’s finest sparkling wine. They're super easy to make, so give them a try.
Mitshel says: “My absolutely favourite top four cicchetti are:
“This is literally what it says: half a hard boiled egg and a fillet of anchovy (the type preserved in oil, not salt) on top.”
“Again, this is very straightforward. At Ombra we use polenta bramata, which we cook like you would normally cook polenta, then we then set it in a container over night. The day after, we slice cubes of the set polenta, then we char it on the grill and then while still warm put a slice of cured lardo [pork fatback] on top.”
“For this recipe we make our own mince from short ribs of beef, which has a very meaty flavour and it’s a fairly cheap cut. If you buy your own mince, just get something not too fatty, then for every kilo of meat we add 200g of grated parmesan, three eggs (about 150g), salt and pepper to taste.
We mix all the ingredients together in a mixing bowl, we then fry a little bit of the mix to check that the seasoning is good, if we’re happy we then make golf balls size meatballs which we then paner [toss it in flour, egg and finally in breadcrumbs] and fry them in 180 degree oil for about 3-4 minutes depending on the size.”
“This is the quintessential Venetian cicchetto to have with a spritz or a glass of bubbles. Different from the rest of Italy, baccala in Venice is cod that has been air dried [it’s salted in the rest of the country]. We buy a variety called Ragno which we soak in water for three days, changing the water every day, then we then clean the fish, separating the flesh from the bones and the skin. The rehydrated cod is then simmered with a bay leaf and garlic and once tender we weigh out the drained cod and emulsify the same quantity of vegetable oil into it using an electric whisk. Once fully emulsified, we season it with salt and pepper. It can then either be spread onto a piece of charred bread or set polenta cube, like above with the lardo.”