Pesce di San Pietro and the First Lagoon Vegetables of the Year

We always look forward to the last week of March when – usually – the first produce (le primizie) growing on the Lagoon islands is arriving at the markets in Venice. On the blog, we inaugurate this special time by introducing you to a favorite fish recipe accompanied by candied tomatoes. I mean those little cherry tomatoes you can make out between the green lush soft velvety vegetables from the islands. It’s mostly le castraรบre (young artichokes) and so many varieties of spring salads and spinach !

Since the 1980s, the Lagoon has become a paradise to grow tomatoes. In winter, they mostly grow in the hothouses so their taste is not as strong as in summer due to lack of sun. But then, we have a little trick to make them tastier ๐Ÿ™‚ which we will share below ..

.. but first, here’s the story of growing tomatoes in the Lagoon of Venice! During the last few decades of the Republic of Venice, tomatoes arrived via Spanish merchants. At first, the Venetian nobles considered them decorative plants with beautiful red decorative fruit. When they finally started eating, tomatoes became a precious ingredient to create luxurious menus. After the fall of the Republic in 1797, Venice was simply too poor to afford growing and buying tomatoes, so only a few tomato plants survived in the Lagoon. Following the agricultural crisis of the Lagoon in 1966, when the vegetable islands were covered with thick mud and contaminants in the wake of the acqua granda, the terrible flood in November 1966 (I’m describing it in this article on my Venice Travel Blog), farmers looked for alternative areas to grow herbs and vegetables. The northern fringe areas of the Lagoon, which had always been used for private vegetable gardens, became a new home to tomatoes and salad greens. These special tomatoes have a nice name, pomodorini del Cavallino.

To add flavor to tomatoes in winter and early spring we use spices to make candied tomatoes and use these tomatoes to flavor fish.

Making candied tomatoes is so easy. Fry a few cherry tomatoes in olive oil and flavor them with a tiny spoonful honey and another of cane sugar. Add fine sea salt, a few chili flakes, cinnamon and black pepper. That’s all !

Talking about honey and sugar, we need to mention the fundamental difference of Venetian-style cooking and what is considered healthy here and what not. I count honey and sugar as spices just like the Venetian cooks (spice masters) of the past used to do. That means they have a certain value to me and thus I use them very sparingly. Whether something is healthy (honey) or not (white sugar, but then we use cane sugar!) is a question of how often you use these ingredients, and how much of them. Sugar was considered a valuable resource to flavor food and was never over-used like we tend to do it in our times ! Cane sugar, used sparingly like the Venetians did, was meant to improve your metabolism rate and digestion. The ancient Venetian cakes used all three ingredients, honey, molasses and cane sugar, to sweeten their cakes !

But now, here’s your recipe for pesce bianco con pomodori canditi e olive nere.

Would you like to know why the food here in Venice differs so much from other parts of Italy? Click here to read our blog post!

Pesce bianco con pomodori canditi e olive nere

  • Servings: 2
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

Warming, soothing, restoring on a cold day.

This recipe is an example of integrating ancient Venetian-style cooking, a sweet-sour variant of preparing food, with ingredients from the Lagoon of Venice. 
Copyright La Spezeria - La Venessiana: View our recipes


  • white fish (St Peter's fish or sole), sunflower oil
  • one medium-sized onion, black pepper corns, a few boiled potatoes, candied tomatoes, olives, spring onions cut in slices, pine nuts.
  • sea salt, ground black pepper, a tiny hint of cinnamon.


Fry the fish in a pan in sunflower oil on both sides.
Add the candied tomatoes, olives, potatoes and spices. A delicious variety is to flavor the dish with a few yellow mustard seeds, but then, we usually don't flavor fish with spices in Venice and we never use olive oil. On the other hand, a few spices, such as cinnamon and the mustard work well to enhance the natural flavor of the fish, but you have to be careful and use the spices sparingly.

I’m dedicating this post to a friend who loves candied tomatoes. Michelle shares beautiful stories and pictures of Venice and spent four weeks in Venice in March 2017. Do take a look at her pictures of March in Venice here !

Published by Iris Loredana

Iris Loredana: Author of La Venessiana - Venice Travel, Food and Lifestyle Guide for Responsible Visitors.

2 thoughts on “Pesce di San Pietro and the First Lagoon Vegetables of the Year

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: