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A Special Valentine’s Day Party and Feast in Venice 1500 AD



The long wooden table nearly buckled under the bounty of the Valentine feast. A crisp salad of winter greens from the mainland was dressed simply with olive oil, vinegar, and salt. Platters of frito misto shone golden under the candlelight - bits of meat, spring vegetables, and fruit fried to crisp perfection.

Little game birds roasted on spits were presented whole, then carved by the father at the head of the table to reveal juicy morsels of quail and squab stuffed with apricots. Serving maids offered vegetables preserved in oil from the fall harvest - artichokes, onions, and carrots glazed in honey.

A whole poached salmon to feed twenty dominated the center table. To prepare, the cook baked said fish wrapped in linen and covered in court boullion of wine, onions, herbs and salt until just done to lock in moisture. Sliced lemons scattered atop provided needed winter acidity.

Diners dipped fettunta - thick slices of day-old country bread toasted over the fire and rubbed with garlic - into bowls of stewed chickpeas and broth for sopping. Pewter pots of ravigote sauce made pungent with herbs, capers, and vinegar accompanied the salmon.

Finally, an almond panna cotta infused with rosewater from the lady of the house's garden provided sweetness to end the multiple courses. Suspended gold leaf glittered like stars in the flickering candles as patrons scraped up the last silken mouthfuls from their bowls. Music and dancing late into the evening ensured excess winter calories were well-spent in revelry and romance on San Valentino.

Defancio’s wife Constantina was dressed in a beautiful silky blue gown.  Around her neck was a dual strand stone necklace that was only worn on these special occasions.  Soon the necklace would be passed to Belinda just as it had been passed to her.  The necklace had been passed from mother to daughter for almost 1500 years as a family heritage and was directly related to the family secret. 

Here are some detailed recipes and preparation instructions for a few dishes that may have been served at a 1500s Venetian Valentine's Day feast (Related to the book "Da Vinci Connections") :

Frito Misto

  • Ingredients:

  • Assorted small pieces of veal, pork, chicken, seafood, vegetables (artichokes, onions, zucchini blossoms etc), fruits (apple and pear slices)

  • Finely chopped herbs

  • Flour

  • Olive oil for frying

  • Instructions:

  • Pat meat, seafood, vegetables and fruit pieces dry and toss in flour seasoned generously with salt and pepper.

  • Shake off any excess coating.

  • Heat several inches of olive oil to 350°F in a heavy bottomed pan.

  • Fry ingredients in batches for 2-3 minutes until crispy and golden brown.

  • Drain on paper and serve immediately while hot, garnished with chopped parsley or fennel fronds.

Herb-Roasted Quail

  • Ingredients:

  • 8 whole quail, cleaned

  • 1 onion, quartered

  • 4 sprigs thyme

  • 2 bay leaves

  • 1 orange, sliced

  • 2 tbsp olive oil

  • salt and pepper

  • Instructions:

  • Pre-heat oven to 400°F.

  • Combine onion, herbs and orange slices in a roasting pan.

  • Brush quail with olive oil and generously season both inside and out with salt and pepper.

  • Place on top of vegetables.

  • Roast for 15-18 minutes until quail reach an internal temperature of 165°F.

Poached Salmon in Court Bouillon

  • Ingredients:

  • 1 whole salmon (approx 3 lbs), cleaned and scaled

  • Court Bouillon: 1 cup white wine, 1 quart water

  • 1 onion, sliced

  • 5 black peppercorns

  • 3 cloves garlic

  • 1 bay leaf

  • Small bunch parsley stems

  • 1 tsp salt

  • Instructions:

  • Combine Court Bouillon ingredients in a large skillet and bring to a boil.

  • Reduce heat, cover and simmer 10 minutes.

  • Place salmon in large baking dish and strain court bouillon over salmon until just covered.

  • Bake at 350°F, basting often, for 20-25 minutes until just cooked through but still moist.

Almond Panna Cotta with Rosewater

  • Ingredients:

  • 2 cups heavy cream

  • 1/3 cup sugar

  • 1 tbsp gelatin powder

  • 1 cup whole milk

  • 1⁄2 tsp almond extract

  • 1 tbsp rosewater

  • 25 toasted sliced almonds

  • Instructions:

  • Soften gelatin in 1⁄4 cup cold milk.

  • Heat cream and sugar until steaming but not boiling.

  • Remove from heat and stir in bloomed gelatin, milk, almond extract and rosewater until dissolved.

  • Pour into serving dishes, top with sliced almonds.

  • Chill covered for at least 4 hours.

Fettunta (Garlic Toast)

  • Ingredients:

  • 1 baguette or other crusty artisan bread cut on bias into 1/2 inch thick slices

  • 1 head of garlic, peeled and halved crosswise

  • extra virgin olive oil

  • salt.

  • Instructions:

  • Lightly toast or grill bread slices on both sides until slightly browned and crispy on the outside but still tender inside.

  • While hot, rub one side generously with the cut garlic head.

  • Drizzle bread with olive oil and sprinkle lightly with salt.

  • Can be prepared on the hearth over an open fire for authentic flavor.

  • Serve while still warm.

Ravigote Sauce for Fish

  • Ingredients:

  • 1 cup parsley leaves, finely chopped

  • 1⁄4 cup fresh mint leaves, finely chopped

  • 1 tbsp capers, rinsed and choppe

  •  3 anchovy filets, minced

  • 1 shallot, minced

  • 2 tbsp red wine vinegar

  • 1 cup extra virgin olive oil

  • pinch sugar

  • salt and pepper.

  • Preparation:

  • In a medium mixing bowl, combine all ingredients except olive oil.

  • Slowly whisk in olive oil until emulsified.

  • Season to taste with salt, pepper and sugar

  • Cover and allow flavors to develop for 30 minutes or up to 8 hours refrigerated

  • Remove from fridge 30 minutes before serving

  • Drizzle sauce over cooked whole fish or fish pieces

  •  Garnish with fresh herbs.

The pungent herbal flavors of the ravigote sauce pair nicely with the simple garlic toasts for dipping and the buttery poached fish.

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