During the early 1980s one of the best places to eat in Venice was (and still is at this writing) Fiore, a former osteria, a wine pub, taken over by a handsome, tireless young couple, Maurizio and Mara Martin. Mara does all the cooking, some firmly traditional, some of her own devising. One of her dishes I have admired is a creamy risotto with shrimp and asparagus; it led me, in turn, to derive from it a baked dish with all the same ingredients except for the rice. The rice I replaced with boiled potatoes mashed through a food mill.
Among the ingredients of this recipe are butter, cream, and Parmesan, apparently violating one of the most frequently repeated axioms of Italian cooks, that one does not use dairy products with fish. Some people do, however, who are indisputably Italian.
In Italy, olive oil is without question the traditionally preferred ingredient to cook fish with. It is the one that I, along with every other Italian cook, would automatically turn to, for there can be no more apt combination of flavors. When I am not cooking automatically, however, when I am reaching for a less obvious statement of flavor, I find that butter and cheese—natural and historic products of the Northern Italian plain—can extend, rather than distort, the expressiveness of my native seafood cuisine.
© 1986 Marcella Hazan estate. All rights reserved.