Every year in July, the town of Chioggia – referred by many as ‘la piccola Venezia’ – hosts a big seafood sagra (festival) in honour of its historic fishing tradition. Stretching along the main pedestrian street, the festival gathers a series of food stalls serving some of the most iconic Venetian dishes. Having grown up only a few miles from Chioggia, I have for long been a regular of the festival, and like any regular I have my set of rituals. In my mind, for example, no sagra could take off without a plate of scampi alla busara. The dish is of the simplest kind: just fat scampi swimming in a slightly spicy fresh tomato sauce sprinkled with parsley. And yet, it’s in such simplicity that lies its strength.
Cooking seafood 'alla busara' is a practice that dates back to the exchanges between the Venetian Republic (of which Chioggia was part), the city of Fiume (in Friuli Venezia Giulia, where the best crustaceans came from), and Croatia (particularly Istria and Dalmatia, where the idea for this dish first originated). The origin of the name is controversial. Some think that the term busara comes from the word ‘busiaro’, meaning ‘liar’ in Venetian dialect, to indicate that seafood scraps rather than whole scampi could be concealed under the tomato sauce. Others think that the term derives from the iron pot used to prepare it. Whatever the answer, it remains one of the most delectable seafood recipes from the region, and, luckily, a dish that is very easy to reproduce at home.
As mentioned, the original recipe calls for scampi, but I found that it’s just as nice (and perhaps a bit thriftier) with prawns, which is the version I’m giving here. One way to go about this dish is to serve it as a starter: tackle the crustaceans with your bare hands and then clean up the sauce with plenty of crusty bread. As an alternative, you could also toss it with a generous portion of spaghetti or linguine and make it a satisfying piatto unico, best when paired with some chilled dry Malvasia or Prosecco from Veneto.