Food in North-east Italy: a brief gastronomical tour!
Trentino-Alto Adige; the Veneto and Friuli
Padua; Bassano del Grappa; Vicenza; Verona; Lake Garda; Trento; Bolzano; Cortina d’Ampezzo; Misurina; Trieste; Venice
Food in Northeast Italy often comprises dishes rich with creamy and meaty sauces, and risotto and polenta are often eaten instead of pasta.
Trentino-Alto Adige stretches from the Dolomite mountains in the north and east to undulating hills covered with vineyards and fruit groves in the south. Germanic/Hungarian influences, especially in Alto Adige, show in the gnocchi (potato and flour dumplings), soups flavoured with caraway seeds, "speck" (a smoke-cured prosciutto), strudels and the use of sauerkraut and vinegar in their cooking. Hey, in Alto Adige street signs are even written in both German and Italian!
Dishes to look out for include "canederli", large balls made with stale bread, flour, milk, and eggs with liver, bacon, salame and sometimes green vegetables. "Canederli" are served as a soup, boiled in water or broth and placed in a tureen with boiling broth, or boiled and then served with goulash. They can also be prepared with dried prunes where the pitted prune is inserted in the canederli, dipped in crumbs, and boiled.
Desserts are important in cold climates – gotta get those calories! Try a cup of hot chocolate topped with whipped cream, a piece of "strudel" or a slice of "zelten,"(a cake-like bread filled with dried fruits, walnuts and other goodies).
The basic element of the cuisine of Trentino (and Friuli) is "polenta", really just boiled corn (maize) meal, but there’s a whole raft of ways it can be served. Sometimes corn meal is mixed with flour from saracen corn, producing the famous "black polenta". In other areas the polenta is prepared with potatoes and local cheese served with cucumbers, pickles, or bean salad.
Trento has a famous produce market that’s worth a look. Apples from Val di Non and, it’s claimed, 250 varieties of wild mushrooms are sold, including porcini (I’d kill for these), chanterelles and chiodini. Best in summer and autumn.
Desserts in Trentino are similar to those of the Veneto. The "fregolotta" cake is a crisp and crunchy mixture of flour, sugar, and almonds. "Grostoli" are blended drinks made with flour, milk, eggs and grappa flavored with orange and lemon peel. Other desserts include lightly fried fruits, jams, pies, and cakes made from chestnuts covered with whipped cream. Yum!
With Yugoslavia on its eastern border and Austria to the north it’s not surprising to see their influences in the cuisine of Friuli-Venezia-Giulia. Spices such paprika, poppy seeds, cinnamon, cumin and horseradish; rice and polenta instead of pasta. If you’re into sausages, this is the place and if you like Goulash (beef stew made with red wine, tomatoes, paprika and plenty of onions) there’s no need to go to Hungary, you can get it here! Any carnivores should not miss the local "prosciutto di San Daniele" – cured raw ham from San Daniele.
Soups from Friuli are usually based on beans, greens, or pig’s ribs, with plenty of lard (not so great for vegetarians!). But I liked the salted cheeses such as "frico", a seasoned cheese which is cut in pieces and fried in butter – goes well with polenta.
Cooking from Trieste and Grado reflects the Venetian style of cooking seafood, with strong Austrian and Slavic influences. Specialties are "brodetto", a fish soup, made with pieces of various fish, and "mesta", a kind of polenta cooked in water and milk and eaten with fish.
Incidentally, Trieste has a tradition of so-called literary caffés, the last of which is the San Marco in Via Battisti (italian link).
One thing to remember is that Venice is not the Veneto. The cuisine of this region offers well prepared, simple, almost country food. Two well known dishes are "risi e bisi", a porridge-like risotto/soup made with fresh peas, rice and parmesan cheese, and often bits of bacon; and "pasta e fagioli", a stew-like concoction made of tomatoes, tiny pasta and beans.
Proximity to the Adriatic means seafood is a big item in the Veneto diet, all the usual suspects are available. If you want something a bit different, try "risotto alle seppie", it’s made with cuttlefish ink and the rice is black! "Sarde in saor" is a traditional Venetian dish of grilled fresh sardines with a light sweet and sour sauce, while "anguille in umido" comprises eels in a tomato, garlic and white wine sauce.
There are also a few good vegetarian treats in this area. Apart from being the place where the delectable dessert "tiramisu" was created, Treviso is famous for its radicchio rosso, delicate, slightly bitter red chicory, (try it grilled "radicchio alla griglia") as well as for its asiago cheese, which the region has been producing for over 1,000 years. The most common asparagus in Italy is green and comes from Ravenna, but it is the white asparagus of Bassano that is most prized, so much so that it has won official government recognition with a legal name of its own: Asparagi DOC di Bassano. Not to be missed.
Food in Italy:More than pizza and spaghetti bolognese!
Food in Northwest Italy: Lombardy; Valle D’Aosta and Piedmont; Liguria.
Food in Central Italy: Emilia Romagna; Tuscany; Umbria; Le Marche.
Food in Rome and around: Rome; Lazio.
Food in Southern Italy: Naples and Campania; Abruzzo, Molise and Puglia; Basilicata and Calabria; Sicily and Sardinia.