by Anna Gilchrist
Sant’Erasmo is one of those places that is known by few but known very well by those few.
Just a stone’s throw away from the well-known Calli and Campos of Venice’s bustling center (click here for Vaporetto information). However, it remains relatively untrodden because despite being an integral part of the history of Venice and its inhabitants, the Islands can be an intimidating prospect without the knowledge of what to expect.
That is what we went to discover. With the confident eyes of Tiberio we learnt about the hundreds of vegetables and plants that naturally thrive in the unique environment of the Lagoon and are currently under appreciated. As we walked amongst the towering herbs and uncut flowers the inspiration for recipes was palpable and it is unbelievable to think that they still remain such a mystery to most of us.
From just the one afternoon that we were lucky enough to spend cycling around, we encountered countless characters, all with their own role and stories about the Island. Unfortunately when we arrived at Tiberio’s friend’s orto they were not to be found. However he assured us, with a familiarity you couldn’t question, that they would not mind us harvesting some of the hundreds of figs and amassing grapes.
The madness lies in the fact that these delicacies cost a small fortune in the supermarket, yet are hard to keep up with in the overflowing gardens of Venice.
Nowadays we have been spoilt by the constant availability of all year round produce. But when you are within this garden with the abundance and the diversity, you forget the fruits of the other seasons and struggle to comprehend just how you will manage to try everything the gardens are offering.
‘Terroir’, whilst well known in wine, may also be recognized in the astounding flavor of the fruit and vegetables here. This is because salt, which we are so accustomed to adding to our dishes at home, is found in a higher concentration in the Lagoon environment. Therefore as the plants absorb the minerals from the earth, they take on this salty characteristic and it enhances the natural flavours.
Recipes continued to come to us as we wandered and tasted; Here is one of the few we have tried so far but there is no shortage of supplies so this is simply the beginning of our Lagoon finding experiments…
Salsola Soda or Agretti (Barba di Frate):
What is Salsola Soda: In English it is known as Saltwort, however it has always held significant historical importance for Venice in particular as a source of Soda Ash, which is a substance crucial to glass making and remained a Venetian Secret for a long time.
It is a small, salt-water annual plant. It has been most closely compared to spinach but there is an extra vitality and saltiness, which is entirely unique.
How we used it: Omelet with Salsola Soda (Barba di Frate) or Agretti and Fiori di Zucca: