Cuisine of the Veneto
This is post covers the traditional cuisine of the Veneto, its wine districts and most popular drinks. The area is divided into seven regions namely: Venezia (Venice), Belluno, Roviga, Treviso, Padua, Verona and Vincenza.
Veneto’s cuisine, can be broadly divided into three categories, based on geography and to an extent; by its main traditional carbohydrate sources. These are: 1. the city of Venice, other lagoon islands and the mainland coastal areas, 2. the plains and 3. the front range hills and mountains. Other factors, include the incredible fertility and productivity of the land and abundance of its waters; both saline and fresh.
In general, traditional Venetian food can be characterised by its authenticity and the use of the finest (yet sometimes humble) main ingredients; combined in simple recipes and without being strongly flavoured or hot.
Specialities often reflect the Venetian Republic’s success, in the development of its mercantile and overland trade; into the Eastern Mediterranean, the Middle East and the Silk Route into Asia and the Orient. Salt and vinegar, was used for preserving essential rations for naval and merchant vessels. Exotic spices and herbs, were used for flavouring food and as ingredients in medicinal and cosmetic preparations; that also became a significant part of its trade revenue. Finally, from the end of the 18th century, some new specialities were introduced, following the French and Austrian occupation.
Cuisine of the Veneto – Geographical considerations
Firstly, I have included a number of maps, to give you an idea of the geography of Northern Italy; the Veneto’s seven regions and the extent of the Metropolitan City of Venice (as opposed to just the main island of Venice). A further two maps give an idea of the relationship to the Byzantine Empire; during three periods 527-565, c. 1020 and 1360. Also, the travel routes of Marco Polo into Asia and the Orient.
Spices and herbs, formed a significant part of the income of the Venetian Republic for flavouring food and also for medicinal preparations. Salt was widely traded and used for food preservation, along with vinegar; aboard naval and merchant fleets.
Below. The map below shows the relationship of the Veneto, to the other regions of Northern Italy and their capital cities.
Veneto, also called Venezia Euganea, is a region of northern Italy, comprising the provinces of Venezia, Padova, Rovigo, Verona, Vicenza, Treviso, and Belluno. Venezia (Venice) is the capital city of the Veneto, whilst the other six districts and principle cities, share the same name. (Somewhat confusing is that, what we all tend to call Venice, is the main historic city of the lagoon; which today is just one borough of six, that comprises the Metropolitan City of Venice – see map further below).
It has an area of 7,090 square miles (18,364 square km) and the population in 2008 was 4,832,340.
It is bounded by Trentino–Alto Adige (north), Emilia-Romagna (south), Lombardia (Lombardy; west), Austria (northeast), and Friuli–Venezia Giulia and the Adriatic Sea (east).
The northern limit of Veneto is marked by a mountainous area, including the Dolomites, Lake Garda t othe southwest and the Carnic Alps to the northeast.
The southern part consists of a wide fertile plain extending to the Gulf of Venice and drained chiefly by the Po, Adige, Brenta, Piave, and Livenza rivers; the mouths of which form an extensive delta area with shore lagoons.
Veneto is a chief producer of corn (maize), wheat, sugar beets, and hemp. Dairy-cattle fodder and fruit (apples, pears, peaches, cherries) and wine grapes are also grown.
There is much irrigation, and considerable land has been reclaimed, especially in the Po River delta. After World War II, large estates were expropriated for distribution to smallholders. The region uses hydroelectric power from the fast runnung streams of the Alpine area.
The larger towns of the plain have textile, silk, lace, hemp, paper, founding and shipbuilding industries, as well as sugar refining and food processing.
The regione has a dense road and rail network and is connected by motorway to Milan and Turin. Venice is connected to the mainland by a road and rail bridge.
Below. Venice’s varying relationship with the Byzantine Empire in 527-565, c. 1020 and 1360.Venice played a major role in reopening the Mediterranean economy to West European commerce and to the development of links with Northern Europe.
