Delicious delights of Lombardy, Italy

Lake Como is in the Lombardy region of Italy and is known for its risottos and polentas. Risottos are creamy rice dishes that can be made with mushrooms, spinach, octopus or whatever you like. The Italian Arborio rice is a high starch, short grain that works best. Polenta is basically cornmeal. It is usually presented as a cake and can be mixed with buckwheat flour as well as vegetables and cheeses.

The region boasts a wide variety of cheeses and the fish in the lake is abundant. We watched people fishing just outside our villa and it took them less than a minute to catch something. Fish found in the lake include trout, pike, bleak, chub, shad and perch. For 15 Euros, foreigners can buy a fishing “License D” that permits fishing on the lake for 15 days. Underwater fishing in also permitted in certain areas.

IMG_1913Our favorite breakfast food was Bel Paese, a semi-soft cheese first produced in 1906, a Lombardy original. It was mild and buttery and went perfectly with our Italian hard rolls. Of course throwing a slice of prosciutto on top didn’t hurt.

Our last night on the lake we had a memorable meal prepared by a local chef who came to our villa. (His restaurant is Ristorante “Da Toni” in Bellagio at Cernobbio, 72.)

The meal started with a typical antipasto of meats and cheeses including mortadella, salami, mushroom pate and local cheeses. Our vegetarian friend had a special plate with zucchini, eggplant, peppers and tomatoes stuffed with soft cheese. This was all accompanied by a local white wine “Le Calderine” from the Angelinetta Winery in Domaso, down the lake from us.

Our second course was Pizzocheri, a local peasant pasta dish made with buckwheat flour. The noodles are similar to a short tagliatelle. They are usually served with potato and spinach but the dish we had was finished with cream, herbs, walnuts, and cubes of cheese. The chef topped it off with pink flower petals which made a lovely presentation.

For the main course we had roast pork shank with porcini mushrooms and a polenta cake. The pork was magnificent. It fell off the bone and melted in your mouth and the mushrooms were the perfect accent to the dish. We asked if the mushrooms were fresh, they were so delicious, but were told they were not in season. They had been preserved locally in jars. A “ca del Mot” red wine from a local winery accompanied this dish.

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Panna Cotta and Tiramisu are common desserts in Northern Italy. I did have an interesting “deconstructed” Tiramisu at one restaurant that was delicious but the most common dessert by far was fresh fruit. This meal was the exception. We were served fritelle stuffed with apples and raisins. These are deep fat fried yeast risen pancakes similar to a doughnut and sometimes called Venetian Doughnuts. The frittelle were served hot, dusted with sugar and cocoa and drizzled with honey. They were quite good but kind of heavy.

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The grand finale was the Grolla. It originated in a region to the west of Lumbardy also on the Swiss border, the Valle d’Aosta. It is a drink that requires a special container, or Grolla, the cup of friendship. It is carved out of one piece of wood and has openings for each person at the table to drink out of. The saying goes that the people who drink from the same Grolla will be united in eternal friendship but everybody must drink from their own opening and the entire contents must be finished.

The traditional recipe is one cup coffee and one cup hot grappa and a spoonful of sugar per person, add an orange peel, a lemon peel and light. When the flame burns out, let it cool a bit and start drinking.  I’m not sure this recipe was followed exactly but the drink was delicious and we enjoyed it very much. It was the perfect finale to the perfect trip

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Photos courtesy of Dan Higgins