Tag: Traditional Foods of the Po Valley

THE GREAT EUROPEAN FOOD ADVENTURE | Borghetto sul Mincio | Village over Water, Templar Tavern, Love Knots (tortellini – filled pasta)

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 Bietolebacon, 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 Brodofilled pasta in meat soup.

From the second plates:–

Coniglio Ripieno al Vapore su Creme di Zucca – rabbit with creamed pumpkin.

Ravioli alla Pastissada de Cavaldumplings filled with horse meat stew.

Risotto con Radicchio Treviso rice with the chicory of Treviso.

Tortellini – the ‘Love Knots’ of legend and memory

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.

Legendary Dishes | Risotto in Bianco (white rice)


Risotto is toasted rice slow-cooked in an aromatic stock with a butter-oil-onion base and a cheese and seasoning finish. It is made with a variety of ingredients. This is the basic risotto recipe where every risotto cook must start.

The choice of rice for basic risotto is arborio and the quantity is 350 grams to one and half litres of broth. Generally the quantity of rice across the range of risotto dishes is 320 grams to 1.2 litres of liquid, but this varies with the type of risotto rice – with Arborio, Baldo, Carnaroli, Roma and Vialone Nano the popular choices, Arborio favoured more than the others because it has a large grain and keeps its shape during cooking.

However we are going to remain consistent with all our risotto recipes and use 320 grams of rice, with baldo as our choice.

The story of risotto rice is told here.

  • 1.3 litres vegetable broth, heated
  • 320 g baldo rice
  • 100 g onions, chopped small
  • 30 g + 45 g grana padano / parmigiano, grated
  • 60 ml white wine
  • 15 g + 15 g butter
  • 20 ml olive oil
  • 1 tsp black pepper, freshly ground
  • Salt, large pinches

Sauté onion in butter and oil over a low heat for ten minutes.

Increase heat, add rice, coat and toast for five minutes. Reduce heat to medium.

Deglaze pan with white wine.

Pour in a ladleful of hot stock, cook until the stock is absorbed. Add a large pinch of salt.

Keep adding ladlefuls of stock one at a time allowing the rice to absorb the liquid, continuing until the rice is al dente, no more than 20 minutes. Taste for flavour and add more salt if necessary.

Finish with a ladle of stock, dots of butter across the surface and about a tablespoon of grated cheese, grana padano or parmigiano. Season with black pepper.

Cover, leave to rest for ten minutes.

Serve with grated cheese. Use three tablespoons to enhance the flavour.

Some years ago the Italian Trade Commission in conjunction with Regione Lombardia and Ente Nationale Risi produced a booklet ‘to promote awareness and increase the popularity of risotto,’ which they described as ‘a traditional dish from the Lombardy region’.

This is their version of the basic recipe.

Fry some very finely chopped onion with butter slowly and carefully so as not to colour the onion.

When the onion is soft, add all the rice in one go and stir to heat the rice through for about 5 minutes, taking care not to brown either the rice or the onion.

When the rice is crackling hot, add a glass of dry white wine and stir for one minute to evaporate, then immediately begin to gradually add the hot stock. Each time add only enough stock to cover the risotto as it cooks, then stir gently until it has been absorbed and add only then add the next quantity. Continue in this way until the rice is cooked through which will be after 20 minutes.

When the rice is cooked but not mushy, the risotto is ready. Add the final quantity of butter and a handful of freshly grated grana padano, stir and cover. Leave to stand for 2 or 3 minutes before serving.

Legendary Dishes | Panissa Piemontese / Paniscia alla Novarese (rice with beans and salami)


Across the Po Valley on the Vercelli plain beyond Milan in Piedmont, the Saluggia bean is joined with Novara salami to produce a rice dish rooted in local tradition.

  • 1.5 litres beef broth, heated
  • 350 g baldo rice
  • 300 g salame della duja, chopped
  • 300 g Saluggia beans, soaked
  • 150 g onion, chopped
  • 70 g pancetta, diced
  • 35 g butter
  • 30 ml olive oil
  • 30 g pork rind, chopped
  • 10 g black pepper, freshly ground

Cook the beans in the broth, strain and retain the liquid.

Melt the oil and butter in a deep, wide frying pan over a low heat.

Saute pancetta, salami and onions for ten minutes, combine with half of the beans.

Add rice, coat and toast for five minutes over a high heat.

Reduce heat to medium, cover rice mixture with a ladle of the beef-bean stock.

When the rice has absorbed the liquid, add another ladle and repeat until the rice is al dente and there is still some liquid in the pan, about 20 minutes.

Stir in remaining beans, garnish with pepper, leave to rest for ten minutes.

Legendary Dishes | Risotto con Gamberoni (rice with melon and prawns / shrimp)

  • 1.5 ml vegetable broth, heated
  • 1 melon, medium-sized
  • 350 g carnaroli rice
  • 250 g prawns / shrimp
  • 125 g parmigiano, grated
  • 2 shallots, chopped
  • 20 ml olive oil
  • 15 g butter
  • 10 g black pepper, freshly ground
  • Saffron, large pinch
  • Salt, pinch

Cut melon into two halves, deseed and skin, cut into flesh into cubes.

Put half the cubes into a food processor, refrigerate the paste.

In a deep, wide frying pan sauté shallots in oil over a low heat, about 15 minutes.

Increase heat to medium, coat and toast rice, add a ladleful of broth, the remaining melon and shrimp.

When the rice absorbs the liquid, add more stock.

After three minutes add the melon paste, increase heat, stir and cook until the rice absorbs the liquid.

Reduce heat to low, keep stirring, add more stock and test, adding another ladleful of stock if necessary.

When the rice is al dente, add cheese, saffron and salt.

Leave to rest for ten minutes.

Legendary Dishes | Risotto de Pesse alla Polesana (rice with fish of the Adriatic)

  • 1.5 litres fish stock, heated
  • 350 g carnaroli rice
  • 300 g fresh shellfish – clams, mussels, razor clams, shrimp – all whole; cuttlefish, squid – chopped small)
  • 100 g onion, chopped
  • 75 ml dry white wine
  • 50 g parmigiano, grated
  • 2 garlic cloves, crushed, chopped
  • 20 g butter, for frying and dressing
  • 15 ml olive oil
  • 15 g parsley, chopped
  • 1 tsp black pepper, freshly ground

Sauté garlic and onion in butter and oil in a deep, wide frying pan over a low heat, about ten minutes.

Increase heat to high, coat rice, toast for three minutes, stirring constantly.

Pour in the wine and allow to evaporate, decrease heat to medium, add a ladleful of the hot stock, simmer and stir until the liquid is absorbed.

Repeat until rice is creamy but not cooked through, about 15 minutes.

There should be some liquid floating on the surface of the rice.

Turn heat to low.

Lay the fish on top of the rice, in stages according to the cooking requirements of the fish, covering the pan each time – for clams, mussels and shrimp about five minutes, for cuttlefsh and squid about ten minutes.

Complete with butter, cheese, parsley and pepper.

Remove from heat, leave to rest for ten minutes.