Down sweet alley

Marina Renato Colussi, a new generation of fritoleri in Venice
by Fabio Marzari

Marina Renato Colussi takes over every day from her grandfather Franco, who joins her in the laboratory amidst galani, frittelle and focaccia.

As you walk around Venice, chances are you’ll notice several types of shop that seem almost overrepresented. There’s, arguably, way too many bakeries. You would, arguably, be wrong, because there is no such thing as ‘too many bakeries’, especially given how good they are, first, and how it’s always been like that. The now-unused Venetian word for ‘baker’ is scaleter, and you’ll notice some calle del scaleter (lit. ‘baker’s alley’) around town. The bakery has been there long enough for the alley to be named after it. One of the oldest operating bakeries in Venice is the shop of nono (‘gramps’) Colussi, not far from Accademia. Since 1956, Colussi has been baking products of exquisite simplicity, from his famous focaccia (flat and savoury bread elsewhere in Italy, puffy and sweet in Venice), to krapfen (Austrian-inspired beignets), and the big guns in Carnival season: frittelle, galani, and castagnole. Franco – the eponymous Colussi – daughter Linda, and granddaughter Marina work as hard as ever to offer Venetian sweetness to their many fans. It is Marina that we spoke with today. Marina took classics at school, but she knew that what was the occasionally helping out family at the bakery would soon become her life mission: to bring forward the tradition of Venetian bakery and keep alive her family’s teachings, which she learned from her grandfather.

Let’s talk about what we’re here for: your amazing frittelle
We start with the best ingredients: fresh milk, fresh egg, sugar, flour. Our sourdough is over sixty years old: grandpa took a bit of it from the bakery he used to work at before setting up shop in 1956. We make three kinds of frittelle – and that’s it. Some other bakeries offer a tonne of different fillings, but that’s not our thing. First mention goes to the typical hole-in Venetian fritters, which you can see in an eighteenth-century painting by Pietro Longhi exhibited at Ca’ Rezzonico: the fritter peddler lines them up on a skewer. Dough, raisins, and some use pine nuts – we don’t. the dough must be very… doughy? and elastic! so that you can spoon some of it away from the centre, where the hole will be, and shape them easily with bare hands. It then goes straight into frying oil and, once cooked, it is dusted with granulated sugar and sent to the counter, ready to be sold and eaten. The other two kinds we make are filled with Chantilly cream (custard mixed with whipped cream) or with zabaione, a Marsala wine-infused custard. We use a different dough for stuffed fritters, similar to choux, though still fried and not baked. They puff up while cooking and make room for delicious filling. We started right off after yuletide was over, on January 6. That’s when Carnival begins, technically, isn’t it? Every day we make frittelle and galani (angel wings), very thin and dusted with sugar. Tiny castagnole – also typical and traditional Carnival preparations – we only make in the last week leading to Mardi Gras!

The Colussis – generations of bakers and a brand in itself
I have been working steadily in the shop for over ten years, though I have called it home ever since I was a kid. I do feel the value of family tradition in what I do, and it’s only natural to feel some pressure. I learned to live with it, it’s par for the course. I did contribute to what we do by tweaking some of the recipes here and there, nothing major. I enjoy what I do and I know my customers do, too, while I am also aware that in anything you do, you should never take things for granted. I always look for flaws in my work, no matter how good the outcome. My mother, Linda, is more relaxed and objective. It goes without saying that my inspiration, and my abilities, come from Grandpa, who at age 87, still comes to shop every day to work a couple hours. He is still very jealous of his shop, and some things he wants unchanged. It’s no big deal, I have my own projects to work on. To each their own!

What do you like best, fritelle or galani?
I have quite the sweet tooth, I cannot take a side! I like both the Venetian fritters and the Chantilly-filled. I taste zabaione every day, to make sure I get it right, but it’s not something I would ordinarily eat. I know our customers do love it. As far as the galani go, what’s important is to eat them fresh, and still warm! That’s the way you do it.