“Cicchetti: Small-bite Italian appetizers.” By Liz Franklin. Ryland Peters & Small. $16.95

Liz Franklin’s “Cicchetti: Small-bite Italian appetizers” has “over 40 recipes” for the bar snacks peculiar to Venice, which seems a number far too small to be bragging about. I took the book home to review anyway, because my policy on anything related to Venice boils down to “yes, please.”

Ciccetti are typically served to people standing up with a glass of wine or prosecco in one of Venice’s many wine bars (bacari) and the rough translation is “small or modest,” according to Franklin. I’ve heard them described as like tapas, but even smaller.

For me, they’re more like savory pieces of candy. You pick out a few from a case, or from plates on a counter, and if you like something, you ask for a few more. You’re charged individually and it might be as little as $1 or $2 per piece.

I was skeptical of Franklin’s book mainly because it’s primarily the Venetian atmosphere – and the variety available – that makes the cicchetti experience so wonderful. You feel as though you’re participating in a cultural experience that would seem hard to duplicate in your kitchen at home. After all, it’s a lot of work to churn out multiple appetizers for dinner guests.

I started with something very simple, her rosemary roasted chickpeas (basically you dry out a can of chickpeas slowly in a 325 degree F oven until they’re crisp, and then sprinkle them with rosemary, salt and good olive oil. They made for a nice but definitely not transporting snack.

Then I tried her artichokes with Taleggio (a soft, pungent Italian cheese) and prosciutto. The recipe calls for two kinds of flour and deep frying, so it’s fairly labor intensive, as appetizers go.

I ended up with some lumpy balls and remained skeptical until I cut into the first and saw how the pastella (a light batter coating) fell away with a nice crunch. The Taleggio had oozed nicely over the interior of the artichoke and the prosciutto (which the recipe referred to as “prosciutto ham,” which is akin to saying “bologna lunch meat”) had crisped up beautifully.

Even though I’d forgotten both the suggested lemon zest and the squeeze of juice over the finished product, I had to admit, it was absolutely delicious. And even though I was drinking water, not prosecco, in my own, decidedly unromantic kitchen, I could nearly taste Venice. I’ll dip into this cookbook again.

Artichokes with Taleggio cheese and prosciutto (arcofi con taleggio e prosciutto).

Artichokes with Taleggio cheese and prosciutto (arcofi con taleggio e prosciutto). Photo by Mowie Kay/Courtesy of Ryland Peters & Small

ARTICHOKES WITH TALEGGIO AND PROSCIUTTO

8 whole baby artichokes in oil, drained

5 1/2 ounces Taleggio cheese

8 slices of prosciutto

1 quart sunflower oil for deep frying

3 tablespoons all-purpose flour

Fresh lemon juice

Sea salt flakes

FOR THE PASTELLA:

1 egg white, beaten

1/2 cup sparkling water

3/4 cup self-rising flour

Salt, to season

Zest of 1 lemon

Remove the artichokes from the oil and dry them on paper towels.

Gently make a hole in the center of each, using a teaspoon or (my preferred method) your little finger. Push a small amount of Taleggio into the hole.

Wrap each artichoke with a slice of prosciutto and set aside. (Or several pieces of slices, as the case may be. They tend to fall apart unless they are the prepackaged vacuum-packed variety. Just try to encase it.)

Make the pastella by whisking the egg white and the sparkling water together (it will foam, pleasingly).

Slowly add the self-rising flour and beat until smooth. Add the lemon zest and salt.

Dust the artichoke in the all-purpose flour and shake off any excess.

Heat the oil in a wok or deep saucepan to 375 degrees F. Dip the floured artichokes into the pastella batter and then deep-fry for 3 to 4 minutes, until golden and crisp. (Golden is a relative term when something is encased in rosy meat.)

Drain on paper towels, squeeze lemon juice over, slice in half and serve immediately.


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