Mezzastagione is here: This is another, agriculture-inspired name for autunno, autumn. Mezzastagione, mid-season means we are neither in winter nor in summer. And it shows in the food and cakes for All Saints Day here in Venice, such as pan tradoto and fave (we’ll explain in a minute!).
Depending on what our autumn weather was like so far, we might be closer to summer or to winter. Especially when Venice suffered from early autumn flooding, we’re in the midst of winter right now. The city looks wet and cold, and all the feel of summer will be gone. But that’s not always the case ..
Usually, we’re in for another mild month and a light scirocco breeze. It may feel like a gale at times. After all, the scirocco wind is responsible for bringing on flooding, from southern direction.
Scirocco is responsible for the summer part in the weather. It brings on mild, rainy and heavy air making you feel the weather swings in your head. The air is misty due to this unsteady breeze, and you’d have to wait for the bora (the northerly wind) to clear the skies, so you can take crystal clear images of Venice and the Alps in the background.
Bora is the opposite, winter part in our weather. These are days when the bora, a northerly wind, clears up the skies. It’s freezing cold, chases away the clouds, and bright blue skies frame in the Lagoon in its wake.
Both winds have in common that they bring on “nervous weather”, as Lina calls it. You can feel instability and mood swings, counter-balanced by the food we eat: From November, the way we cook changes considerably, because it works so fine in preventing or mitigating the first signs of colds and the flu.
The first days of November are dedicated to the memory of dead family members but also to resurrection: On 1 November, l’anno agricolo, the agricultural new years starts in the Veneto, representing the new beginning. We celebrate with food reminiscent of summer, using warmer and sharper flavors and spices, which already belong to the season ahead.
By warm and sharp colors I mean flamboyant orange, pomegranate red, and a deep green, color verza. The deep purple season, of which radicchio is a major example, is yet to start, because we need frost days to harvest the pink radicchio.
The popular saying of l’estate di San Martin, Saint Martin’s summer, reflects this unstable season, which sometimes feels like summer, but actually brings on the most severe floods of the year. There’s a reason why acqua granda happens during the two weeks before or after 1 November: Cold and warm winds collide, bringing on rain and heavy air, while the scirocco wind presses water masses into the Lagoon which then flood the city.
This unstable weather is the reason why a seasonal traditional menu of All Saints Day looks the way it does: While on the mainland and in some trattorie on the Lagoon islands, you eat selvaggina, in Venice, a three-course menu for All Saints Day is made from these ingredients looks like this:
- Crema di zucca spezià (spicy squash cream soup, using zucca marinara di Chioggia) and a possibly, a topping made from sweet cream, cinnamon, red pepper corns, black pepper, fieno greco, and miole de suca (roasted pumpkin seeds). Or simply, the soup is garnished with prezzemolo (parsley) and aneto (dill) and sometimes, aceto balsamico (balsamic vinegar).
- Contorno (side dish): Maroni (fried chestnuts), insalata di patate americane fritte (salad made from fried sweet potatoes). The chestnuts growing wild in the Veneto, along the Lagoon, were called maroni mati when grandmother was young. They were eaten roasted and are one of the best remedies to heal or prevent a cold!
- Pasta spezià: Home-made pasta, flavored with a colorful sugo made from fresh and dried tomatoes, yellow mustard powder, dried funghi (mushrooms), Taleggio cheese, zucchini chips, chili-flavored olive oil and lots of black pepper. We also add a hint of cinnamon which enhances all flavors.
- Tressiàn (a sweet polenta cake that Lina loves), pan trandoto, also called ossi dei morti, and fave: Ossi dei morti are sweet breads made with yeast, coming in various sizes. Le fave, also called fave dei morti, translate as “beans of the dead”. The origin of these sweets cannot be retraced, but I found that the Greek and Romans loved green beans and claimed to recognize signs that their loved ones lived on in these plants.
- El piato de morti. On All Souls’ Day, 2 November, in the Veneto the people reserved one place at the table for dead family members, and a plate was left on the table at night, next to a candle. This tradition is still observed in many families, so they put a plate with cake or soup and a candle on the window sill at night).
During the first ten days of November you can also taste our favorite sweet in autumn: Le fave, tiny cookies made from pinoli (pine nuts) and flavored with three ingredients: vanilla essence, cocoa powder or alchermes liquor, which accounts for the pink color you can see above!
You can find more tips for autumn in Venice and the Lagoon, the wine harvest, the autumn feasts + menus in our new online class Autumn in Venice, which comes in the Virtual Retreat format.10