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The complete foodie guide to Veneto

The complete foodie guide to Veneto

by Great Italian Chefs 27 July 2018

Rice, polenta, cheese, fish, vegetables, meat – this northern Italian province has a little bit of everything in its culinary larder. Get to know its most famous ingredients and dishes, both in the city of Venice and further inland.

With the Adriatic coastline, the rolling verdant hill of the Po Valley and the mountainous Dolomites to the north, Veneto’s landscape differs dramatically depending on where you are. While most visitors to the region flock to Venice for its beautiful buildings and rich history, the area also boasts Verona – a romantic city that’s home to Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet; Vicenza, known for its sixteenth century buildings created by the architect Andrea Palladio; the crystal clear waters of the magnificent Lake Garda and Belluno, a beautiful town high up in the mountains surrounded by stunning views.

Of course, these different provinces, towns and cities are home to some incredible cooking, and what you’ll find along the coast will be very different to what’s cooked in the mountains and valleys. While pasta is made and eaten in Veneto, it is far less common than rice and polenta, and vegetables are treated with the same respect as meat and fish. This means the cuisine of Veneto is one of the most varied in Italy, with all sorts of dishes making the most of local ingredients.

If you’re planning a trip to Venice, it’s worth exploring the rest of Veneto – hop in the car or take the train to really appreciate the diversity of this northern region. Read on to get a taste of what you can expect in the area’s markets, restaurants and cafés.

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Beyond the canals and bridges of Venice you'll find a varied landscape, with cities such as Verona and Vicenza…
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…to dramatic scenes of the Dolomite mountains, vast natural lakes and rolling fertile valleys

Ingredients and flavours

Fish and seafood

With a large stretch of Adriatic coastline to fish – plus an entire city built on the water – it’s no wonder that fish and seafood make up a large part of the local diet, particularly in Venice. While it might not be as common further inland (especially in the more mountainous provinces such as Belluno), a stroll around the Rialto fish market will prove just how many different species are eaten along Veneto’s coast. Pilchards, sardines and anchovies are integral to many iconic Venetian dishes, while squid, octopus, mussels, clams and prawns are made into all manner of delicious little dishes.

Rice

Veneto is one of the Italian regions where pasta isn’t the main staple. Instead, risotto is served as a primo, made either with rice from nearby Lombardy or Piedmont, or Veneto’s own renowned rice, Vialone Nano Veronese (which is IGP-protected).

Polenta

Joining rice as the main staple in Veneto is polenta, which is either served as a loose mash or pressed into slabs and pan-fried. It is usually yellow, but there are varieties made from white corn too.

Cheese

Many of Italy’s most famous PDO-protected cheeses are produced in Veneto, the most well-known being Grana Padano (although this is also produced in neighbouring regions along the Po Valley). Asiago is made in the northen mountainous regions of Veneto and has a mild, buttery taste with a firm texture, and some Taleggio comes from the region too. Other notable varieties to look out for include Schiz, Casatella Trevigiana, Montasio, Monte Veronese, Piave and Provolone Valpadana.

Meat

Inland Veneto is where you’ll find the majority of its famous meat dishes, with robust stews made from beef and red wine, rich ragùs made from fatty meats such as duck and mixed dishes such as bollito misto. Horsemeat is also a popular choice in Veneto, particularly when dried and shred into thin strands (known as sfilacci di cavallo). Sopressa is the local salumi, with a PDO-protected version produced in Vicenza.

Vegetables

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Treviso is regarded as one of the best provinces in all of northern Italy for vegetables thanks to its incredibly fertile soil. Radicchio, chioggia, and Castelfranco are very famous lettuces from Treviso and look as good as they taste. Cardoons (celery-like roots) are popular across northern Italy, Veneto included, while everything from peas and beans to wild mushrooms and artichokes are incredibly popular when in season.

