When Americans think of Italian food, they typically think of big bowls of spaghetti and meatballs in a rich tomato sauce or pans of lasagna, but Italy is a diverse country with a rich and varied cuisine.
Lombardy is a region in northern Italy. It shares its northern border with Switzerland. The terrain of Lombardy varies from the mountainous landscape of the Alps to the fertile agricultural lowlands of the Po Valley. The area is also dotted with beautiful alpine lakes, the most famous of which is Lake Como.
The food of this region is reflected by its diverse topography. Whether you are planning a trip to the region or are simply heading to your favorite restaurant for some authentic Italian food, here is a basic primer on the popular foods of Lombardy.
Risotto alla Milanese
Risotto is a popular rice dish. Rather than cooking with water, it is cooked in broth until it has a creamy consistency. The rice used differs from long grain rice. Instead, varieties like Arborio or Maratelli are used as they are better able to absorb liquid and become creamy as they cook rather than grainy. The rice is sautéed with onion, garlic, and parsley. Wine is then added and allowed to absorb before adding other ingredients.
For risotto alla Milanese, lard is used as the fat. Beef broth is used to continue cooking the rice, and it is seasoned with saffron, which is known as the most expensive spice in the world. The finished product is topped with grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese. Another popular risotto in Lombardy is Risotto alla certosina, which uses frog legs, crayfish, fresh lake fish, tomatoes, and peas in a leek and onion sauce.
More popular than pasta in this region, polenta is eaten often. Polenta is cornmeal that is turned into a soft cereal or porridge, similar to grits in the United States. It can also be allowed to chill after cooking, where it solidifies and can then be sliced and fried. Polenta e osei is a dish of creamy polenta served with tiny grilled birds, such as quail or sparrows, and a bacon and sage sauce. Polenta pasticciata is firm polenta that is topped with a pork, mushroom, and tomato sauce and then baked.
While seafood is not popular in Lombardy, fresh fish from the deep, cold mountainous lakes and rivers is. Trout, perch, and whitefish are abundant. They are simply prepared by grilling, sautéing, or poaching in white wine and herbs.
Keep these ideas in mind next time you visit a restaurant like Villa Romana Italian Restaurant.
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