The Veneto region is the area in the North East of Italy from the northern Adriatic up to the Austrian border and east of Lake Garda. The Barbarian invasions almost completely destroyed the rich legacy of the Romans in this area and many of its inhabitants took refuge on the islands in the lagoon to protect themselves; this settlement grew in size and strength to become known as Venice.
The next important period in the history of the region, was the settlement of the Longobards in c.600 AD who hunted all types of animal, from wild boar, bear and venison to pheasant, quail and partridge and introduced techniques of cooking such as grilling on the spit, with careful arrangement of the meat depending on the cooking time, and type of animal. The poor, who were forbidden to hunt, had to survive on fish, such as carp, pike and eel caught from the rivers as well as wild snails and fruit, wild herbs such as chicory, honey and eggs obtained from the countryside. The religious order had a great influence on the culinary heritage of the region having kept alive the old Roman traditions of farming, winemaking, cooking and baking.
Venice became the wealthiest and most powerful city in the world, remaining independent, as a Republic, for 1000 years. The Venetian Republic had its own fleet and trading posts in the Eastern Mediterranean, and the city itself was like a bazaar full of foreign peoples, Jews, Turks, Greeks, Armenians and Arabs each with its own quarter. It influenced the region as a whole, as rich Venetians bought up estates throughout the Veneto building beautiful Palladian villas and bringing with them the sophisticated food to which they has become accustomed. The Republic’s most famous seaman was Marco Polo, who gave us the first glimpse of the great Empire of China and brought back the silkworm and according to some, spaghetti, although this is unsubstantiated.
Trade inevitably influenced the cuisine of this region; through its contact with the Arabs, rice was introduced into the area, as well as pine nuts and raisins. The discovery of America brought maize to the region, called Granturco even to this day, because it was mistakenly believed to be “grain from Turkey”. Spices were widely available and popular in dishes until the 18th century when they went out of fashion in favour of herbs, after Napoleon’s conquest of Venice.
Today Veneto, due to both its history and geography has one of the most varied and interesting culinary traditions in Italy. There are two distinct traditions of food;
Around the coastal area of Venice, a wealth of fish dishes are prepared in a variety of styles, e.g. black risotto with cuttlefish, baccala mantecato (salted cod) pesce in saor are now classics.
Around the prosperous towns of Verona, Treviso and Vicenza, whose cuisine evolved around the farm and farmyard, meat dishes of goose, duck, rabbit, guineafowl and pork (in the past destined for the table of the landowner), and vegetables such as pumpkin, peas, borlotti beans, also known as fagioli di Lamon, and radicchio are eaten.
Polenta and rice are staples; risotti are made with the large variety of ingredients (fish, meat and vegetables), and making the perfect risotto has become a regional obsession.
The Food of Veneto
The Etruscans valued their land greatly, taking advantage of its riches by fishing farming, and hunting. Both rivers and the sea were fertile areas for fishing, and many different fish including fresh tuna were caught. Turtles eggs were delicacies. Their farming consisted of growing all types of pulses, spelt wheat and grapes as well as raising sheep, cattle, pigs, ducks and chicken. They also hunted wild boar, hare and deer. Dining was very civilised with a habit of eating twice a day, and memorable banquets took place, where they ate reclining while young, naked men and women played the flute.
The Veneto region has been an integral part of the The Maritime Republic of Venice for over 500 years. This Republic became rich and powerful, trading throughout the Mediterranean and so it is no coincidence that the most representative ingredients of this cuisine are all of foreign origin.
The city itself was like a bazaar full of foreign peoples, Jews, Turks, Greeks, Armenians and Arabs, each with their own quarter. Polenta, the cornmeal flour from maize, (mistakenly still called Grano Turco or wheat from Turkey), came from South America, as did both the popular borlotti beans, used in soups, broths and salads, and the pumpkin. Rice, for which there are endless risotto recipes, was brought from the East by the Venetians. It was also a Venetian that introduced the stoccafisso or dried cod, called baccala’ in the region, from Norway.
Through trade and commerce, a number of ingredients and many cooking techniques were also introduced as well as the use of spices, which were seen as a sign of sophistication. The wealthy merchants, who built the splendid Palladian villas in the countryside, employed trained chefs whose skills were learned by the local servants.
And so a number of elaborate dishes, requiring exacting skills, became part of the local tradition:
pate’ di fegato - liver pate
baccala’ mantecato - a pate made with dried cod and olive oil
sardine in saor - sardines fried and marinated with fried onions, pine nuts, raisins and vinegar
salsa peverada - an elaborate salsa made with liver, shallots, salami, prosciutto, anchovies, capers, lemon, wine and vinegar - braised and ground into a soft paste with plenty black pepper - a great sauce for game birds or any roast fowl
salsa peara’ - a delicious bread sauce with bone marrow, meat stock, parmesan and lots of black pepper- traditionally served with bollito misto.
The cuisine of Veneto is a sophisticated fusion of western and eastern flavours, absorbed into the local culinary traditions, also seen in the architecture of cities such as Venice and Verona; and is worth exploring as much.
