From the Veneto

Photos: Alan Benson and Andrea Butti
Photos: Alan Benson and Andrea Butti
The floating city of Venice has lured and inspired Italian-Australian chef Nino Zoccali for decades.

From Western Australia, Zoccali has made a name for himself with award-winning Italian restaurants in Margaret River, and later two in the Strand Arcade in Sydney.

In Venetian Republic he has focused on the four regions that geographically encapsulate the Venetian Republic — all have their own distinct cuisines albeit with undeniable Venetian influences, he says.

"I’ve selected dishes with strong Venetian roots or influence and have taken poetic license with some of the interpretations to give them a more modern treatment, celebrating ingredients and techniques that how, to this day, the food in this magnificent region continues to be influenced by foreign forces."

As well as telling the story of the republic through recipes — antipasto, pasta and rice, mains and dolci — Zoccali has included the history of each region.

Corfu mavrodaphne zabaglione with rosewater walnut biscuits

Serves 4

Prep time 15 minutes

Cook time 25 minutes

Zabaglione, a light dessert made with egg yolks, sugar and Marsala, is famous in Italy — and Corfu, too. It is yet another linguistic and culinary marriage between the two countries. Being the most Italian of the Greek islands, I wasn’t surprised to spot this dish in Corfu: as far as I’ve seen it’s the only one of the Greek islands to offer it as part of its dessert repertoire. They do a great job of it, too, using Greece’s indigenous fortified sweet wine variety, mavrodaphne, in place of Marsala.

Walnut biscuits

185g (1½ cups) icing (confectioners) sugar, plus 3 Tbsp for the biscuits

125g butter, softened

½ tsp rosewater

125g (scant 1 cup) plain flour

90g (¾ cup) walnuts, chopped


8 egg yolks

110g (½ cup) caster sugar

125ml (½ cup) Mavrodaphne sweet wine (or any quality fortified sweet red wine)


To make the walnut biscuits

Heat the oven to 180degC and spread the icing sugar evenly over a tray.

Whisk together the butter and rosewater in a mixing bowl. Sift together the flour and 3 tablespoons icing sugar, then beat into the butter.

Fold in the walnuts.

Roll the dough into 2.5cm balls and place on a baking tray 5cm apart. Bake in the oven for 12 minutes. Roll the biscuits in the icing sugar on the tray and leave to cool.

To make the zabaglione

Half fill a pan with water and bring to a simmer over medium heat. Whisk the egg yolks, sugar and wine together in a large heatproof bowl. Place the bowl over the pan of simmering water and whisk for 10 minutes, until the mixture thickens to the consistency of a light custard.

Pour the zabaglione into serving glasses. When the biscuits are cool, roll again in the icing sugar and serve with the zabaglione.

Sweet pea risotto

Serves 4

Prep time 15 minutes

Cook time 30 minutes

This is one of Venice’s most iconic dishes. But, as with pasticada and squid ink risotto, rizi bizi (sweet pea risotto), it is also ubiquitous in Croatia. This recipe includes a unique Dalmatian component: crisp smoked pancetta laid over the top, delivering a beautiful salty, smoky crunch.

160g smoked pancetta

80ml (⅓ cup) extra virgin olive oil, plus extra for drizzling

2 white onions, finely diced

2 garlic cloves, sliced

350g (1⅔ cups) Vialone Nano (or any risotto rice)

250ml (1 cup) Istrian malvasia white wine (or any quality dry white wine)

1 litre (4 cups) vegetable or chicken stock

300g sweet peas, half left whole, half pureed to a smooth paste

30g (½ cup) chopped parsley

2 Tbsp butter

50g (½ cup) grated parmigiano reggiano, plus extra to serve

sea salt and freshly ground white pepper

Venetian Republic, by Nino Zoccali, Published by Murdoch Books, RRP $55
Venetian Republic, by Nino Zoccali, Published by Murdoch Books, RRP $55

Heat the oven to 180degC.

Finely dice half the pancetta and cut the remainder into thin ribbons. Place the ribbon slices on a baking tray and cook in the oven until crisp.

Heat the olive oil in a saucepan. Add the onion, garlic and diced pancetta and cook over low heat until the onion is translucent.

Add the rice to the pan and cook, stirring, for 2 minutes. Increase the heat to high, add the wine and cook until the wine has evaporated.

Meanwhile, bring the stock to the boil in another pan, then reduce the heat and keep at a simmer.

Add the stock to the rice, one ladle at a time, stirring as the rice absorbs the stock. Cook for about 12 minutes, then stir in the peas, pea puree and parsley. Cook for a further 3 minutes, then add the butter and Parmigiano Reggiano and season with salt and pepper. Stir well and leave for 3 minutes before serving, garnished with crisp pancetta slices, a little extra Parmigiano Reggiano and a drizzle of olive oil.


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