Below. Today, the Venice Lagoon is mostly included in the Metropolitan City of Venice, is also subdivided into six administrative boroughs (municipalità). Lagoon: 1. Venezia (Historic city)-Murano-Burano . 2. Lido-Pellestrina. Mainland boroughs (terraferma). 3. Favaro Veneto 4. Mestre – Carpenedo. 5. Chirignago – Zelarino. 6. Marghera.
Below. Marco Polo, (1254-1324) was a Venetian merchant, explorer and writer, who travelled through Asia along the Silk Road, between 1271 and 1295. His travels are recorded in “The Travels of Marco Polo” (aka, “Book of the Marvels of the World” and “Il Milione”, written c. 1300). It described to Europeans of that time, the mysterious culture and inner workings of the Eastern world; including the wealth and great size of the Mongol Empire and China in the Yuan Dynasty. It gave them beyond their Latin civilisation and culture, the first comprehensive look into what is now China, Persia, India, Japan and other Asian countries.
Cuisine of the Veneto
May be divided into three main categories, based on 1. geography and 2. to an extent by its main traditional carbohydrate source. Each one, especially the plains, can have many local cuisines; each city with its own dishes and specialities.
- The city of Venice, other lagoon islands and the mainland coastal areas
- The plains
- The front range hills and mountains
Typical of many coastal areas, communities along the coast and islands of the Venetian Lagoon (Laguna Veneta), are noted for serving seafood dishes and seasonal vegetables and salad crops. Artichokes, beans and radiccio lettuce varieties, are particularly prized. Veneto has seven products protected by brand: radicchio (red variety from Verona, red from Chioggia, variagated from Castelfranco Veneto, red from Treviso); asparagus (including the most famous ones from Bassano and Cimadolmo); beans, especially those of Lamon, in Belluno,
Traditionally, as a maritime nation, fish was marinated or salted; in order to preserve it for long periods of time, before being prepared for eating.
Fish are sourced, either free swimming or farmed in the lagoon, from the mainland river systems and major lakes, such as Lake Garda; which forms the western boundary of the Veneto and is Italy’s largest lake. Seafoods such as mussels, clams, prawns, crabs, as well as anchovies and sprats are in abundance. Bream and sea bass, are often served as main courses. The black goby of the lagoon, features in the dish “risotto di gò”. The most famous fish entree is “Baccala Mantecata”, made with cod from the colder northern waters, such as the Baltic Sea. It was said to have been introduced to Venice in the early 15th century; when a Venetian boat was driven into Nordic waters by storms. It is preserved by heavy salting for around four days; when excess salt is removed and the fish is dried in the open air, on characteristic tall triangular frames. Finally, the cod is soaked for some time in water, to soften the texture and remove excess saltiness; before final preparation.
In the plains. It is very popular to serve grilled and barbecued meat (pork, beef and chicken meat); together with grilled polenta, potatoes or vegetables.
Other popular dishes include risotto, (rice cooked with many different kinds of food, not only from vegetables, mushrooms, pumpkin or radicchio; but also with seafood, pork, or chicken livers). Bigoli (a typical Venetian fresh long pasta), fettuccine (hand-made flat noodles), ravioli and tortelli (filled with meat, cheese, vegetables or pumpkin). Gnocchi (potato based) and other pasta dishes, are commonly served with a with meat sauce or “ragù”, often made with duck.
Cuisine from the hills and mountain areas. Is mainly made of pork or game meat, with polenta, as well as mushrooms, cow’s milk cheeses and some dishes from Austrian or Tyrolese tradition, such as “canederli” or “strudel”. A typical dish, is “casunziei”; a hand-made fresh pasta, similar to ravioli.
The cuisine of the Veneto is also traditionally characterised, partly by its source of carbohydrate; as a food staple and “bulking” agent. However, unlike many parts of Italy where pasta is the staple, that role was played by polenta and rice.
Polenta is an ancient dish dating back to Roman times, made by boiling up various ground meals to form a kind or porridge; but now is cooked in various ways within the local cuisines of the Veneto. Polenta once was the universal staple food of the poorer class (“cucina povera)); who could afford little else.
In Veneto, corns are finer ground in comparison, with the rest of Italy: so, when cooked, it resembles a pudding. Served either moist, or moulded using shallow trays, into a solid cake, sliced and often grilled.
