a city by the water: spaghetti alle vongole

In Venice any standard sense of time and space collapses. There are no cars. Addresses are according to neighbourhood and not by street. There are streets so narrow that I cannot stretch my arms out straight. Getting lost is a natural part of getting around. Rarely do I know the name of the street that I am on; however I always do seem to know how to find my way to the city's seafood market.

Living by the sea is certainly magical. The city where I am usually living these days is north of the Alps. On clear days it has great views of those mountains, but landlocked it certainly is. On the contrary, the sea defines Venice. And the seafood from its local waters defines its cuisine. 

Spaghetti alle vongole, spaghetti with clams, is one of those simple yet brilliant Italian dishes that is more than the sum of its parts. Some say that the recipes originates from Venice and others say that Naples is the city of its birth. Because I am not too fussy about labels, I think that this recipe belongs wherever there are fresh clams. And Venice has them by the boatload. It amazes me that the Venetian Lagoon and the Adriatic Sea are still so generous when it comes to the variety and quality of seafood. Good seafood doesn't need much when it comes to preperation, just a little seasoning and some good olive oil or freshly squeeze lemon juice. Spaghetti alle vongole exemplifies this.

This recipe is pretty classic and is adapted from a Jamie Oliver recipe. He is pro when it comes to adding cherry tomatoes - spaghetti alle vongole in rosso - and as I tend to be more con - spaghetti alle vongole in bianco - regarding this touchy topic, I have left them out. In fact, it seems that most food related things prove to be touchy topics here in Italy, but I'll leave that point for another day. I'll just express that personally I feel that spaghetti alle vongole is perfect enough with just clams, parley, garlic, white wine and red chili. Sorry tomatoes. I'll save you for something else.

This dish is all about timing. Nothing about it is complicated; you just have to start cooking the clams so that they'll be ready at just the same moment that the pasta is cooked. That and you need to live somewhere where there are fresh clams by the boatload.

Spaghetti alle Vongole

adapted from Jamie Oliver 

serves 2


500 grams small clams, scrubbed clean
a large handful of fresh flat-leaf parsley
2 garlic cloves
125 ml dry white wine
200 grams dried spaghetti
a pinch of red chili flakes (Peperoncino), or to taste
olive oil (preferably virgin for cooking and extra virgin for finishing)

Bring a large pot of water to boil. While the water heats up, wash and sort through the clams. Give any clams that have opened a strong tap on a wooden cutting board. If they do not close then discard them. Wash the parsley well. Separate the stalks from the leaves and finely chop both, keeping them apart. Peel and chop the garlic. 

Add a generous pinch of salt to the boiling water and then add the spaghetti. Cook according to the package instructions. Approximately five minutes before the pasta is ready, heat a large pan over medium heat and add a few glugs of olive oil (preferably virgin). Add the garlic, parsley stalks, salt and pepper. Give everything a good stir and then add the red chili flakes. Once the garlic begins to colour add the clams and the wine. Cover the pan with a lid and shuffle the pan occasionally to make sure that all of the clams open up. This should take about 3-4 minutes. Take the pan off of the heat and discard any clams that have not opened. 

Your pasta should now be cooked. Drain the pasta and then add it to the pan with the clam along with the parsley and a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil. Give everything a good toss. Give everything another good toss to make sure that the spaghetti absorbs the juices from the clams. 

Serve right away. And you probably should serve this with some bread to mop up those juices. 



confessions of a chip addict: spicy kale chips

Obviously one of the greatest joys that comes with spending time in Italy is being able to shop for fresh produce at local markets and Venice has a gem of a market: Rialto Market. In addition to  local seafood that I forever associated with fairy-tales and not everyday market fare (granceola and local razor clams for instance), Rialto is equally magical when it comes to fruit and vegetables. It even has kale. Next time I'm searching for it in Munich I will certainly be tempted to recall that there is a direct train between Munich and Venice and that Italy seems to have a much longer kale season than Germany.

When kale became the next big I became the leafy green's biggest fan upon learning that kale - like potatoes - makes great chips. Kale chips, like potato chips, depend on a few honest ingredients. All you really need is kale, oil and salt. Everything else is extra, but that extra - lemon juice and red chili flakes - is what makes me just as crazy about kale chips as I am about good ol' fashioned potato chips. Spicy kale chips? Yes please.

Those of you who know me well know that I have a weakness for potato chips. And by weakness I mean a serious addiction. My mom never allowed Doritos or pop into the house when we were growing up, but on special nights we were allowed plain potato chips that we would eat with salsa (often while watching SNL or Wayne's World for the 100th time). Of course we only ate brands with natural ingredients and without hydrogenated oil of any kind, but they were still chips. Chips! I loved them as a kid and I might even love them even more as an adult.

