Lombardia: Where it All Began
This week’s menu showcases some of the most beloved ingredients and recipes from this complex and diverse region.
Chef's Travel Notes
Lombardia is the largest region in Italy, bordering with Switzerland. It is home to some of the richest cities in Italy, but also to great expanses of farmland known for producing prolific amounts of aged cheeses, expensive spices, fine wines and rice. It is not the place to go for fresh tomatoes, basil, olive oil and other Mediterranean ingredients, the food is more like it’s Austrian and Central European neighbors. Every city and part of the region offers its own specialties.
Radicchio alla Griglia. Radicchio, part of the chicory family, is much more common in Italy than the US. Here, we most easily find the plump, round Chioggio variety. Radicchio stimulates the appetite and acts as a tonic for the liver. By grilling it with the addition of a balsamic vinegar reduction, the combination of bitter and sweet mellows into a wonderful explosion of flavor. Arugula, known for its aphrodisiac, and cancer-fighting properties, adds a peppery bite to our salad. The crowning touch is a bit of Lombadia’s famous Taleggio, a semi-soft cow’s milk cheese with a fruity tang.
Risotto alla Milanese is probably the most famous dish from Milano. It is prepared with three of the region’s most important ingredients – rice, saffron and Grana Padano cheese. To the south of the city, huge areas are covered by rice paddies in the Po Valley. The plains have intensive cattle-raising, producing deliciously aged cheeses including Grana Padano, a parmesan-like cheese integral to a successful Risotto alla Milanese.
Cotoletta alla Milanese is the quintessential dish from Milano. Though the Italians and Austrians, with their Wiener Schnitzel, have debated for years as to who invented it first, it is delicious by any name. A slice of veal, pounded thin, is dipped in seasoned flour, egg, and crisp breadcrumbs before being pan-fried in butter and olive oil. In both countries, it is almost always served with french fried potatoes. Why not?!
One of the region’s beloved desserts is Miascia from the Lake Como area. Described as a “poor man’s” cake of historic origins, it has recently had a major comeback. The majority of these “poor desserts” were prepared with dried and/or fresh fruit to make up for the lack of sugar which was expensive and hard to come by. There isn’t a standard recipe – but rather various versions that utilize milk-soaked bread, cornbread, eggs, apples and pears. We serve it with a whipped cream topping made from yet another famous Lombard cheese – mascarpone.
This week’s wine, Calatroni Pinot Noir, Crested Porcupine dell’ Oltrepo Pavese D.O.C., from Lombardia is a great example of how the terroir of an area works to unite the flavors of its food and wines. We are told the interesting name comes from the fact that the vineyard is inhabited by many “carini animaletti dal muso tenero”, sweet little animals with cute faces.
In these particularly difficult times, we, like the Italians, will likely turn to food memories for comfort. Recent studies confirm that consuming foods that are associated with good thoughts and warm feelings not only improves a sense of well-being, they also decrease loneliness. When we eat comfort foods, we reconnect with meaningful association with others. Just thinking about a comfort food increased emotional well-being.
Let us take a few moments to stop, savor, and duly appreciate the joys of dining together again.