First Dishes Typical of Lake Garda Veneto

First Dishes Typical of Lake Garda Veneto

I Bigoli con le sarde del Garda – Bigoli with pilchards from Garda
It is the “king” of first dishes in Garda Veneto’s gastronomic tradition. It is the happy marriage of a typical fish of our lake – the sarde or sardelle, meaning pilchard – and bigoli (bigoi in dialect), a traditional Veneto home-made egg pasta that is extrusion pressed, and can be cooked fresh or dry. It is a simple recipe that is handed down from generation to generation: the pilchards are used as dressing to sauté the pasta once it’s strained. Better if the pilchards are fresh, browned in a pan with a little extra-virgin Garda DOP olive oil and a clove of garlic, chilli pepper and parsley. You can also use previously macerated canned pilchards, heat them up in the pan at the last minute, then strain the pasta ‘al dente’ and sauté the lot together.

It’s a dish worth ordering in a restaurant, but it’s also easy to make once you’re back at home (remember to buy the original ingredients before you leave!), and there are many dedicated gastronomic events, like the Palio della Sardela, held every June in Lazise.
In the inland Garda Veneto towns, bigoli are also served with a tasty duck ragù, and they’re well worth trying!

Risotto, for example with Amarone or Tastasal (a mixture of fresh minced pork meat seasoned with black pepper) is another classic of the Veneto tradition. The towns in the area of Verona, either inland or on the lakeshore, are no exception, and serve it each with their own special take, one tastier than the other, incorporating the specialties of the region. As always, the absolute star is Vialone Nano Rice, celebrated every year between September and October at the Fiera del Riso, or Rice Fair, organized by Ente Fiera di Isola della Scala. It is best to dress it so that its freshness stands out, using local products as much as possible.

Risotto con la tinca – Risotto with tench
After the bigoli con le sarde, this is another dish that you absolutely have to try if you want to get to know and love our gastronomic tradition. Just go to any one of the many restaurants of the towns on the lakefront, and let your taste buds explore the delicate yet intense flavour of the Garda tench. Here is how the dish is prepared: once it’s been boiled, the meat of the tench is simmered with a finely chopped mirepoix of carrot, celery, onion, garlic, rosemary, parsley, pepper and herbs, previously sautéed with extra-virgin Garda DOP olive oil. Add the rice to the mirepoix and cook it with the help of the tench stock. Then comes the final touch: stir with Monte Baldo butter and parmesan cheese until creamy. Delicious!

Risotto con gli asparagi – Risotto with asparagus
It is one of the favourite dishes of the spring season (particularly March through May), when asparago bianco (white asparagus) is mature and is picked by hand to be ready to eat. It is only found fresh, and has long been a part of Veneto’s gastronomic tradition. It is mostly eaten boiled and served with eggs. However, it is in Garda Veneto’s inland that it gives its best, particularly in Rivoli Veronese. This is because asparagus loves the sandy soil of this Moraine amphitheatre, and is an excellence of Rivoli, which celebrates it with a special event between the end of April and the beginning of May, the Festa dell’Asparago, which boasts loads of visitors every year! Before cooking, asparaguses must be washed well, tied in bunches, and dipped stalk side down in salted boiling water for about 20 minutes. If you don’t have an asparagus steamer, you can use a tall, thin pot, so that the asparagus’ heads aren’t left outside of the water.

But what about risotto with asparagus? Toast rice in extra-virgin Garda DOP olive oil and onion, adding the asparagus stock a little at a time. Finely chop the asparagus. Mix the asparagus and rice together, spray with a little white wine, then add stock until the rice is cooked. After that, add butter and parmesan until creamy. Yummy!

There are many seasonal products to combine with rice, to obtain truly spectacular dishes, from tartufo del Monte Baldo (truffle) to radicchio di Verona; there are also ancient recipes that you can still taste during some town fête, for example the risotto mal maridà, meaning “badly combined” (typical of Lugagnano di Sona), boiled in water or stock, and dressed with flour, cheese, butter and tomato sauce.

Tortellini and Tortelli di Valeggio sul Mincio
To learn more about the famous Tortellini di Valeggio sul Mincio, we visited signora Luciana, who founded and runs the oldest pasta factory of Valeggio sul Mincio: in 1980 she opened her first dedicated shop (up until then you could only find Tortellini at restaurants), and had 2 assistants. She now employs 25.

Let’s start with the filling: what is inside these delicacies? A mix of meats (beef and pork), vegetable mirepoix, rosemary, mortadella without pistachios or pepper, a drop of white wine, usually Custoza. This filling has to cook for three or four hours, then is minced and dressed with eggs, grana cheese and nutmeg.

How are the Tortellini di Valeggio prepared and dressed? The classic version has them cooked and served in meat stock, adding one or two spoonfuls of Bardolino wine once they’re in the plate. Otherwise you can cook them in meat broth, then strain them and eat them ‘dry’, dressed with melted butter just slightly toasted (the best would be pure mountain cream butter), and some sage leaves. If you don’t have meat stock, you can improvise a vegetable version using carrot, onion and celery. You could use stock cube, but signora Luciana is adamant you use a glutamate free one!

It is a super fresh product: Tortellini are not pasteurized, so they keep in the fridge no longer than a week (two months max in the freezer). You can order this classic dish at restaurants the whole year through, or buy them in the pasta shops of Garda Veneto, still largely homemade. The filling of tortellini’s ‘cousins’, the Tortelli, varies according to the products of the season, for example asparagus. From spring to late autumn, the most loved are Tortelli with pumpkin, basil and ricotta, or herbs and taleggio cheese. In the colder months the filling is adjusted to use the products of the land: red radicchio and fresh Monte Veronese cheese; Verona celery; truffle cream; cep mushrooms and speck, chestnuts. The dough is made with eggs and assorted flour, and is rolled very thin. Tortellini are rigorously hand-sealed. Tortelli’s dough has a different texture, and they are larger (but still hand-sealed one by one).

It is a traditional local dish dating back to many generations that is still prepared at fêtes and festivals, especially in Malcesine. The ingredients are simple, and are the ones that the land offers aplenty: extra-virgin Garda DOP olive oil, polenta and cheese from Monte Baldo (all parts, even the rinds). The result is a sort of polenta called “consa”, “fixed” in Italian dialect, meaning dressed. That is because the corn flour polenta is enriched with melted cheese, traditionally from the Monte Baldo meadows. It was the daily food of coalmen or “carbonari” (hence the name) who took it to work wrapped in a rag. It can keep more than a day. Just toast it on a grill and it’s as if it was just made! You can also add truffle or mushrooms from Baldo, or even roasted fresh pork sausages.

Primi Piatti