THE GREAT EUROPEAN FOOD ADVENTURE | Verona | 10 Traditional Dishes

Verona has an immense traditional food history so we were faced with an inenviable task – what to exclude, what to include. In Fricot fashion we employed our people + place + produce criteria. The Veronese make good use of their indigenous ingredients – the dairy products (especially the local cheeses), the meats (beef, game, horse, lamb, pork, veal), the fruits, the grains (corn, rice and wheat), the legumes, the vegetables and the vines. Add the aromatics – garlic and onion in particular – and you have a rich food tradition that is as diverse as any of the Italian regions.

The soft wheat flour of the region is evident in the bone marrow sauce called pearà, in the star-shaped festive biscuits called nadalin, in the pasta called bigoli and maccheroncini and in the potato dumplings called gnocchi.

Among the grains of the region wheat is rivalled by the rice varieties of the Po Valley paddy fields, vialone nano in particular, and the legumes that are now an integral part of Italian traditional food, the common bean known as borlotti, also feature in Veronese dishes – pasta and beans among the most popular.

But it is the seasoned ground pork used to make salami and sausage that has pride of place. As the main ingredient in the salami called sopressa it has status yet it has another existence. Called tastasal for the obvious reason it is a dumpling dish and a risotto dish.

For that reason three risotto dishes are featured – each with vialone nano, with the red radicchio of Verona, with the tastasal of Verona and with the quixotic Amarone della Valpolicella of Verona.

Grana Padano, the hard cheese of the Po Valley communities (including Verona), is ever-present in those risotto dishes, and in the pasta and beans, the peará sauce, the potato dumplings and the roast lamb – seven dishes!

Agnello Arrosto (roasted lamb loin)

  • 1.5 kg lamb loin, cut into large pieces
  • 300 g onions, sliced, divided into three portions
  • 250 g Grana Padano cheese, sliced into shavings
  • 125 ml Soave wine / dry white wine
  • 30 ml olive oil
  • 5 g black pepper
  • 5 g salt
  • 6 sprigs of rosemary

Preheat oven to 180ºC.

Sauté a third of the onions in a tablespoon of oil in an oven-proof frying pan.

Add a teaspoon of oil and brown a third of the lamb with two rosemary sprigs. Repeat with second and third batches. Season the lamb.

Deglaze the pan with two tablespoons of the wine, add the second portion of onions, the remaining oil all of the lamb, cook over a low heat for 10 minutes.

Add remaining onions and wine, transfer to the oven, cover and bake for 30 minutes. Remove cover and continue to bake, for another 30 minutes.

Remove pan from the oven to place the cheese shavings on top of the lamb, put back in the oven, bake for a further 15 minutes.

Rest before serving as a second plate with an accompanying vegetable.

Hot bigoli pasta

Bigoli (hand-made long pasta)

Traditionally served with l’anatra (duck), with musso (minced donkey meat), with red raddichio (chicory), with sarde (sardines) and with salsa (sauce), bigoli is made using a bigolaro, a press associated with Marco Polo.

Version 1

  • 400 g white wheat flour
  • 120 ml milk
  • 1 egg
  • 40 g salted butter, softened

Version 2

  • 400 g white wheat flour
  • 75 ml milk
  • 2 egg whites
  • 40 g butter, softened
  • salt

Those two variations produce a porous pasta suitable for sauce.

Version 3

  • 400 g white wheat flour, t00
  • 4 eggs
  • salt

This version produces a harder pasta. Pour flour into a clean surface, make a hole in the middle, break egg or eggs into the hole (adding other ingredients according to each version), gradually bring together to form a loose dough, knead for ten minutes.

Rest covered for half an hour, roll out the dough to a thickness of 2 millimetres, cut into strips.

Roll each strip with the hands for a solid round shape, leave to dry on a floured cloth.

Gnocchi di Verona (potato dumplings)

A speciality, traditionally served with horse meat stew, or with melted butter and grated cheese, or with melted gorgonzola cheese, or with cinnamon and sugar, or with tomato sauce and a cheese dressing, these dumplings are a taste to behold. Every Italian will tell you quietly that the secret to gnocchi is hidden in the choice of potato. These would be the varieties of Agate, Agria, Amber, Arizona, Chopin, Finka, Marabel, Monalisa, Universa and Vivaldi.

  • 2 litres water
  • 1 kg potatoes, boiled in skins, peeled, mashed
  • 300 g white wheat flour
  • 2 eggs
  • 90 g Grana Padano cheese
  • 1 tsp sea salt

Flour a clean work surface Place potatoes, some salt and flour on a clean work surface sprinkled with flour.

With floured hands knead, adding the eggs one at a time, into a pasty dough.

Roll into a sausage 3 cm thick, cut into 1 cm slices. Press each piece with the handle of a knife to form a cup shape.

Bring a large saucepan with water and remaining salt to a rolling boil. Add gnocchi in batches. When they rise to the surface, remove with a slotted spoon.

Serve accordingly.

In Verona the wines that accompany gnocchi are Bardolino red wine and Custoza white wine.