The Wines of Veneto
Bardolino DOC, Bardolino Superiore DOCG
Bardolino and its rosé version Chiaretto are traditionally produced on the shores of Lake Garda. The identity of the Bardolino denomination had already been clearly defined by the 1800′s, when its production area (16 municipalities along the shore of the lake and further inland) was divided into Bardolino Classico area, where the bouquet recalls strawberries and raspberries, and Bardolino in the south, characterised by hints of cherry. Corvina is the main grape variety for these wines, with smaller amounts of Rondinella and other less important varietals. The soil in these hills produces a wine that is easy to drink and very versatile to pair with food. Bardolino is a light, dry, genuinely Italian wine which can accompany a meal from start to finish
Chiaretto is the rosé version of Bardolino. It is made with the same grapes as the Bardolino, though with less contact time between must and skins. The colour of the wine can vary from peach blossom pink to coral red, depending how long must and skins were kept in contact. Chiaretto has a magnificent bouquet of summer flowers and small forest fruits, an elegant hint of cinnamon and an inviting freshness to the palate. It is easily paired with spring dishes such as pasta and risotto with vegetables, as well as summer dishes, such as mozzarella and tomatoes, cured ham and melon, and is well suited to dishes with both saltwater and freshwater fish. It is perfect with sushi and Oriental cuisine in general, and is also excellent served before dinner as an aperitif. Its spumante version has been produced for the last 25 years and is very rare.
Prosecco Superiore Conegliano Valdobbiadene DOCG
This wine has been newly promoted to the Veneto Region’s Denomination of Controlled and Guaranteed Place of Origin. Prosecco di Conegliano-Valdobbiadene DOCG is produced according to precise rules that guarantee its uniqueness and authenticity, strictly complying with traditions in order to preserve a clear and unmistakable identity. Still, sparkling or semi-sparkling, the Prosecco DOCG di Conegliano Valdobbiadene is clearly recognisable for its pale, straw-yellow colour, a moderate body, an unmistakable fruity/flowery bouquet and a versatility that will satisfy most palates. It is a wine that can be enjoyed during a meal from start to finish, although its bubbles are best appreciated with fish entrées and risotto dishes.
Pay special attention to the band on the neck of the bottle, pink for the sparkling version or light green for the still or semi-sparkling wines. This band certifies the DOCG. Here the G of Guaranteed indicates the two historical production areas of Conegliano Valdobbiadene and Asolo. The label also provides a lot of important information to guarantee the absolute traceability of the product.
Soave DOC, Recioto di Soave DOCG, Soave Superiore DOCG
Soave DOC is the largest wine district in Europe, covering 6,600 hectares on the hilly range in the eastern section of the province of Verona, and it takes its name from the village of Soave. The main grape varieties are: Garganega and Trebbiano di Soave, though a small proportion of Chardonnay is also allowed.
Soave Classico DOC is made between the municipalities of Soave and Monteforte d’Alpone. These wines with more character.
Recioto di Soave DOCG, Soave Superiore DOCG and Soave Classico Superiore DOCG received recognition as DOCG in 2001, the highest certification of quality wines in Italy. The quality of these wines is the result of a perfect balance between the area of cultivation, controlled yields in the vineyard and accurate vinification.
For Recioto di Soave DOCG, the best bunches of Garganega grapes are dried on racks for a period ranging from 4 to 6 months before they are pressed. The fermentation that follows is very slow and long, and takes place in small barrels. The wine is bright golden-yellow in colour with a bouquet of apricot and wild flowers and hints of vanilla; it is full-bodied, sweet, velvety and smooth.
Soave Superiore and Soave Superiore Classico produce richer and more intensely flavoured wines as yield per hectare is greatly reduced. The DOCG designation also includes Soave Superiore Riserva and Soave Superiore Classico Riserva. For the riserva, the wine must be aged at least two years, three months of which in the bottles.
Lugana DOC, Lugana Superiore DOC and Lugana Spumante DOC
This DOC is a small area on Lake Garda’s southern shores and includes both the municipality of Peschiera del Garda in the Verona area and the municipalities of Sirmione, Desenzano del Garda, Pozzolengo and Lonato in Brescia. What defines Lugana is the predominantly clay type soils with traces of lime and rich mineral salts, in addition to the mild climate due to the lake.
Lugana is straw-yellow with hints of green, that turn to gold with ageing. Its bouquet is delicate, pleasant, floral, mineral and fruity, its flavour fresh, soft and well-balanced.
The Lugana Superiore DOC can be used when the wine has aged at least twelve months.
Lugana Spumante has persistent, fine bubbles, an intense straw-yellow colour at times, revealing some golden hues. It has a fragrant, subtly fruity aroma when the Charmat spumante method is used, while fermentation in bottle gives it an elegant, compact and aromatic bouquet when the sparkling process is used. Its flavour is fresh, sapid, stylish and well-balanced, with toasted, yeasty undertones.
