- Ariana Narins
Lombardy Dinner Specials
Updated: Mar 3, 2021
Wednesday, March 3rd - Tuesday, March 9th
Lombardy, land of butter and cheese, is the perfect region to explore when it’s icy cold outside and you crave rich, warming comfort food. The only region in Italy where nearly everything is cooked in butter, its love affair with decadent, opulent dishes began long ago. Since the invasion of Rome by the Gauls, butter has been beloved as a “barbarian luxury.” The long-standing affinity between Germanic and Lombard cuisine (apart from any socio-political considerations) must be due to their shared continental climate: Everyone wants heartier food when the wintry winds sweep through.
The region ranges from majestic snow-capped Alps and glittering lakes Como, Garda, Maggiore and Lugano in the north, to the verdant flat pains in the south at the River Po’s basin. Strewn throughout the land, you’ll find enchanting medieval streets, Renaissance palaces, castles, and Roman and Etruscan ruins. Milan, its capital city, has exerted a dominant influence upon Lombard cooking. Some think of Lombard cooking as synonymous with Milanese cooking.
Milan grew up on the ruins of an ancient Roman city. The Viscontis, a noble Italian family ruled Milan during the Middle Ages until their power gave way to the Sforza family during the Renaissance. This transition of power is given tangible form in the transformation of the Vicsontis’ massive, austere Medieval fortress into the refined, ornamented Renaissance Castello Sforzesco, which you can tour in Milan today and find gorgeous examples of Renaissance art. As Italy commanded court cuisine throughout Europe during the Renaissance, the court kitchen at Milan dominated Lombard cuisine. Later the Spanish, French, and Austrian occupations of Milan left their distinct culinary marks, but that is a story for another day.
Despite the heavy influence of Milan, different regions of Lombardy cultivated distinct, local cuisines. From the lakes, mountains, and hills to the planes, cuisines suited to each microclimate emerged. In truth, Lombardese cuisine is a tapestry of unique tastes and dishes. Along with its diverse landscape, Lomabardy’s neighbors shaped its culinary tastes. Mantua, for instance, is influenced by its southern neighbor Emilia. The powerful Renaissance Gonzago family established its own court cuisine in Mantua, too. The chef of the Mantua court, Bartolomeo Stefani’s enormously popular Renaissance cookbook, The Art of Good Cooking (1662), was used throughout Italy. Alongside recipes and food preparation techniques, his book offered advice on hosting elegant banquets.
Bordered by Switzerland to the north, the Trentino-Alto Adige and Veneto regions to the east, Emilia-Romagna to the south and Piedmont to the west, Lombard cooking is imbued with the tastes and traditions of its neighbors. But one thing transcends all distinctions in the Lombardese kitchen: the love of butter.
To give you a taste of Lombardy we stepped outside of Milan and ventured into Valtellina in Northern Lombardy, nestled amongst the Italian Alps and known for its sumptuous mountain food. And for a taste of something sweet, we traveled to the beautiful city of Mantua, which Aldous Huxley once called “the most Romantic city in the world.”
Experience a taste of Lombardy with the regional dishes we’ve prepared for you:
1. Bresaola Panini. For our first dish we travel to the Valtellina Valley of the Italian Alps, home to one of the most desired cured meats of Italy - Bresaola. The aging techniques for this air-dried, salted beef originated in the Middle Ages. We’ve combined the Bresaola with Taleggio, a soft and runny cheese found throughout the uplands of Lombardy, into a supremely fulfilling panini that is cut to share.
The panini is accompanied by a side of Taròz, think mashed potatoes - upgraded. The dish draws from the potatoes and beans that grow around the Italian Alps, which are roasted in butter, then mashed together with onions, garlic, and Valtellina Casera cheese.
2. Pizzoccheri alla Valtellinese: There are two exquisitely unique things about this classic dish. First, the pasta is made up of buckwheat. Grown in the lush Valtellina Valley, buckwheat was introduced to the region around the 16th century. The pasta has a satisfying nutty flavor. Second, the dish surprisingly includes roasted potatoes, a delightful combination! Although vegetables are not a staple of Lombardy, potatoes are the exception. The addition of potatoes to this tasty pasta make it the ultimate example of hearty, comforting mountain food. Delight your senses with the famed Valletinese buckwheat pasta, combined with potato, and drenched in, of course, butter and cheese.
3. Uccelli Scappati: Translated “escaped birds,” this mouth-watering entree comes with a great story behind it. When hunters failed to catch game in the fields, the chefs used meat instead of birds. They prepared the meat as if it were stuffed game, rolling it around the filling, ingeniously mimicking the shape of the birds. Like so many great recipes, scarcity propelled creativity in the kitchen and something even better was made. You’re going to love this decadent dish. And you’ll be glad they never caught the birds.
4. Torta Sbrisolona. Finally, we turn to the city of Mantua, one of the most overlooked jewels of Lombardy, if not all of Italy, to bring you the Torta Sbrisolona. This crumbly [biscotti-like texture] almond delight dates back to the 16th century. Once considered peasant food, sbrisolona eventually became a favorite of the noble families and became a Carnival staple.
The crumbly texture is offset by a decadent mascarpone whipped cream and highlighted by a tart berry jam. Sbrisolona is often enjoyed with sweet wines or espresso.