venice

The End of the World in the Loire Valley

As an Italian person, one of my most developed senses is Smell. Oh yes, we like our aromatherapy in the kitchen. As a matter of fact, what I absolutely love about food shopping in any open market in Italy, is the herbal goodie bag that comes with it: gorgeous thyme, rosemary, curly persil or the inevitable basil, you name it. They'll all be part of the deal. The positive health effects of culinary herbs have been renowned ever since the dawn of civilization. It's common knowledge that Venice, for example, has for centuries been an authentic door of spices interchange between East and West. Lately, I've been wondering around the Loire Valley, and I came across the most exclusive botanical garden & restaurant. Located in Berthenay, near the wonderful Chateau of Villandry (one of the seven wonders of the world), this river estate is surrounded by a garden of aromatic and edible plants. While Benoist introduced me to the wide variety of culinary herbs from all over the world, Emmanuelle would be cooking up a storm inside the adjacent cute little cottage.

I discovered that each region has its own plants that bloom like a symphony depending on the climate. To activate digestion, best served in form of infusion or soup are : fennel, mint, lemon balm, sage (also used as an antiseptic). We went for a walk in the domain, and came upon the wild plants along the Loire: oregano, die, bay leaves, tansy, Moorish. The taste of these herbs is enhanced by sun or humidity. I've been lucky enough to get a full on description of a whole area dedicated to mints. The best flavouring herb? Marjolaine shell. In the workshops run by Benoist, one can learn how to grow these delicate plants in their own gardens or, for the more citizen-types, like me, on the balcony.

Just adding up one herb to an otherwise ordinary meal will bring a whole new meaning and character to it. So have fun, mix up, create, and try for yourself the art of combining herbs with the kitchen. Back in the cottage, Emmanuelle prepared an unforgettable nettle soup. No, it didn't itch.

On the contrary, it was the end of the world.

Consume without moderation.

With love and nettle,

Eleonora

Harry's Bar in Venice

It's an institution in Venice. Every smart-set occasion, it being the Cinema Festival or the Art Biennal, calls for a stop at this world-renowned bar & restaurant, a highly civil Venitian refuge and a place of rest. Women's rare fragrances and a certain ethereal aura fill up the place, at the counter the reassuring preparation of the most celebrated Venetian drink, synonimous of a decadent and stylish cocktail hour. Created in the '30s by Harry's bar founder Giuseppe Cipriani, he christened this white peach cocktail the Bellini (after Giovanni Bellini, the fifteenth century Venetian painter- on the occasion of the artist's exhibition in 1948). Marco, the chief barman today, probably stolen from a 007 movie scene starring Sean Connery, told me - with a decisively assertive yet uberdiscreet manner - many stories as I sipped one fragrant cocktail (which I duly accompanied with fresh water not to get my head turning too fast) and a cheese and ham tramezzino (a triangular sandwich constructed from two slices of soft white bread with the crusts removed) which bread had been cooked in scrumptious butter.

For example, the fact that, to start with, the bar's name had been coined after its founder, Arrigo, it being impossible to be called otherwise as prohibition time was in full swing. Marco told me how the bar counter is kept religiously as it once was, along with all the original paraphernalia, and how Mr. Cipriani decided not to serve beer after an accident occurred causing the cracking of the fine bar's marble in the late '40s and a total change in the clientele target - from then on nothing but the rich and famous, the so called crème de la crème. Ernest Hemingway used to sit at the corner table, its chair as the observatory of a universally glittering micro-dimension that seems to always keep its guard up while entering this timeless place.

As of the preparation of the Bellini, all the elements, starting from the glass, through to the Prosecco and the peach purée, should be as cold as possible.

  • 1/4 peach puree
  • 3/4 Prosecco wine

When the season calls for it, make plenty of white peach (only) purée ahead, but beware: never use a food processor as it aerates the fruit. As strange as it can seem, a cheese shredder might do the trick! Add 1/10 of white sugar to the peach mixture, and you'll have the original Harry's bar effect. Most off all, this is a drink which decoration is the horizon of your imagination, aka don't overdo with additional ingredients like peach schnapps or similar. Less is more.

With love and Bellini,

Eleonora