Since the introduction of American products to Europe, it has been made predominantly with cornmeal. Most modern polenta is yellow, but there is also a white version made from “biancoperla” maize. In the Veneto, you will see polenta served with meat and game.
Rice. Risotto is a very common “primo” course in the Veneto with much of the rice being imported from nearby Lombardy and Piedmont. However, there is also a substantial rice growing area in the province of Verona where paddy fields are irrigated by the river Tartaro. The rice here is IGP-protected and known as “Vialone Nano Veronese.”
The Venetian pasta is “bigoli”- a thick spaghetti made with buckwheat or whole wheat and usually eggs.
Among the typical fats, oils and seasoning of the Veneto cuisine: are butter, olive oil, sunflower oil, vinegar, garlic, parsley, kren (horse-radish), senape (mustard), salsa verde (green uncooked sauce, chopped with herbs and spices), Mostarda di frutta (candied fruit in mustard syrup) a speciality, is particularly wonderful served with local cheeses.
Note on Italian Courses. Restaurant menus in Italy, can at first be quite daunting, so here’s the general structure they follow: Aperitivo (aperitif), Antipasto (light appetizer commonly consisting of fine hams/small seafood), Primo (dish based on pasta/rice/gnocchi), Secondo (dish consisting of meat/fish), Contorno (side dish served with the “Secondo”, consisting of vegetables), Insalata (Salad), Formaggi e Frutta (local cheeses and seasonal fruits), Dolce (national or traditional local dessert/gelato), Caffè and Digestivo (alcoholic drink to facilitate digestion)
Nobody will pressurise you, to plough through all the various courses on menu! Don’t be afraid to share a course and ask for an extra plate.
Wine Districts of the Veneto
The Veneto produces wine from several famous Italian varieties, both red and white. The main grape varieties found are Glera, Garganega and Colli Veronese, constituting about half of the harvest. International varieties such as Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay are also grown.
Valpolicella, Soave and Colli Berici, are some of the most famous sub regions of the Veneto. Perhaps the most classic celebrated wine, is Amaroni della Valopicella.
The famous “Vinitaly” – Italy’s largest wine fair is held at Verona every April.
Another popular longer and less alcoholic drink is the “Spritz”, from the German verb “spritzen” (to spray) and which originates in the city of Venice region. Apparently, in the 1800’s, during the Hapsburg reign over the Veneto region, the Austrian soldiers had the habit of diluting the wine with sparkling water. In the 1950’s, it became quite popular to substitute either Aperol or Campari, instead of the wine mixed with soda.
“Grappa”, is the high-alcohol distillation of distilled grape skin, pulp and seeds, from the wine grape pressings; of which Bassano del Grappa and Conegliano, represent the indisputable champions. Originally a peasant’s and farmers’ drink of choice, when it was customary to enjoy a very strong drink after a day of hard physical labour. Now, Grappa is Italy’s national spirit and comes in many styles and qualities. After a day’s walking and photography, a grappa combined with a coffee, whilst watching the setting sun; is one of life’s great pleasures!
Tours and Holidays. Especially popular with tourists and easily searched and bookable online, are “Venice food tours”, a highly social activity; which is rather like a pub crawl for foodies, with “cicchetti and ombra”. Some include the more expensive option, of finishing with a sit-down evening meal.
You can also enjoy “Food and Wine Holidays” – tours and tastings, off the tourist track; that combine relaxation, tranquility and enjoyment; with the ability able to cater for all your tastes and needs. Food & wine in Veneto, also means appreciating the unique countryside and natural beauty, discovering age-old traditions of farming life and fishing, escaping from the hustle and bustle of everyday life and clock-watching.
Specialities of the Veneto
- VENEZIA (VENICE)
The first province of the Veneto described, is Venice; dominated by the main city, in its large lagoon. As one might expect, it has perhaps the richest tradition when it comes to food; since the city of Venice was once the capital of a large trading empire. Salt, exotic spices and herbs, formed a significant part of its overall trade. At the peak of the republic, it was one of the most prestigious cities in Europe.
