Liver belongs to the Italian culinary tradition and is the most eaten of the offal. There are references to the use of liver as early as in the roman period, in Apicius’ work De re Coquinaria.
Liver was called iecur and Apicius, in order to obtain a very fat liver, used to feed the animals (mainly cows and gooses) with figs (ficus in Latin): hence the name iecur ficatum (liver with figs), then abbreviated as ficatum and adapted as fegato (liver).
It is a dish which not only represents the city of Venice but the entire Veneto region. For this reason it can also be called fegato alla veneta.
The wise Venetian cooks substituted figs with sio’le (onions), which were very common in the Laguna and were able to smoothen the taste of liver as well as figs. Apparently, the venetian recipe was so appreciated that it was mentioned in the modern Apicius written by Francesco Leonardi in 1790, under the name of Fegato di mongana alla veneziana (The mongana is a dairy heifer).
What is that makes this dish so special?
The fegato alla veneziana recipe is based on only two ingredients. The strength of this dish is given by the perfect combination of two opposite ingredients: liver and onions. Traditionally it is made with pork liver, even if today the calf or steer livers are preferred for their more delicate flavour.
Onions, on the contrary, are undisputed: when you talk about onions in Venice and in the Veneto region you are referring to the one and only white Chioggia onion. It is the ingredient that gives the dish that sweet hint that must be present when an onion which meets a strong flavour as liver’s.
And finally there are the complementary ingredients: butter and a good extra-virgin olive oil used to sauté the onions, vinegar (optional) and parsley. Some may use white wine or lemon instead of vinegar: they are variations that may outrage purists, but they derive nonetheless from family traditions and are more than acceptable.
The recipe of Venetian style liver
Ingredients (4 people):
- 600 grams of pork liver (or calf or steer liver if you prefer)
- 2 big white Chioggia onions
- approx. 50 grams of butter
- 4 spoons of extra-virgin olive oil
- vinegar (optional)
- a bunch or parsley (optional)
- salt and pepper to taste
Sauté the sliced onions in a pan with butter and oil; when they start to get brown add a little vinegar (if you decide to use it) or two spoons of water and cook for 15-20 minutes at a moderate temperature.
Add the liver, which has been previously cut into small slices (and the parsley if you are using it) and cook fast (no more than 5 minutes) at a high temperature. Season with salt and pepper.
This dish must be eaten very warm and served immediately after cooking. It must not be reheated because liver gets hard when reheated.
Best served with a soft polenta (a sort of porridge made of cornmeal) or with grilled polenta slices.