Although kale and potatoes have very few things in common, they are both arguably at their best when made into chips. 

Spicy Kale Chips


1 bunch of kale
juice of half a lemon
2 tbsp olive oil
1 tsp salt
1 tsp red chili flakes

Preheat oven to 200 F / 90 C / gas mark 1/4.

Wash kale well and then spin dry. Tear the leaves away from the stem and then tear each leaf into bite-size pieces.

In a bowl mix together the kale, salt, olive oil, lemon juice and red chili flakes. Massage the kale gently and make sure that it is evenly coated.

Line a baking or cookie sheet with parchment paper and then lay the kale on the sheet. Bake for 30 minutes and then remove from the oven and gently toss the kale to make sure it is has not stuck and that it cooks evenly and then bake for another 10-15 minutes or until kale is dry and crispy.

Let the crisps cool and then transfer to a container or jar and store in the fridge for up to a week.



postcards from venice

When I lived in Berlin my favourite place to buy postcards was from a shoemaker around the corner from my apartment. I've mentioned it before. Both the shoemaker and his small dog that kept him company had uncombed hair and looked as if they had a plethora of stories to tell.

Two weeks in Venice and I have found a bookstore around the corner from my apartment - Alta Acqua Libreria - where a man with a similar spirit works. Although he does not make his own postcards (that shoemaker in Berlin truly set the bar high), he makes up for it with stories. Regarding the postcard of the Pink Floyd concert in Piazza San Marco in Venice in 1989, of course he was there. And regarding that postcard of a flood Piazza San Marco, well rumor has it that tomorrow's rains will cause a similar sight. 

Sometimes I am more interested in the stories of the people who sell me postcards that merely which cities those postcards are from.


bananas that fancy almonds pulp

I am in Venice. The water gently flirts with us tourists as we walk by canals and over bridges. And each bridge reveals a sublime view. I have a list of markets to explore and regional dishes to eat, but first I want to tell you about some muffins. Chocolate Banana Muffins. Sometimes classic flavour combinations just can't be beat.

My nut milk bag, blender and I spend a lot of time together (I even brought my nut milk bag along to Venice with hopes of spending time with it here). This means that most days I drink homemade almond milk. Yes, I totally spoil myself. However, raw almonds are unbelievably cheap in Germany. I'm not sure why considering that in Canada they seem to be one of the priciest nuts around, but why question a good thing? This almond milk making habit of mine also means that most days my freezer is stocked with almond pulp.

Because bananas like nuts, it just made sense to start putting that almond pulp to work by adding it to banana bread or banana muffins. The fact that almond pulp and bananas get along so well also finally gave my freezer some much needed space back. 

I've been making chocolate banana muffins quite often as of late and this is the version that I like best. These muffins are sweetened with maple syrup and all the better because of it. For the cup of flour use any flour that you fancy. I usually opt for white spelt, or just all purpose. I've made these before using all almond pulp and no flour and although they still tasted like the holy trinity of banana, chocolate and maple syrup, their crumbly texture left something to be desired. I've used both cacao nibs and chocolate chips and I can't decide which one I like better so I just go with what my pantry has most of. That seems to be the main theme of this recipe - taking advantage of a freezer full of very ripe bananas and almond pulp and whatever chocolate the pantry has to offer.

Chocolate Banana Muffins

makes 12 muffins


1 cup flour
1 cup almond pulp
3 tbsp melted coconut oil or butter, plus a smudge for greasing the muffin tin
1/4 cup maple syrup
pinch of salt
3 tsp baking powder
1 organic egg
3-4 very ripe bananas, mashed
1/2 cup chocolate chips or cacao nibs
1/4 cup almond milk

Preheat the oven to 400F / 200 C / gas mark 6.

In a mixing bowl combine the flour, almond pulp, salt and baking powder. Set aside.

Melt the butter or coconut oil. Let cool slightly and then combine in another mixing bowl with the egg, maple syrup, and almond milk. Add the mashed bananas and beat until combined.

Pour the wet ingredients into the bowl of dry ingredients. Mix together swiftly until just combined and then fold in the chocolate chips or cacao nibs. The batter should still be lumpy and will be quite moist. If it feels too dry, add a tad more almond milk.

Grease a 12 cup muffin tin with butter or coconut oil, or line it with muffin cups. Spoon the batter into the muffin tin. Bake until a toothpick inserted into the centre of one of the muffins comes out clean, about 20-30 minutes. Remove from the oven and let rest before taking the muffins out of the tin, about 5 minutes. Serve warm. And maybe even serve with a glass of almond milk. 


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