For Venetians, a Zotolo is a person who does not have a place, or a precise purpose. For this reason, for a long time zotolo have been referred to as cuttlefish, and although it has had apparently little relevance when compared to more well-known relatives, over time it has been able to gain a role in the cuisine of the lagoon.
The zotolo (Sepiola rondeleti) is rare and is normally instinctively thrown into the box of common cuttlefish when the fishermen pull in their nets and sort their catch. They are different however in shape and colour. The difficulty lies in distinguishing this variety of cuttlefish from others, such as Sepiola affinis or Sepiola robusta.
The zotolo belongs to the cephalopod family. It has a sack-like body with a head with protruding eyes and ten tentacles with chromatophores. The cephalic ones are short with two rows of suckers, and their tentacles are longer. It is a small species: the female’s mantle is no more than 6 centimetres, the male’s no more than 2.5 centimetres. It is reddish in colour, tending to dark brown on the back. Its diet consists of aquatic invertebrates, especially crustaceans, and fish. It breeds between March and November.
The zotolo is found in the Mediterranean Sea and the northern Atlantic Ocean. It is common along the Italian coasts, especially in the Venetian lagoon, as it prefers shallow, sandy bottoms. It swims in areas rich in aquatic vegetation, particularly in areas where there is the Posidonia.
The zotolo is composed mostly of water and contains very little fat. Just like other molluscs of this species it is rich in protein and mineral salts, including phosphorus and selenium, which protects against cardiovascular disease. Zotolo can be used as an ingredient in pasta dishes: in a white sauce or stewed with tomato. It is also commonly used in the creation of risottos or Venetian fried seafood.
Despite its long food tradition with the local population, it is difficult to find on the market and fishermen increasingly using zotolo as bait to catch larger prey.
The scarce use of zotolo in restaurants means that there is a risk that this traditional Venetian ingredient will be forgotten.