Guancia di Manzo Brasata all’Amarone (braised beef cheeks with red wine)

The aristocratic courts of Europe served this dish with a red wine reduction in the days before potatoes while the peasantry remained faithful to their root vegetables, ironically a tradition that continues in France as a food of the fields dish. It remains a dish of haute cuisine but now it is served with puréed potatoes, particular in Italy and Spain.

Beef cheeks braised in Amarone wine and served with puréed potatoes is a signature dish of the Antica Bottega del Vino in Verona.

Aromatic simplicity.

  • 1.5 kg beef cheek
  • 1.5 kg potatoes, peeled, cut in quarters, cooked, mashed, kept warm
  • 375 ml Amarone wine
  • 50 ml Marsala wine
  • 4 garlic cloves, sliced thin
  • 3 juniper berries
  • 2 carrots, sliced
  • 2 onions, sliced
  • 30 ml olive oil
  • 15 g butter
  • 1 piece of cinnamon
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 6 peppercorns
  • 1 rosemary sprig
  • 4 cloves
  • 2 bay leaves

Sauté carrots and onions in oil in a saucepan with bay leaves, cinnamon, cloves, garlic, juniper berries, peppercorns and rosemary, stirring occasionally. Set aside.

Brown the cheeks in a tablespoon of oil and some butter in a second saucepan over a high heat. Add the Marsala and let it evaporate.

Transfer the cheeks and vegetables mixture to a crock pot, add the red wine and seasonings. Cook covered for 4 hours at a low temperature.

Strain the cooking liquid from the crock pot into a new pot, reduce to obtain a smooth sauce.

Serve the cheeks immersed in the sauce with mashed potatoes.

Nadalin di Verona (star-shaped sweet biscuits)

These delights, according to legend, originated with the Signoria Scaligera after their investiture in 1262. Their pastry chefs were instructed to invent a sweet confection that would symbolise the greatness of Verona, celebrate the energy of the sun and pay homage to the five-pointed star associated with Christmas.

  • 575 g white wheat flour
  • 160 g butter, softened
  • 3 eggs
  • 150 g vanilla sugar
  • 100 g icing sugar
  • 60 g almonds, blanched, peeled, roasted, chopped
  • 60 g lukewarm water
  • 60 g pine nuts, chopped and whole
  • 60 g yeast
  • 40 g butter, for coating
  • 1 lemon, juiced
  • Salt, large pinch

Make a paste of 60 grams each of butter, flour, yeast and lukewarm water, 1 egg and 30 grams vanilla sugar. Leave to rise for three hours.

Work remaining butter and vanilla sugar into the remaining flour, add the yeast mixture, lemon juice and salt. Work into a soft dough with a temperature of 27ºC.

Leave to rise for an hour, degas, rise for a second hour.

Roll out and push into 7 or 8 centimetre-wide star-shaped moulds or cut with a similar sized star-shaped cutter.

Preheat oven to 170ºC.

Coat each piece with melted butter, sprinkle with almonds and pine nuts.

Alternatively make a paste with an egg yolk, a large splash of marsala, 100 grams each of flour and sugar. Mix with the almonds and pine nuts. Spread on each piece.

Place pieces on greased baking tray.

Bake for 30 minutes.

Dust nadalin with icing sugar.

Pasta e Fasoi (pasta with beans in aromatic soup)

Pasta and beans is a typical medieval dish of Veronese popular cuisine. An exquisite ensemble of flavours, chef Giorgio Gaming, owner of Restaurant 12 Apostles, called it homely.

‘Robust, almost muscular, roughly plebeian devised by the imagination of the poor, still unsurpassed in the art of eating well.’

Pasta e fasoi is the term given to dishes that contain a soupy sauce made with a soffritto (minced vegetables), often containing peas and beans, served with home-made long pasta.

In Verona this dish is sumptuous with fat borlotti beans and home made strip pasta, served with a Bardolino or a Valpolicella wine.

  • 2.5 litres water
  • 250 g fagioli di Lamon (Lamon beans) / borlotti beans, soaked overnight
  • 200 g bigoli / maccheroncini / tagliatelle home-made pasta
  • 150 g Grana Padano cheese
  • 150 g onion, chopped small
  • 100 g carrots, cubed
  • 100 g celery, cubed
  • 100 g pork belly rind
  • 50 g smoked bacon, cubed, fried
  • 60 ml olive oil
  • 1 garlic clove, crushed
  • 5 g black pepper
  • 5 g salt
  • 6 sage leaves, whole
  • 1 sprig rosemary

Place beans and pork rind in a large pot with the water, bring to a rolling boil, reduce heat to low, cook until beans are tender, about two hours.

Remove the beans, divide into two portions, pureé one portion with a little of the cooking water.

Cut rinds into thin slices and place back in pot.

Sauté carrots, celery, garlic, onions, rosemary and sage in half of the oil for five minutes.

Add the portion of whole beans, and toss in the vegetables for two minutes.

Remove rosemary sprig.

Place all the beans and vegetables into the pot and summer gently.

Cook the pasta in the pot until al dente.

Serve warm dressed with the crispy bacon cubes, sprinkings of cheese, a drizzle of olive oil, freshly ground pepper and a glass of red wine.