Being seafarers, Venetians often ate foods that were easily preserved, like baccalà (dried and salted Atlantic cod or local stockfish), corn, potatoes and rice.
Many of Venezia’s traditional dishes are fish or seafood-based. Seasonal vegetables and salad are supplied from market gardens, particularly those of the fertile southern lagoon islands.
In general, traditional Venetian food is characterised by its authenticity and uses the finest and sometime humble main ingredients, combined in fairly simple recipes and without being strongly flavoured or hot.
Bigoli in salsa (pasta in an anchovy and onion sauce),
Fegato ała venesiana: sliced liver, cooked together with chopped onions.
Risotto al nero di seppia: risotto cooked with cuttlefish ink.
Sarde in saor: sardines preserved in a sweet and sour marinade; with onions, raisins and pine nuts.
Moeche, small green crabs from the lagoon in the spring, that have shed their hard shell and are cooked and eaten whole.
Baccalà mantecato Ironically, for a region with a large coast, baccalà, dried fish from the north Atlantic, is very popular. It’s soaked, cooked in milk and then pounded with olive oil, black pepper, salt, garlic and lemon juice; to make a kind of moist pâté, eaten with white or yellow polenta.
Risi e bisi is a kind of risotto made from peas and pancetta. It has an almost mythical status, and is said to have been served to the Doges of Venezia on the feast of Saint Mark (25 April) which is the National Day of Venezia.
Połenta e schie: a dish of small shrimp from the lagoon, fried and served on a bed of soft, white polenta.
Pasta e fasioi, is a winter warming dish consisting of a bean soup with small pieces of pasta in it.
Rixoto de gò: rice prepared with goby or “gò”; a typical fish of the Venetian Lagoon.
Carpaccio. is a dish of meat or fish, such as beef, veal, venison, salmon or tuna; thinly sliced or pounded thin and served raw, typically as an appetizer. It was invented in 1963, by Giuseppe Cipriani from Harry’s Bar and popularised during the second half of the twentieth century where beef was served with lemon, olive oil and white truffle or Parmesan cheese. Later, the term was extended to dishes containing other raw meats or fish, thinly sliced and served with lemon or vinegar, olive oil, salt and ground pepper and also fruits such as mango or pineapple.
Cichèti. The city of Venezia is also famous for small plates of finger food, served in “bacari”, the city’s traditional wine bars – a social activity, especially popular with the locals. They are a similar concept, to Spanish “tapas”.
These are often served with an “ombra” (in the shade); essentially a house wine, either “rossa” or “bianca”. The rather strange use of this word, comes from a local fishermen’s tradition. They would come back from fishing at midday and have a glass of wine in St. Mark’s Square. To hide from the sun, they would stand in the ever-moving shadow of the bell tower; cast across the piazza.
Fritoe (Frittella). Among the most famous a kind of small doughnut, originally made during the carnival season. They are made of dough, fried in oil until golden brown and sprinkled with sugar. Typically, they are made with raisins, orange or lemon peel; but many variations are common, including custard and chocolate fillings.
Baicoli are a kind of thin oval biscuit, often eaten dipped in coffee with zabaglione or crema al mascarpone (cream cheese mixed with sugar, eggs, and rum). They are most famously made by the firm Colussi and sold all over the province, in a distinctive yellow tin.
They were created as a ship’s biscuit, for long sea voyages; being very dry, these biscuits maintain their consistency for a long duration, when properly stored. Their preparation, is long and laborious, has two acts of leavening and double baking.
Pinza (Pinsa). An Epiphany cake based on cornmeal and mixed dried fruits (usually figs and raisins) and nuts. Originally made for the Christian feast day, that celebrates the revelation of God incarnate, as Jesus Christ.
Xaleti (Zaletti). These rustic cornmeal cookies get their name from the word zálo, which means “yellow” in the Venetian dialect. They are typically flavoured with lemon zest, studded with rum-soaked raisins, and traditionally made without sugar, while a splash of grappa if often added to the dough. Excellent for dipping in milk, tea, or coffee, it makes them a popular breakfast choice in Venice; though they are also often enjoyed with a glass of dessert wine, like Vin Santo.
