VENICE--Enrica Rocca, native of Venice, resident of London, returns to her handsomely appointed loft in the Dorsoduro and gives cooking pointers to paying guests. "The recipe," she says offhandedly, "is a modern concept."
Is this serious advice or another example of the Italian gift for stylish improvisation? "Just put good things in, good things will come out," she continues. Were this truly the case, she'd be out of work. But she continues: "The ingredient most often lacking is common sense."
And there, in a nutshell, is the reason for cookbooks, for the popularity of TV cooking shows and glamorous cooking-school vacations (a business I've got a stake in, truth be told): a lack, not just of common sense but of confidence.
We're in what used to be the laundry of her family palazzo, a short walk from the Accademia bridge. A butler in a tuxedo pours prosecco while Enrica and a couple of volunteers help with the risotto. Carnaroli, not arborio rice, two to three ounces per person. Put the porcini mushrooms in first, so their flavor penetrates the rice. Use stock made from prawn heads, where the flavor is. Add the prawns themselves at the last minute so they don't overcook. Stir in some wild mint and lemon zest, along with a touch of heavy cream, and let the risotto stand, covered, for five minutes before serving. We sit on stools covered with the hides of springboks, dyed bright orange, and the prosecco gives way to a Soave.
We--a coterie of international tour operators--been invited to this impromptu dinner as part of a travel project called PLANETT, Private Luxury Accommodation Network, designed by Marco Giol (the very well-connected man with the motor launch described in this post) to showcase the very best of a private, hidden Venice that most tourists will never see:. a private palazzo on the Grand Canal, a private castello in the vineyards, that sort of thing.
Enrica worries about culinary programs that promsie to teach "how to cook" in one day. ("Pretentious bullshit.") Instead, four basics: qualty ingredients, take the time to shop, read the labels, and remember that the very act of eating is fundamental. Then go fot it. "And if you fuck it up, that's what takeout is for."
Top: Enrica Rocca checks the risotto. above, Marco Giol with Karen Herbst of The International Kitchen.