Foods Of Northern Italy

Extras, Food & Wine, Italy — By on October 9, 2012 at 12:00 pm

by Charlotte Hammond

Special to The Lost Girls

Most travelers come to Italy with a bucket list of famous painting and famous foods, hoping to scratch off as many as they can in one trip. Italy is a mine of edible gems but I liken eating Italy to a culinary scavenger hunt—it’s essential to look for the right things in the right places.

Attention to region is everything—you’ve got it backwards if you look for gnocchi in Naples and mozzarella in Milan. Furthermore, though Italy is arguably worth experiencing for the gelato and pizzas alone each region, each city even, offers something singular worth scavenging for.

The superstars of Italian cuisine with worldwide reputation—ricotta, cannoli, spaghetti, bruschetta, pizza, gelato, just to name a few—spawned from southern Italian cookery. Northern Italy, from Turin to Trieste, offers several antidotes to the typical Italian traveler’s regimen of pastas. The head of the boot is known for its risotto, gnocchi and pesto—but being the head, northern Italy has a quirky and creative streak. If you are traveling in the north of Italy be adventurous and sample some indigenous dishes with influences and ingredients that might surprise you.

Canederli (Trentino): Once a part of Austria, this region of Italy likes a hearty meal complete with a leg of meat, sausage and sauerkraut. In a restaurant ask for a Weiss instead of wine and warm up with a bowl of canederli, large bread dumplings served in broth or butter. The canederli can be made with speck, a raw ham aged for months at a time, spinach or cheese. Have canederli before your meat binge, or stop there; they can usually keep you full enough to trek the Dolomites.  (A recipe for spinach canederli follows).

Risotto al nero (Veneto): I once heard a twenty-something American tourist gripe that in Venice he asked a waiter for the nicest thing on the menu and they gave him “just a plate of black rice.” Truthfully, the waiter was delivering on the request. Venice’s risotto al nero may appear to be a plate of jet black sludge but in this case your tongue will wildly disagree. Made with the meat and cooked in the ink of the cuttlefish fished off of Venice for ages, risotto al nero is a salty delicacy. It’s ill advised to try this one at home, or anywhere else in the world, so take the leap when you’re in Venice or in Trieste in Friuli Venezia Giulia.

 

Strozzapreti/Strangolapreti (Emiliana Romagna): The name means “strangled priest” and etymological legend has it that priests loved this thick pasta so much that they ate it voraciously, often choking. Chew thoroughly, ladies. These irregular shaped tubes of pasta are a common primo piatto, or first course, in Trentino and Emiliana Romagna and can be prepared in a spinach or meat cream sauce.

Fonduta (Piemonte): If it looks and sounds like fondue, that’s because it is like fondue. But Piemonte’s fonduta has it’s own very special touch: truffles. Fonduta is a few steps above its French counterpart in richness, prepared with several kinds of cheeses, milk and egg.  Caprini, Robiola, and Tumin electric, cheeses made in the region’s mountains are the stars of this dish. In the tradition of Piemonte, fonduta can be served as a piping antipasto or, if not decadent enough on it’s own, topping a cut of meat.

Northern Italian cuisine, primarily risotto, is simple and variable comfort food you can make at home. Here is my recipe for a spinach canederli.

Spinach Canederli 

3/4 pound (300 g) day old white bread, finely cubed

2/3 cup (150 ml) milk, room temperature. (2% or above)

1 1/3 pounds (600 g) fresh spinach

A medium onion, chopped

3 tablespoons salted butter

1 clove garlic, pressed

2 small eggs

Salt & freshly ground pepper

3-4 tablespoons flour

Preparation:

Dice the bread quite finely and put it in a bowl; pour the milk over top. Cover the mixture to soak for about 30 minutes. Then wash the spinach well, cut off roots and overly coarse stalks. Heat the spinach in a pot with just the water remaining on the leaves until it wilts, then drain it, squeeze it dry, and mince it.

Peel and finely dice the onion. Melt the butter and sauté the onion until translucent. Crush and add the garlic, then the spinach, and cook, stirring, for about 5 minutes to drive off excess moisture.

Lightly whisk the eggs and blend with the spinach mixture, a pinch of nutmeg, and salt and pepper to taste, into the bread. Let the mixture sit for a half hour longer.

Set a pot of lightly salted water to boil.

Mix just enough flour into the bread mixture to firm it up. Wet your hands and shape the mixture into 8-10 canederli. Simmer them for 20-30 minutes and serve with melted butter, and shredded Parmigiano.

Note: The amount of flour required depends upon how moist the mixture is, and you may need considerably more than the 2 tablespoons specified here. In my experience, the canederli will not always stay together no matter how wet or dry the mixture is before shaping. They are tasty all the same.

Photo credit: Charlotte Hammond, Vanilla Flo’/flickr

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