Mozzarella in carozza. Translated as “in a carriage” This is a golden-crusted fried mozzarella sandwich. Basic recipe is mozzarella cheese in between two slices of bread pressed together, dipped in egg and then breadcrumbs and deep fried for 2-3 minutes, until golden.
High up in the Alps on the Austrian border, even the lowest parts of the province of Belluno are a at least 700 metres above sea level. The highest point is the “Marmolada” mountain in the Dolomites, at 3,343 metres.
As expected, the traditional cuisine in this area is alpine; with “capriolo” (roe venison) often on the menu, as well as plenty of “local cheese”. One of the most famous cheeses of the province is called “Schiz”. It’s a semi-hard cheese, which is always eaten pan-fried with polenta or mushrooms.
Another speciality from Belluno is pastin, a thick sausage made from a mixture of pork and beef, flavoured with white wine and spices. Most often it’s sliced, then grilled and served with polenta, although for festivals it’s sometimes served in a type of baguette.
Casunziei are a kind of half-moon shaped pasta often filled with beetroot. You can find these served in the restaurants near the the town of Cortina d’Ampezzo; popular as an après ski speciality.
Treviso is one of the most fertile areas of the Veneto, home to several products famous all over Italy; as well as one of the most famous Italian desserts.
Radicchio Rosso di Treviso Tardivo IGP, is a kind of chicory noted for its mild flavour which makes it perfect in salads. The leaves look like the legs of an octopus and it is cultivated by a complex process, partly in the dark. It’s often served as the main ingredient of a risotto dish.
Part of the plain of the river Po where Grana Padano cheese is made, falls into the province of Treviso. This is a type of hard cheese very similar to Parmesan; that’s used in the same way.
Many different wines are produced in the province of Treviso, but the most famous of them by far is Prosecco. The Valdobbiadene area is widely considered to be the home of the finest quality Prosecco, most of which is made from the local Glera grape; although small quantities of other grapes such as Chardonnay are allowed. Prosecco is usually a sparkling wine, similar to a Champagne and typically lighter and more citrussy. There is a less fizzy version known as “tranquillo“.
Tiramisu. According to legend,in the 1960’s, a chef called Roberto Linguanotto, created a dessert at the Alle Beccherie restaurant in Treviso. However, other restaurants in Treviso have claimed credit for its creation. Made with strong coffee, mascarpone cream and sponge, he called it ‘pick me up’, which in Italian translates to tiramisu. The dish has now become universally popular, since the 1980’s.
The most famous products from Vinenza province include, Asiago cheese and the white asparagus from Bassano. Asiago, takes its name from the town of the same name and is a salty white cheese made from cow’s milk. It is eaten fresh or aged for up to two (or more) years.
Although it is found all over the Veneto, white asparagus from Bassano is amongst the most prestigious. The colour is achieved by picking the spears before the shoots appear above ground and have the chance to turn green. In the Veneto, white asparagus is eaten with boiled eggs in various forms.
The full name of Bassano, Bassano del Grappa, gives its name to another local product, a spirit made from distilling the parts of the grape left over from the winemaking process. Different flavours and styles of grappa are made by using various grape varieties and some are aged in oak casks. Aged grappa, known as “barricata“, has a yellow colour and a much more complex flavour.
Cren, is a kind of hot horseradish sauce, typical to the province of Vicenza. It is eaten as an accompaniment to meat and sometimes stews. It’s prepared by mixing fresh horseradish with dried bread, vinegar and olive oil.
Perhaps the most famous dish to carry the name of Vicenza is baccalà alla vicentina. This consists of stoccafisso (or stockfish, an air-dried variety of fish), cooked with onions, olive oil, sardines, milk, cheese and parsley and is served with polenta.
Verona is set on the eastern edge of the Veneto and separated from the region of Lombardy in the east, by Lake Garda.
On the eastern side of lake is the Bardolino winemaking area, famous for its red wines, made mostly from the local Corvina grape. The popular dry white wine Soave, is also made in the province of Verona, from Garganega and Trebbiano grapes.
