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The secrets of Veneto's Cuisine

Spider-crab, sardines, but also polenta, risi e bisi and fegato alla veneziana among its signature dishes

The secrets of Veneto's Cuisine

Claudia Astarita

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Veneto gastronomy is dominated by four elements: polenta, rice, beans and salt cod, all of them imported. The success of Venice and its past power are also expressed in its cookery by the use of spices, which the Venetians did not only trade in, but adopted in their cooking.

A mixture of history, art and tradition in a setting without equal, whose mere memory evokes yearning. Venetian food means above all the fish of the north Adriatic. This is of exceptional quality, and thanks to local creativity, is used in a wide and often surprising variety of dishes. The spider-crab, for example, becomes a delicious antipasto: it is thrown into boiling water and, once cooked, is served with olive oil, salt, pepper and a squeeze of lemon juice. A dish which demonstrates the oriental influence of local cooking is sarde in carpione ("in saor"), which consists of braised sardines marinated in a sauce of onions, sultanas, candied peel, pine nuts and vinegar, in a characteristic marriage of sweet and savory flavors. Frittura veneziana (mixed fried fish) is another internationally famous dish, as is baccalà mantecato, in which salt cod is made into a soft mousse with a surprising flavour.

The Venetians, though, do not only eat fish. Among the dishes which have made their cookery famous are recipes such as fegato ala veneziana, probably Venice's best known specialty, which you can find practically anywhere in the world. The dish consists of slices of calf's liver cooked with oil, butter and parsley, and is something than any visitor to Venice should try. Another famous dish is risi e bisi (rice with peas), which was the traditional first course of the Doge of Venice's lunch on the feast day of St Mark. Veneto cooking in general is based on rice and polenta. Rive, grown mainly in the province of Verona, is prepare in dozens of different ways and each local community tries to give a touch of originality to their recipes. It is said that in Veneto there exist forty different dishes based on rice, which is combined with a wide range of other ingredients: meat, fish, and above all vegetables such as courgettes, cabbage, asparagus, peas and cauliflower, produced in the region's highly fertile land.

Polenta, meanwhile, is used by the Veneto inhabitants like bread. Particularly well-known is Vicenza's polenta e osei, polenta served with small game birds sautéed over a low heat, flavored with fatty bacon, sage and olive oil. Birds, in fact, and above all poultry, are the basis of most of the meats dishes. Mention must be made of the gallina padovana, a wide-breasted breed of chicken known the world over, and which features in many regional dishes, such as Vicenza's paeta al malgaragna, in which the chicken is covered with pork fat, cooked on the spit and basted with pomegranate juice.

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