Valpolicella DOC, Amarone della Valpolicella DOCG, Recioto della Valpolicella DOCG
Valpolicella is the name of a geographical area comprising three valleys crossed by the Negrar, Marano and Fumane streams, which flow down from the Lessini mountains into the Adige river. The area defined as “classica” is the oldest of the wine-making districts. The original centre was extended over time and today the area of provenance encompasses the hills near Verona that run from Sant’Ambrogio alla Valpantena to the valley of Cazzano di Tramigna. The main Grape varieties are: Corvina , Corvinone, Rondinella and Molinara with a smaller percentage of other grapes.
Amarone della Valpolicella DOCG
This type of wine is celebrated as the most prestigious and prized of all Veronese wines and considered one of the most important reds in Italy.
The method for making Amarone is very ancient. A record of wine made by the appassimento method from this area is mentioned by both Virgil and Pliny the Elder. Also in the 5th century, Cassiodorus, secretary to Theodoric, the Ostrogothic king, describes a similar wine called Acinatico. The grape varieties are: Corvina (45 - 95%), Corvinone (up to 50%) and Rondinella (5 - 30%) , a small proportion of other grape varieties are also allowed. The grapes are left to dry on racks for several months until they reach the concentration required. The result is an absolutely unique and unmistakable wine: intense red in colour, with notes of cherry, redcurrant, chocolate and spices. It has a full body, matched by an equally full and soft taste, perfectly balanced. One of the most sophisticated ageing wines in Italy, ideally paired with game and roasts, cold cuts and seasoned cheese
Recioto della Valpolicella DOCG
The Recioto is the sweet version of the Amarone, where part of the natural sugar is left unfermented.
The grape varieties are: Corvina (45 - 95%), Corvinone (up to 50%) and Rondinella (5 - 30%) , a small proportion of other grape varieties are also allowed. The grapes are left to dry on racks for several months until they reach the concentration required.
This complex procedure mirrors the traditional process and enables the achievement of a wine presenting a deep red colour, with occasional purple or garnet hues when matured, and a typically very marked nose. It has a full taste, velvety, sweet and round, with fine and persistent froth in the spumante version. After ageing at least two years, it become an ideal accompaniment to desserts in general, especially chocolate and pastries, although its perfect marriage is with the typical Pandoro of Verona.
2. The grape varieties of the Veneto region
Soave grape varieties
Garganega is the main grape variety for Soave. It is widely planted in Veneto and it has strong similarities with the Sicilian Grecanico Dorato and is believed to be the same grape. It is a late-ripener with a tendency to over-crop so yields need to be kept low. It gives its best results in the hills of the Soave Classico where it makes up 70 to 100% of the blend.
Trebbiano di Soave is the other important grape variety for Soave. Thought to be a clone of trebbiano, it has been discovered to be very similar to the Verdicchio grape. It is a late-ripening grape and a heavy-cropper, so yields need to be kept in check. Its best example comes from the Soave Classico district making 20 to 30% of the blend.
Trebbiano is the most planted grape variety in Italy and the second in the world; it is also found in France where it is called Ugny Blanc. Introduced to the area from Emilia Romagna, it is generally planted in the plain, where it is the main grape for ordinary Soave.
Valpolicella grape varieties
Corvina late-flowering and late-ripening, it is a vigorous high-yielding variety and is resistant to cold weather. Its small berries with thick skin have little tannin, producing fragrant medium-coloured wines with high acidity. Due to these characteristics, it is well suited for the drying process. Corvina is mainly grown in Veneto and is the main grape variety for wines Valpolicella, Amarone, Recioto and Bardolino.
Rondinella a minor grape variety, it is mainly found in Veneto. It is hardy, disease-resistant and high yielding. It produces loose bunches of grapes which adapt well to the appassimento (drying of the grapes). Its succulent wines are low in sugar and acidity. It is important as a blending grape, especially for the Amarone.
Molinara this is a minor grape variety, it is high yielding and produces light-coloured grapes with delicate aromas. It is shunned by many producers for lack of distinctive characteristics.
Oseleta had almost disappeared due to its not too generous yields, however saved from a few vines, it is increasingly found in Valpolicella blends and as a single grape variety. Thick skinned, it produces wines of deep colour and good supple tannins.
Corvinone thought to be a Corvina clone, it has been found to be a different grape variety. Similar to Corvina, it is less vigorous and low yielding. Although not so popular in the past, it is now favoured by some producers as it gives the wines extra depth.
Veneto Recipe - Smoked haddock Mantecato
Can be made as a snack or a starter. Will keep in the fridge for 3-4 days
500g smoked haddock undyed
500 ml milk
500 ml water
1 stick celery
3 bay leaves
1 clove garlic (finely chopped)
200 ml olive oil
2 sprigs parsley finely chopped
Put water, milk, celery, shallot and bayleaf in saucepan and bring to boil
Add smoked haddock
When it starts to boil, let simmer for 1 minute and turn off heat
Let it cool in the liquid
Drain haddock and remove skin and bones
Place haddock in a food processor, add the chopped garlic,
adding olive oil a little at a time until absorbed
Add parsley, season to taste, and put in serving dish
Suggestions for serving
With baked potato, on toasted ciabatta bread, or on grilled polenta
Monday - Thursday, Lunch 12.00 - 14.30, Dinner 18.30 - 22.30
Friday & Saturday, Lunch 12.00 - 14.30, Dinner 18.30 - 23.00