Brasato all’Amarone: braised beef meat cooked with Amarone wine; often served together with polenta.
Lesso e peara, is a typical Veronese dish that is often prepared for holidays and major festive events in the region. It consists of boiled meat paired with pearà (dialect for pepper). The sauce is made with broth, beef marrow, butter, bread crumbs, and a hefty amount of pepper. The dish is most traditionally prepared with beef, slowly boiled in a traditional terracotta pot, for the most authentic experience.
Pastissada de caval: an ancient horse meat stew dating back to the Middle-Age. It’s prepared with bay leaves, nutmeg, cloves, salt, pepper, vegetables and beef stock. Slow cooked until tender; it’s served with polenta.
Polenta e renga: polenta accompanied by typical oil preserved herrings. Salted herrings (renga) are boiled or grilled, then cleaned, cut into pieces, and pickled in olive oil with garlic, parsley and capers. After 40 days of maturation, the herrings are ready to be served or put into jars for preservation. This dish originated in the Parona neighbourhood of Verona; but is widely eaten on Ash Wednesday.
Riso Vialone Nano: a rice variety typical of southern Veronese lowlands (Bassa Veronese). Used throughout Veneto and Italy.
Risotto all’Amarone: risotto with the local Amarone red wine. It is typical of the Valpolicella wine region.
Rixoto col tastasal: risotto made with the same seasoned ground pork used in salame and sausages. Traditionally, this dish was a means of tasting the mix before making the sausages (hence the name tastasal, “to taste salt”).
Tortellini di Valeggio: hand-made fresh pasta of the tortellini kind, stuffed with a mix of beef and pork meats and vegetables; usually served with melted butter and sage. They are typical, of the town of Valeggio sul Mincio, southwest of Verona.
Gnocchi. It is tradition to eat homemade potato gnocchi on “Venerdì Gnocolar”, the last Friday of Carnival.
Desserts: the most popular Veronese dish is Pandoro. Literally meaning ‘golden bread’, it’s a sweet brioche-style cake, dusted with icing sugar. Like the Milanese panettone, it has now become an Italian staple, for Christmas and the New Year.
The cuisine of Rovigo is influenced the regions of Veneto and Emilia-Romagna. It’s one of the two provinces of the Veneto, along with Venice; to have a coast on the Adriatic and this is reflected in an increased amount of fish eaten in this area. A common dish is “fritture di pesce” – mixed fish fried in batter. Bixàto or Anguilla (Eel), is a typical dish of south-eastern Veneto, in the delta of river Po and it can be roasted or fried.
In the province of Padua, large quantities of the “biancoperla” corn are grown here, which is used to make white polenta; as opposed to the more common yellow variety.
Oca in onto padovana, is a delicious goose speciality. The meat is salted and then left for a few days to marinate in the fat, which the salt draws out; before being aged for a couple of months before eating.
The Paduan hen (gallina padovana), is one of the oldest breeds of chicken known in Europe.
Sfilacci di cavallo, are thin strips of dried horse meat, a local delicacy in the province,They are eaten alone, or with pasta or risotto and now popular as a pizza topping.
A beautiful dessert wine called “Colli Euganei Fior d’Arancio“, made from yellow Muscat grapes; hails from the Euganean Hills (Colli Euganei) in the province of Padua.
Aperol, a bright orange liqueur, first came from the city Padua in 1919. It’s now universally popular as part of the cocktail called Aperol Spritz – one part soda water, two parts Aperol and three parts Prosecco.
The Venetian Lagoon and its Ecosystem
Political Empire through Trade. Venice played a major role in reopening the Mediterranean economy to West European commerce and to the development of links with Northern Europe.
Bellini and Carpacchio! Harry’s Bar
Here’s a useful short article on: Venice’s Relations with the Byzantine Empire until 1204
Cuisine of the Veneto Cuisine of the Veneto Cuisine of the Veneto
Cuisine of the Veneto Cuisine of the Veneto Cuisine of the Veneto
Cuisine of the Veneto Cuisine of the Veneto Cuisine of the Veneto
Cuisine of the Veneto Cuisine of the Veneto Cuisine of the Veneto