We are on via Michelangelo Buonarroti standing outside rusty wrought-iron gates, perusing the wall menu of the Borgo Dei Templari. Old wooden wine barrels stand sentry on each side of the gates, close to grey stone walls that enclose a cream-washed three-storey building with a two-storey annex. Each of the barrels has been punctured with a pole to hold a covering.
Today, as the twilight fades, the gates are locked. Still, the menu attracts. It advertises several of the traditional dishes we have come to the region to enjoy.
From the first plates:–
Canederli al Tastasal con Pearà e Bietole – bacon, bread and pork meatballs with bone marrow, breadcrumb, broth sauce and steamed chard.
Tortellini di Valeggio con Tartufo del Baldo e Ricotta Affumicata della Lessina – filled pasta with the smoked ricotta cheese of Lessina and truffle.
Tortellini di Valeggio in Brodo – filled pasta in meat soup.
From the second plates:–
Coniglio Ripieno al Vapore su Creme di Zucca – rabbit with creamed pumpkin.
Ravioli alla Pastissada de Caval – dumplings filled with horse meat stew.
Risotto con Radicchio Treviso – rice with the chicory of Treviso.
The following day our travelling companion Emanuele Sbraletta called the osteria on the phone to see whether they would be open early. We were told to come immediately. We obeyed, raced out of Verona, toward the Mincio river into the wide plain of the Verona region.
It’s early December and the the biting air of the flood plain is bitterly cold. The Templar Tavern opens its doors to a warm delightful ambiance that triumphs over the cold breeze outside. Love for an exquisite taste and sheer curiosity has driven us here, and we are excited.
The maitre’d is attentive. He directs us into the annex where beautifully restored kitchen equipment adorns the floor and walls, and adds to the ambiance. He becomes a discreet guardian angel ready to to satisfy our needs.
We make our selection from the assorted dishes and turn to the wine menu. We ask for a recommendation and decide on a ‘Seccal Valpolicella Ripasso’ from Nicolas, made with Corvina (70%), Rondinella (20%), Molinara (5%) and Croatina (5%) grapes and on a ‘Refosco’ from Cassal, dark red, full bodied and eager to linger.
Local homemade cheeses with honey and mustards – delicate and tasteful – complete the feast. We are sated, but remain curious.
We are in the ‘village over water’ – the village and river are a perfect marriage – intertwined. They mash and play along, their mood is infectious.
This green river snakes through the countryside. Here it reveals an unexpected arcadia and proclaims an endless reverie. The river runs so close it hugs the broken lines of the buildings – the fate of a village built beside a riverbed.
Emanuele explains: ‘This is a tiny medieval village not far from Valeggio sul Mincio. It deserves to be listed among the most beautiful villages in Italy. Right here, between the 8th and 9th centuries, the Longobards erected its original core, but archeological findings indicate a human presence a thousand years earlier.’
The Visconti bridge over the Mincio, the crumbing Della Scala (Scaligeri) castle – only the round tower and one of three drawbridges remain – the neo-classical San Marco Evangelista church and the watermills give this medieval village a charm all of its own.
Equally charming are the traditional dishes. The tortellini of Valeggio sul Mincio (stuffed pasta served garnished with a butter and sage sauce or in a meat broth) are known as ‘love knots’ in memory of a love tryst at the Mincio river.
Every summer, in June, the ‘Love knots Festival’ is the happening in Borghetto as thousands of aficionados swarm through the village to enjoy its world famous tortellini!
During summer the ‘affair with the river’ repeats itself with the dishes prepared by the restaurants, eel, pike and trout among the local tastes, are washed down with a Bardolino red or a Custoza white.
Those who know the history of the region complete their repast with a walk up the rock, above the village, taking the modern route past modern houses, into the remains of the old castle. It was never that easy in medieval times.
‘A great way to see the Mincio valley is to climb up the cobblestone path from the borgo to the Scaligero castle,’ says Emanuele. ‘The view opens to a 360 degree delicate green countryside perfect to inspire an impressionist painter to produce a landscape with watercolours, shadows following the sunrays that break through the natural light of the early afternoon.’
Back in Verona we have one last pleasure.
You guessed it.
We are going back to Morandin, this time to taste their range of snacks and savour once again their wines.
Tortellini di Valeggio (filled pasta)
Arguably the best filled pasta there is, immeasurably better than the rest because of the delicate depth of flavour in the filling, and the simple fact that these little treasures were handmade every summer by young girls to celebrate the handkerchief tied into a love-knot surrendered by a Visconti soldier and a river nymph on the bank of the Mincio.
Typically filled with a ‘stew’ of finely chopped beef and pork, ham, herbs and spices in a dough made with eggs and durum wheat flour, there are numerous variations, including simmering the filling ingredients in wine or cooking them in butter.
Valeggio tortellini can be served with a butter, cheese and sage dressing or in soup with grated cheese. Both are recommended.
This quantity of dough will make 400 tortellini. Cook immediately, and air-dry or freeze the surplus.
The remaining filling mixture can be frozed in small batches of 80 grams and 160 grams, sufficient to make 40 and 80 tortellini.
- 1 kg white wheat flour, t00
- 10 (50 g) eggs
- 400 g pork, double minced
- 300 g onions, diced small
- 250 g carrots, diced small
- 200 g beef, doubled minced
- 200 g butter
- 200 g chicken livers, minced
- 200 g dry-cured ham, chopped small
- 100 g Grana Padano cheese, grated
- 30 g breadcrumbs
- 5 g black pepper, fresh ground
- 3 g green peppercorns, fresh ground
- 3 g salt
- 2 g dried sage, chopped small
- 2 g fresh sage, chopped small
- 2 g rosemary, chopped small
- ½ nutmeg, grated
Melt butter in a large frying pan over a medium heat, add carrots and onions, sauté for ten minutes, reduce heat, add meat in batches, continue cooking for a total of 30 minutes from the moment the vegetables were put in. Add rosemary, sage, nutmeg and salt.
Leave to cool.
Add the breadcrumbs, cheese and ham to the meat mixture.
Shape the filling mixture into 2 gram balls.
Roll the dough thin, almost transparent.
Cut into 4 cm squares.
Place a ball in the centre of each square, wet the edges, fold diagonally, twist the two ends inwards to form the classic handkerchief shape.
Cook in broth or stock, about two minutes, until the tortellini rise to the surface. Serve in the broth with a little grated cheese on top.
Alternatively serve with a butter and sage dressing and grated cheese.