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A Major Choke in Venice
     by Steve Jenkins

Just got back from a glorious week in Venice. Ate constantly, joyously, insatiably: Perfectly fried little lagoon sole (sogliole) and cuttlefish (seppie, like squid), incredibly flavorful grilled sea bass (branzino) about the size of a farmed trout...also, my passion, sarde in saor, served room temperature, alternating layers of gutted and beheaded, olive oil-sauteed Adriatic sardines and vinegary onion with golden raisins and pine nuts (pignoli). Sarde in saor is a very respected, very primary dish about which Venetians are understandably passionate.

Mid-February is too early for that other Venetian masterpiece risi e bisi (rice and peas), but I did luxuriate in the world's most remarkable artichoke, the Veneto "castraure". These stunningly beautiful artichokes only appear in markets such as Venice's Rialto in the springtime. Yes, "castraure", as you might have guessed, is a word derived from the Latin word that gave us "castrate", in the case of this tender artichoke, the practice of plucking the newly emerged thistle from the host plant. The castraure are combined with risotto, in which they literally melt, as well as served alone sautéed, fried or grilled. They are stupendous, and their leaf-adorned, purple and green mail so surprised me that at first I had no idea they were artichokes.

Truly, the castraure is the visual stunner of the vegetable world. So with great excitement I chose to fly in a pallet of them, about 300 kilograms (660 lbs). The New York Times was primed to publish a piece about them, doubtless with a photo. So I called my customs broker at JFK (the airport) in order to be advised that the chokes had cleared customs and would be delivered to Fairway forthwith. I was informed that they had indeed NOT cleared. The US Food and Drug Administration inspector found a snail snoozing away inside one of the crates and thus the entire shipment was summarily condemned. Not only did Fairway lose the entire $7000 cost of the chokes and their air freight charge, but we also were charged with the cost of their physical destruction to the tune of six dollars per box (some 300 boxes), insult to injury on top of a heinous act not unlike killing puppies. Plus, I'm afraid to try again. Can one be castrated more than once?

Keep an eye on this space. I intend to have my way with you on numerous occasions. We'll talk about, say, anything I want to talk about.
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