Imagine a summer night in Venice when fireworks spill out of an indigo sky as though they were fiery strands of gems tumbling from a great, overturned coffer. Imagine the lagoon beneath teeming with boats—gondolas, barges, rowboats, powerboats, ferries, yachts—glowing with thousands of trembling colored lanterns. It is the most glorious night of the year, the night of the Redeemer, il Redentore, when all Venice turns out to recall its deliverance from the plague, as it has always done on the third Saturday of July since the end of the sixteenth century.
Everyone who can get on a boat does. While waiting for the fireworks, which begin just before midnight, they dine on board their craft, no matter how small or crowded. Among the many dishes that will be laid out—some of the traditional ones are cold pasta and beans soup, polenta, roast duck—one that is a must on this night is sfogi in saor.
Sfogi is Venetian for sogliola: the small, firm-fleshed Adriatic sole, the world’s finest flatfish. It is fried, then macerated for many hours in a marinade—saor—of browned, smothered onions, olive oil, vinegar, pine nuts, and raisins. It is one of the most savory inventions of the Venetian cuisine, itself a cause for celebrating.
The sole to choose should be the least flaky, most firm fleshed you have available. (If you have a copy of More Classic Italian Cooking, see the similar recipe for sardines.)
Serve as an appetizer in a seafood meal if sole does not appear in other courses. It is a splendid buffet dish. For a light but savory lunch it can be the only dish, followed by salad and fruit.
© 1986 Marcella Hazan estate. All rights reserved.