Italian cheeses, olive bread, and an Easter spent in Venice
At the Hotel Cipriani, the beautiful pink hotel on the Giudecca, Venice's second island, a few minutes by boat from the Piazza San Marco, my room had everything you could wish for.
Walls were covered in exquisite pale Fortuny fabric. There was a creamy gold marble bathroom, a patio where in summer you can breakfast overlooking the pool and gardens, a light-as-air coconut cake for an afternoon snack, but no telephone book.
The point, of course, is that at the Cipriani, service means not even having to look up your own phone numbers. So I picked up the phone and asked the operator if she by chance had a number for Mr. Peter Stafford. She connected me without pause.
She knew the number because Mr. Stafford is one of the world's great hoteliers, temporarily retired from a career that included the Mandarin Hotel in Hong Kong and London's Dorchester.
He has made friends all over the world. ''To establish friendships is the point of life,'' he says. And all of them who come to Venice come at least with the hope of seeing him.
The next thing I knew, an invitation was extended for lunch preceded by a day's outing, a look at favorite churches, and a tour of the food markets on the Rialto.
Traveling by vaporetto (ferryboat) from the Cipriani stop to the main island, I found there are plenty of sights to see, for the city's 120 islands are subdivided by slow-moving water and connected by stylized bridges, raised in the center.
There are dozens of attractions such as the Piazza San Marco, the Cathedral of St. Mark, the Campanile, and the Doges' Palace, plus the rococo palaces, famous art galleries, and the churches. My favorite is San Sebastiano, decorated entirely by Veronese artists.
The markets on the Rialto are colorful with fresh fruits and vegetables and my guide, Mr. Stafford, chatted with the vendors, inquiring after their families and getting good advice on their wares.
Our string bag was soon filled with salad greens and beetroot, gray mullet from the fish market, and crusty whole wheat bread.
At a beautifully aromatic bakery we also found olive bread, a local specialty with olives buried in the bread. We bought a jar of opaque honey and looked at the tempting displays of licorice and crystallized fruits, fresh figs, and torrone (nougats). Then we returned to the Giudecca for lunch.
It was a lunch to celebrate Easter and spring, with salmon, fresh asparagus, and artichokes. The fish was poached lightly with a touch of garlic and the chicken roasted and served with the salad.
With crystallized pineapple we enjoyed the wonderful Italian cheeses - Boscaiola from Lombardia and the extraordinary triple cream, Mascarpone.
The dessert was the chefs' own invention, a bread-and-butter pudding to which he added a Venetian touch by using, instead of plain bread, the Italian panettone, a brioche-like cake with raisins and candied peel.
Here are the recipes as they appeared not long ago in the English magazine Harper's and Queen. Artichoke, Salmon, and Asparagus Salad 6 artichoke bottoms 1 pound fresh salmon 1 pound asparagus 5 tablespoons olive oil Juice of 1/2 lemon Bouquet garni, fresh parsley Salt, whole black peppercorns, sugar Mustard
Poach salmon with bouquet garni and a little water - just enough so that fish remains firm and pink; then let it cool in liquid.
Cook asparagus until just tender. Cook artichoke bottoms with parsley, a few whole black peppercorns, and salt to taste in water mixed with a little olive oil.
Chop asparagus into 1/2-inch pieces, saving tough ends for soup. Quarter artichoke bottoms and break up salmon into small pieces.
Combine everything in bowl, add olive oil, and mix gently. Just before serving, add lemon juice, salt, ground pepper, pinch of mustard, and an equal amount of sugar to the salt. Shrimps can be used instead of salmon. Venetian Bread-and-Butter Pudding 1 panettone 1/2 cup raisins 4 eggs 1 1/2 cups milk 4 tablespoons sugar 1/2 cup cream Grated nutmeg Butter
Butter an ovenproof dish. Soak raisins in hot water for a minute, then drain. Butter enough thinly sliced panettone to make 2 layers in the dish.
Beat eggs and sugar well, add cream and beat, then add milk and beat together. Layer bread in dish and scatter raisins between layers. Put first layer butter side up.
Add egg mixture, slowly; grate nutmeg on top after dotting with butter. Put dish in tin with 1/2 inch water, bake for 1 hour in 275-degree F. oven.
Serve hot or cold with fresh cream or poached fruit - apricots, peaches, or pears. Serves 8.