In December a couple of years ago, I discovered the beauty of Venice in winter. Somehow the empty streets, winter light and high water felt more in tune with the architecture of this magical city than the heat and bright blue skies of summer.
We returned again at the end of November last year, and ate in our favourite places. One of them, Da Ivo, identifies itself as a Tuscan establishment, but it was here that, years ago, I first came across poached langoustine with soft polenta and borlotti beans – a typically Venetian recipe.
This time, we had an antipasto of fresh crab salad with thinly sliced raw artichokes. It was so delicious that we cancelled a restaurant we had booked for the next night, and went back there to have it again.
Since my return to London, we have been making it at The River Café. The small, spiky Violetta artichokes are currently in season and the slight bitterness of the artichokes contrasts with the richness of the crabmeat. The crisp quality of a raw artichoke makes it a light dish. It is easy to prepare. Try this – I promise you will love it.
Ruth Rogers is chef-patron of The River Café, London W6 9HA; www.rivercafe.co.uk; “The River Café Classic Italian Cookbook”, by Ruth Rogers and Rose Gray, is published by Michael Joseph (£30).
Rowley Leigh returns next week
Ingredients Serves two
2 medium-sized artichokes, sliced lengthways as finely as possible
200g white crabmeat
2 tsp brown crabmeat
2 tbs parsley, roughly chopped
Juice of half a lemon
2 tbs extra virgin olive oil
Freshly ground black pepper
● Clean and prepare the artichokes by removing the tough outer leaves, leaving only the pale, tender centre. Trim the tops of the artichokes exposing the choke and remove with a teaspoon if rough or sharp. Trim the stalk to four centimetres and peel with a potato peeler. Rub with half a lemon to stop the artichokes from discolouring.
● Combine the white and brown crabmeat with the parsley, lemon juice and olive oil. Season with the sea salt and pepper. Slice the artichokes as thinly as possible and stir lightly through the crab to combine. Season again and finish with a drizzle of olive oil.
Ingredients Serves four
200g dried borlotti beans
3 fresh red chillies
2 garlic cloves
For the soft polenta
250g polenta flour
3 tbs extra virgin olive oil
● Soak the borlotti beans overnight. Rinse, then put them into a pan with one chilli and the garlic. Bring to the boil, skim and simmer for 45 minutes. Drain, season and add olive oil. Keep warm.
● In a thick-bottomed pan, bring 1.2 litres of water and one teaspoon of salt to the boil. Reduce to a simmer, and slowly pour in the polenta flour in a steady steam, stirring until blended. Reduce the heat and cook, stirring from time to time with a wooden spoon for about 45 minutes. Stir in the olive oil.
● Heat a thick-bottomed frying pan large enough to hold the scallops in one layer. Season the scallops on both sides. When the pan is very hot, sear the scallops for two minutes on each side and remove. Add a tablespoon of olive oil to the pan, then add the two remaining chillies, sliced. Squeeze over the juice of one lemon, shake the pan for a minute and then add the beans.
● Divide the polenta between four plates and place the scallops, beans and any sauce from the pan on top. Serve with lemon.