Wines and liqueurs

Veneto is home to the worldwide phenomena that is Prosecco, which in recent years seems to have taken the crown from Champagne as our favourite sparkling wine (although that may be due to the fact that it’s much cheaper to buy). The best bottles come from the vineyards of Valdobbiadene in northern Treviso, but that’s not the only famous wine from Veneto – look out for Amarone, Bardolino and Soave. The bitter liqueur Aperol also hails from Veneto, being created in 1919 in Padua, and the Aperol spritz (a combination of Aperol and Prosecco) is an iconic summer aperitif across Veneto (and the rest of Italy).

Famous dishes

Cichéti

One of the things most important to Venice’s culinary identity, cichéti (or cicchetti) are small tapas-style plates of food served in traditional bars across the city (known as bàcari). Always accompanied by a glass of wine or an Aperol spritz, the dishes on offer tend to include various crostini, small meat or fish balls (polpette) and fresh fish prepared in a variety of ways.

Frìtole

Think of fritole as the sweet counterpart to chichéti. These little pastries come in all shapes, sizes and flavours, stuffed with everything from dried fruit and custard to sweet ricotta and chocolate. You’ll find them in bakeries across Venice, but the best time of year to try them is during the Carnival in January and February.

Risi e bisi

This risotto is the most famous of all Veneto’s risotti, served to the Doge in the days of the Venetian Republic to mark the national day of Venice. The combination of risotto rice, fresh peas, cheese and salty pancetta is quite simple, but when cooked properly it is a stunning dish that perfectly encapsulates Venetian cuisine in all its glory.

Bigoli in salsa

Risotto and polenta are certainly more important staples than pasta in Veneto, but that doesn’t mean you can’t find it. Bigoli is the most popular shape – essentially spaghetti but thicker – and the most popular salsa (sauce) to serve with it is a simple combination of slow-cooked onions and salted fish (usually anchovies or sardines).

Sarde in saor

One of the most iconic cichèti in all of Venice, this is a simple dish of fresh sardines fried in oil and flavoured with raisins, pine nuts and white wine vinegar. The saltiness of the fish, sourness of the vinegar, sweetness of the raisins and savouriness of the pine nuts are a perfect combination of contrasting flavours.

Baccalà mantecato

Despite having access to a plethora of fresh fish, Venetians love salt cod, mashing it up with olive oil to create a light, fluffy paste perfect for spreading and dipping. In Venice, the traditional way of serving it is on slabs of toasted polenta, and you’ll often find it a popular choice of cichéti in the city’s bàcari.

Risotto al nero di seppia

If risi e bisi showcases Veneto’s land-based produce, this striking black risotto highlights the treasures of its waters. The rice is cooked in fish stock and squid ink to give it its fantastic colour, before pieces of squid are added along with wine. The Venetian island of Burano is home to restaurants which specialise in this dish.

Bellini

One of Italy’s most famous cocktails, this simple combination of white peach purée and Prosecco was first conceived in Harry’s Bar, a famous institution in Venice. It’s now an emblem of sophisticated Italian socialising across the world, and there are few drinks more refreshing on a hot summer’s day.

Tiramisu

The origins of tiramisu are disputed, but all stories tend to point to Treviso, the fertile province of Veneto that’s responsible for some fantastic vegetables and Prosecco production. The name translates to ‘pick me up’, thanks to the inclusion of coffee, and seemed to come to prominence in the 1960s.

Folpetti

This very Venetian way of preparing octopus is simple so as to let the cephalopod’s natural flavour shine. It can be prepared in many different ways, but the most traditional is boiled with a few aromatics, then crisped up in a frying pan just before serving.

Casunziei

The northern province of Belluno is where you’ll find these ravioli-like stuffed morsels, although they’re now popular across most of northeast Italy. Traditionally stuffed with beetroot and poppy seeds (although many other variations can be found), they’re shaped into half-moon crescents and dusted with cheese before serving.

Fregolotta

Essentially a giant almond cookie, this speciality of Treviso is now one of Veneto’s most popular bakes (although the pandoro – a sweet bread similar to panettone – still probably holds the top spot). It’s often baked in a large tart tin, and can be flavoured with anything from berry jam to chocolate.

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