Before Francesco handles artichokes, he rubs lemons all over his hands. "This is the way I learned to keep the artichokes from darkening." he says. It is actually more effective than merely rubbing the artichokes with lemon after they have been cut. In this recipe the artichokes are baked until tender and served in richly verdant, garlicky herb sauce, a typically Venetian preparation. In Rome artichokes are fried, but in Venice the taste is for carciofi alla veneziana, baby artichokes stewed in olive oil.
Roasting vegetables, which concentrates their flavor by allowing excess moisture to evaporate, is one of the superb techniques that Francesco shares with many other contemporary chefs. Treating mushrooms in this manner results in lucious, meaty caps that are excellent served in salads. Roasted mushrooms can be sauteed quickly without flooding the pan with liquid, and when they are grilled they never turn tough.
Steam the potatoes in their skins until they are tender, about 40 minutes. Peel and slice them 1/4 inch (6 mm) thick. Place the slices ina single layer on a baking sheet or one or more platters. Combine the mustard, egg yolks, vinegar, and salt in a food processor and process until blender. With the machine running, slowly add the oil through the feed tube and process until the mixture is thick. Stir in the onion and the stock or water and beat until smooth. Pour the dressing over the potatoes and allow to marinate 1/2 hour. Sprinkle with parsley before serving.
These mashed potatoes are a simple, luxurious indulgence. They are rich enough to enjoy in small portions. There are lessons to be learned in the care with which Francesco selects and handles ingredients, including the everday potato. His srutiny of raw materials is typically Venetian. Shoppers in the Rialto market are extremely demanding and often wind up discussing the fish or produce with the seller or with perfect strangers. "Idaho potatoes are the ones I prefer for mashing," says Francesco, "because they have a light, dry texture. But it is important to cook them unpeeled to keep the starch in and then peel the mash them while they are steaming hot, before they become glutinous, even at the risk of burning your fingers." He uses a clean towel - a chef's anser for a pot holder - to cradle the potatoes and protect hi shands as he peels them. And an old-fashioned ricer, the kind of gadget that forces the potato through little holes, is best for mashing.
"When you cook slices of eggplant that are mostly skin," Francesco explains, "they come out looking like sauteed mushrooms, which is why this dish is called eggplant mushrooms."
"In Venice they don't bother to peel the peppers or wash the mushrooms," Francesco remarks as he starts to discuss this savory peperonata, a vegettable melange that can double as a sauce for pasta, an accompaniment for fish, or a topping for polenta. But oddly enough, at the same time, the Venetians do not use the inside of the eggplant for this dish. "The inside of the eggplant makes the mixture too mushy and watery," Francesco explains. It's best not to use slender eggplants and scoop out the flesh to within about 1/2 inch (1.3 cm) of the skin.
With fresh, flavorful ingredients, the simplest preparations, like this one for stewed zucchini, become irresistibly delectable. Francesco prepared an enormous quantity of this dish for a big outdoor buffet at his cousin's house in Mestre. It was a perfect foil for grilled squid and smoky chunks of grilled baby monkfish tails. It can also be served over penne or fettucine.
"This is a good example of food we do at home, not in the restaurant," Francesco says. The zucchini stuffed with well-seasoned veal are excellent served hot or at room temperature. You mihgt drizzle them with a little basil oil before serving.