Risotto all’Amarone (rice with red wine)

  • 650 ml vegetable stock
  • 500 ml Amarone wine
  • 320 g Carnaroli rice / Vialone Nano rice
  • 80 g butter
  • 50 g Grana Padano cheese
  • Salt, large pinch

Heat wine.

Sauté rice in 20 grams of butter in a large frying pan. Add wine gradually, stiring constantly.

Heat vegetable stock.

When the rice has absorbed the wine, gradually add the vegetable stock.

Cook until rice is al dente, about 15 minutes.

Remove from heat, stir in remaining butter and cheese.

Rest for five minutes.

Serve hot.

Risotto alla Radicchio di Verona (Verona radicchio risotto)

There are four distinct geographical varieties of radicchio:–

Radicchio di Chioggiasmall and large spherical, amaranth, soft bitter and sweet taste, crispy.
Radicchio di Veronasmall and medium heart-shaped, dark-red, soft bitter taste, crispy.
Radicchio Rosso di Trevisosmall elongated, wine-red, bitter taste, crunchy.
Radicchio Variegato di Castelfrancomedium and large open-round, white-cream, variegated violet-red, light bitter and sweet taste, crunchy.

As you can see each has a varying bitter taste which some cooks like to remove by soaking slices in water and vinegar for 30 minutes, then left to dry. Others prefer to add sugar to the risotto to counter the bitter taste of the vegetable. We don’t feel the need to soak Veronese radicchio for this dish, although a hint of sugar is an option.

  • 1.5 litres vegetable stock, heated
  • 350 g vialone nano rice
  • 1 head of radicchio di Verona, chopped
  • 100 g onion, chopped
  • 40 g Grana Padano, grated (optional)
  • 30 g dry white wine
  • 30 g olive oil
  • 30 g sugar (optional)
  • Black pepper, pinch
  • Salt, pinch

Sauté onions in oil in a deep, wide frying pan saucepan over a low heat, about ten minutes.

Add half of the radicchio and the rice, toast, add the white wine and allow to reduce.

Add the stock a ladleful at a time to absorb the rice, about 20 minutes.

After 10 minutes add remaining radicchio.

Finish with seasonings and sugar.

Rest for five minutes. Garnish with cheese.

Risotto al Tastasal (rice with seasoned ground pork)

Tastasal is the term given to pork that is ground into a fine mince and seasoned with a copious amount of coarse ground black pepper and sufficient ground salt to give the meat a depth of flavour. The name derives from a tradition when butchers (and domestics) sampled the seasoned pork that was used to make salami, sausage and sopressa. In the northern region, around Vicenza, this mixture is called salami paste, because it resembles a paste after seasoning. Here they use it to make a sauce to go with pasta. In the low Verona plain they use it to make a risotto.

  • 1 litre meat broth
  • 300 g tastasal (ground pork seasoned with 15 g black pepper and 5 g salt)
  • 320 g Vialone Nano rice
  • 125 g white onions, chopped
  • 100 g butter
  • 80 g Grana Padano cheese, grated.
  • 60 ml white wine
  • 3 garlic cloves, crushed, chopped
  • Cinnamon, pinch
  • Nutmeg, grated, pinch
  • Rosemary, chopped small, pinch

Heat the stock and keep warm. Toast the rice in a dry frying pan, set aside.

Melt half of the butter in a large frying pan over a low heat, add the onions and sauté until soft, about ten minutes.

Stir in the rice and coat in the butter-onion mixture. When it starts to stick on the bottom, pour in the wine and allow to evaporate, then add the first ladle of stock.

When the rice absorbs the stock add a second ladle, repeat this process several times until all the stock is gone.

In a separate frying pan, melt the remaining butter, add the rosemary and garlic, stir. Add the pork, increase heat and fry quickly.

When the pork is browned stir in the cinnamon and nutmeg, spoon on top of the rice, leave to rest for ten minutes.

Stir the pork mixture into the rice, serve, dress with cheese.

Salsa Pearà (beef broth, beef marrow and breadcrumb sauce)

Traditionally made in an earthenware pot to accompany the meat used to make the stock, the pearà of the Veronese is now a multi-functional white-brown sauce prized for its enhancing qualities. Creamy, buttery, peppery and sometimes cheesy, pearà is known to accompany the large dumplings known as canederli.

In the Antica Bottega al Vino in the heart of Verona it is served with pan-fried scallops in a culinary expression that unites Venice (with its lagoon seafood) and Verona (with its rustic agriculture).

  • 2 litres beef and chicken broth, heated
  • 300 g bread crumbs
  • 120 g beef bone marrow
  • 100 g butter
  • 100 g Grana Padano cheese
  • 30 ml extra virgin olive oil
  • 15 g black pepper
  • Salt, large pinch

In a large deep pot melt the butter with the marrow, add the breadcrumbs, stir thoroughly. Pour in the broth, bring to a low boil.

Reduce heat to low and simmer, stirring constantly, for two hours.

Add the salt, and copious amounts of fine ground black pepper.

The sauce should have the consistency of cream. The cheese and oil are optional.