The history of Venice (see our history page) as merchants and tradesmen tells us that prosperity meant bacchanalian feasting; exposure to the Islamic world, and the import of their spices meant heavily spiced food. Today, the cooking in Venice is more chaste. With the Venetian emphasis on table manners (they were the first to use the fork and fine glassware) cuisine developed to a more refined and restrained form of dining.
Unlike the recipes of the southern Italians, Venetian recipes use garlic subtly, not boldly. Radicchio, grown in the Veneto, is not a singular form of produce, as there are many types of radicchio: chioggia, named for the fishing port at the south end of the lagoon; late-season radicchio di treviso which is slender and long; radicchio bianco, one that is almost white; radicchio di castelfranco. These are not just for salad, but are cooked in myriad ways.
Aristocratic Padua is known for its splendid villas. True to its aristocratic taste, its pigs are pampered with the goal of making the finest Montagnana ham. One also finds white truffles in this area. The people of the Veneto are chicken lovers, cooked in a variety of ways. The Veneto, in general, is first in production of poultry production for all of Italy.
Treviso is another fertile region and we owe the appearance of colorful red radicchio to the centuries of cultivation in Treviso. Radicchio is a staple here, and is not merely shredded for salad, but cooked in innumerable recipes. Radicchio began its food life as an endive, but a Flemish botanist, Van den Boor turned it into the colorful vegetable that we now enjoy. Prosecco, the sparkling wine that is currently having a great vogue comes from Treviso.
Verona is a meat oriented province, and its inhabitants enjoy bollito misto which is embellished with sauce. Pan d'oro is a classic bread. As with many areas of Italy, important dates are celebrated with food, and gnocchi is the dish to eat on the day that celebrates independence. Verona is famous also for its pan d'oro. Archeological explorations have found evidence that wine-making was an ancient art in the area.
Vicenzo produces asparagus. While most are green asparagus, the region is famous for its white asparagus. risotto is popular, of course, and often made with pumpkin, a variation popular throughout all of northern Italy.At Easter, the Vicenzans enjoy fugazza vicentina, a special Easter cake often formed into a dove shape and guarding colored Easter eggs. The color you discover will offer hope, good news, disappointment, love or sickness.
Mountainous Belluno is somewhat isolated and has belonged at times to Venice and at times to Austria which affected the diet. Polenta served with wurst is popular and strudel is a preferred dessert. Meat, milk, cheese, and butter are part of the diet.
Pasta has never gripped the heart and soul of the Venetians as it has gripped other Italians. Pasta has always been secondary to rice and the beloved risotto as well as to polenta. After Columbus' discovery of the New World, maize or corn was brought to Italy and found a home in the Veneto.
The exception was a pasta called bigoli. Originally this was probably made with buckwheat flour which makes a heavier noodle than semolina. Evolving from buckwheat bigoli was (and still is) often made from whole wheat flour. Bigoli is similar to the Sicilian bucatini. It is a long, fairly thick pasta with a slender hole running down the center. The classic bigoli recipe is Bigoli co l'anara a sauce made from of duck liver and innards with vegetables and herbs. The lighter (and quicker) classic dish is with an anchovy sauce.
Carpaccio: Carpaccio is named for the Venetian Renaissance painter, is thin-sliced raw beef dressed with mayonnaise containing mustard and Worcestershire sauce, though popularity has inspired creations with meat, fish, cheese, mushrooms and truffles.
Fegato alla Veneziana is perhaps, one of the most famous of all Venetian dishes. An elegant creation, both onion and liver are sliced finely and the onion sweetens the liver. Variations may add a bit of sage or a splash ovf vinegar. Once you taste this dish, you will cook if forever.
Pasta e fasioi is a thick minestra. 'Fasioi' is dialect for fagioli meaning beans. The soup is prevalent throughout Italy, of course, but in this area it is made with noodles and beans in a thick soup. As with many soup recipes, there are as many variations as there are cooks.
Pastissada de caval is a surprise to travelers as this is a dish made with horsemeat stewed with tomatoes, onions and herbs in red wine. Horsemeat was not frowned upon in this region.
Tiramisu: coffee-flavored cream of mascarpone and eggs, layered with savoiardi (ladyfingers) and topped with curls of bitter chocolate.
Polenta: Corn arrived from the New World around 1530 and the cooking of the Veneto was changed forever. Corn grew well in the region and was inexpensive. The poor were cooking with polenta quickly. Legend has it that they gold the more expensive wheat while keeping the corn for their own kitchens. And what they were cooking, was not ears of corn, but ground corn or polenta. The ear of corn was also used in art. Ears of corn adorn the columns of the Doges' Palace, built around 1550. Polenta had been cooked previously but when cooking it was made with millet , barley or buckwheat. Pasticcio di polenta: layers of fried polenta and stew of wood pigeon with mushrooms baked in pie crust.
Risotto: The most classic of recipes from Venice, risi e bisi is dialect for rice and peas. This is more soup-like than we expect and is made with tender fresh spring peas. Risotto is the mainstay of the diet and this oh-so-beloved risotto has an infinite number of recipes. Please see our risotto page for variations.
Fish is central to the table. Little birds are preferred to larger game. Meat comes in translucent, saline slices of prosciutto, the rosy transparencies of carpaccio, or stir-fried slivers of fegato alla veneziana, a classic of Venetian cuisine that says it all: Asian stir-fry sweetly flavored with caramelized onion and edged with a touch of acid.
The bitterness of radicchio, the sweet and sour of many marinades, the pungency of olives and anchovies, are all part of the Venetian table. But there is always a lightness, a refusal to mask with heavy sauces, an insistence on freshness and balance, that dignifies the cuisine.