A terrific way of exploring a country’s culinary history is by going on river cruises. Italy has an array of traditional recipes which vary hugely depending on the region. You can get a great introduction to Lombardian cuisine, for example, in the beautiful city of Mantua. With a great range of mouth-watering main courses and delicious desserts, it may be hard to know which dishes to order off the menu. To help you decide, here are some of my favourites.
Succulent Main Courses
- Luccio in Salsa
One of the most popular dishes in this Italian city is Luccio in Salsa, or ‘pike in sauce’. The recipe was first described in the Treaty of Stefani which celebrated the pike fish as an excellent source of nourishment. It suggests flavouring the dish with lemon juice, parsley, anchovies, garlic, capers and oil before boiling the fish. Most restaurants will serve it with a tasty accompaniment of salty vegetables and a glass of cold white wine.
- Risotta Alla Pilota
This dish, literally called ‘Rice of the Pilot’, gets its name from the aviators who were sent out to husking the rice. This risotto recipe is slightly grainier than the traditional rice dish. A carefully measured out level of water is added to the rice and brought to the boil; the starch then simmers for a precise amount of time, before being taken off the heat and left to rest. Chefs often season the dish with a pinch of salt, a knob of butter and some grated cheese. You can also have it with pork chops or Italian sausage.
- Tortelli di Zucca
Another iconic dish from Mantua is Tortelli di Zucca, a delightful classic pasta recipe. The egg-based pastry is stuffed with fresh pumpkin which is seasoned with spicy mustard, amaretti and nutmeg. Traditionally Italian chefs also add a pinch of parmesan to balance the sweetness of the pumpkin, while more experimental takes on the tortelli can incorporate a butter-based sauce with onions and tomatoes.
- Torta Sbrisolona
This crumbly brittle cake is a real hit with tourists and can easily be shared and broken by hand. Using eggs, flour and butter as its base, the Torta Sbrisolona is flavoured with sweet almonds, zesty lemon and vanilla seed. Though it was originally a peasant’s recipe, the addition of spices and nuts has turned it into a rich traditional Mantuan dessert.
- Cake Elvezia
If you prefer to end your meal with something sweet, Elvezia pastry will satisfy your cravings. The cake layers baked discs made of almond paste, whipped egg whites and sugar with whatever filling takes your fancy. Most foodies rave about the eggnog and chocolate fillings, but whipped cream is another excellent choice. The recipe supposedly dates back to the 1700s and was brought over by the Swiss pastry chef Samson Putscher.
When it comes to river cruises, Italy is a great destination for any lover of food or wine. If you want to sample some traditional and authentic flavoursome dishes, there is no better place than the romantic Italian city of Mantua.