The Gannet Q&A

Valeria Necchio

1st August 2017

Interview: Adam Park
Photograph: Jesse Dart

Valeria Necchio is a cook, food writer and photographer. Raised in the Venetian countryside, she studied at the University of Gastronomic Sciences in Piedmont, where she started her blog Life, Love, Food in 2010. Following a brief stint living in London, she moved back to the Veneto and currently lives between her home there and the UK. Her first book, Veneto, is published by Faber & Faber.

If you could revisit one meal in your life, which would it be?

It would be a big Sunday family meal, as a child, at my grandmother’s kitchen table. She would always cook the kids’ favourites: risotto with prawns, which I always loved, or a baked fish. My parents, brother, aunt and grandparents would be there and we’d start at noon and go on until 5 – very classic Italian. Grandma would always wake up really early to prepare everything. She’s still alive but she’s 97 so she doesn’t cook those big family meals any more.

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What’s your most food-splattered cookbook?

A Tola Coi Nostri Veci by Mariù Salvatori de Zuliani, which is a compendium of all the most traditional Venetian dishes, written in the Venetian dialect. It’s quite similar Elizabeth David’s books – no lists of ingredients, but with a strong narrative. The writing is hilarious, very witty. Another book, covering Italian food more generally, is Science in the Kitchen and the Art of Eating Well by Pellegrino Artusi. It’s very old, but for traditional Italian recipes it’s the bible. Not a lot has changed since it was published in the 1890s.

What’s the worst supposedly-good thing you ever ate?

Truffles. I’ve never liked them. Truffle oil, no. White truffle I might be able to handle, but only in small amounts.

Describe your perfect breakfast.

Always sweet: biscuits, a slice of cake, or a slice of toast with ricotta and jam. And always black coffee, which I make quite weak and drink in large quantities – caffè lungo, as we say in Italian.

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No restaurant is perfect but which one, for you, comes closest, and why?

Is it okay if I pick two? The first is called Da Celeste, on Pellestrina Island. They serve the most incredible seafood – simple, delicious, classic Venetian seafood, no messing around – and you sit outside on a beautiful patio. It sounds very cheesy but when you’re sitting there with the sun setting in front of you and the sea air blowing over you, it’s the most perfect place in the world.

The second one is in Mexico, near Tulum, called Chamico’s – it was a life-changing experience. You have to walk quite far out after a short ride in a “collectivo”, and they have no electricity so you have to leave before it gets dark. You sit and eat with your feet in the sand, the sun peeking through the palm trees. They only do two dishes: a ceviche and a fried fish.

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What’s your favourite food scene in the movies? 

There’s a Turkish director called Ferzan Ozpetek who always has cooking scenes in his films – you can tell food is really important to him. Le Fate Ignoranti (His Secret Life) is probably my favourite. The couple are cooking together and their friends show up and it feels very spontaneous and realistic.

What do you listen to when you’re cooking?

I love podcasts: Radio Cherry Bombe, which features interviews with women in food, is very inspiring. Monocle’s The Menu as well – they report about food from all over the world.  Music-wise, I listen to Radio Paradise – it’s very eclectic and really good.

What’s the one ingredient you can’t live without?

Lemon. I have cravings for bitterness and bitter flavours – I miss it if I go too long without it. Lemon is also very prominent in Venetian food: lemon and seafood go together so well. Also in our cakes, you’d find more lemon rind than something like vanilla. I spent a few months in Sydney not long ago and was eating a lot of Asian food which doesn’t have a lot of bitterness. Eventually I had to go to a bar for a shot of Amaro to balance myself. Something like radicchio or other bitter leaves would work as a substitute, in an emergency.

What is your favourite food and drink pairing?

A really dry, brut prosecco, very yeasty, with a really good salami. So the little bubbles can wash out the fatty meat. Perfect.

What’s your favourite quick and easy meal?

A simple garden salad for lunch – green beans, tomatoes, ricotta and shallot oil. In the summer, it’s very simple and very delicious.

What was your favourite food when you were 10?

Lemon sorbet. Always loved it. And risotto, any sort of risotto. I’d eat bowls and bowls of it.

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Who is your food hero?

Jane Grigson. Her books are a constant inspiration and her writing is outstanding. Alice Waters will always be a role model as well, for how she manages to combine incredible cooking with activism.

What’s the best thing you cooked at home in the last month?

It was a dish with razor clams, which I found in the market and got very excited about. I gave them a quick steam for a minute and served them with a parsley and garlic sauce. It was part of a big seafood feast, alongside barbecued sardines and mackerel.

What ingredient are you currently obsessed with?

Cilantro, or fresh coriander. It’s not something that really exists in Italian cooking so I’m really enjoying cooking with it. I use it on a weekly basis.

What’s your biggest food extravagance?

Going to the fish market and splurging on really good seafood. The freshest, best things I can find, like scampi, or something to make crudo. Excellent olive oil too, for drizzling – I go through a lot so it can get quite expensive.

What food trend really gets on your nerves?

The smoothie bowl! Let’s please stop it now. And the avocado rose. Look how much time it must take to do that, it’s ridiculous.

Posted 1st August 2017

In The Gannet Q&A

 

Interview: Adam Park
Photograph: Jesse Dart

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