Lake Como Cuisine
Lake Como is known for its fabulous Michelin starred restaurants, rustic Italian eateries and sleek bars and bistros. But what is the traditional cuisine of Lake Como? Flair Asian cuisine and haute-couture French cookery is all well and good…but here we get to the Italian heart of it all.
Food is the cornerstone of Italian culture; it brings families together, gives friends a reason to sit down and laugh and makes artists of farmers. Perhaps the best way to begin is to look at some dishes which were born on Lake Como’s shores.
Cotoletta all Milanese is comprised of cutlets of tender veal dipped in egg and bread crumbs, which are then fried in olive oil until golden brown. Meanwhile osso buco is the shin bone of veal cooked in a ragout sauce and served on rice and peas. Risotta alla Milanese is cooked with chicken giblets and flavoured with saffron and butter; the dish is considered incomplete without lashings of Parmigiano – Reggiano cheese.
Surprisingly for some, the cornmeal based polenta is eaten more often than pasta in and around Lake Como. However, the popular dish pizzoccheri is made up of pasta, cheese and vegetables. The array of pastas in the supermarkets is superb, perfect for Lake Como self catering. Be sure to try the farfalle ai funghi porcini dish; butterfly pasta with porcini mushrooms, parmesan and butter…’tastebud tingling’ is no hyperbole in this case.
Thanks to the Italians’ love of seafood, rissoto con pesce persico is also often on the menu. The most popular fish in Lake Como is probably lavarello, fish caught fresh from the lake. Pike fillets, maltagliati with lavaret roe, shad, perch, tench, eel and even buseca (tripe) also feature! Missoltini, sourced from shad, is sun-dried and then conserved in layers of bay leaves and salt in a ‘missolta’ , a contained closed by a weighted wooden cover. Each town around the lake has its own special way of grilling fish. Fritto misto di lago is a fried mix of lake fish dish which many people can’t get enough of! Fish is often cooked with ingredients such as vinegar, onion, laurel, parsley, breadcrumbs, anchovies, garlic, capers, egg yolks and olive oil.
Italy wouldn’t be Italy without pizza. Thin crusts and sumptuous toppings are the order of the day but beware, pepperoni actually means small hot peppers in Italy, so unless this is what you want ask for salami or diavola!
Lombard dishes function on delectable yet simple flavour combinations, such as casseoula, which is pork and savoy cabbage.
Rustisciada is a dish from the Brianza made from pork loin and sausage which are then browned with onions, tasty!
Other traditional Italian ingredients include wild herbs from the hills, as well as an abundance of fresh fruits and vegetables, many of which are used in the local minestre (soups) and zuppe (broths). The freshly milled and pressed olive oil in Lake Como is second to none.
For sweet tooths, frittell di mele are essentially apple fritters and taste divine! Meanwhile mataloc is a scrummy sponge cake and miascia is made by mixing stale bread, milk, eggs, butter, sugar, apples, pears, pine nuts, raisins, crumbled macaroons, dark chocolate and lemon zest. Masigott has a crumbly dough base made up of buckwheat, sugar, butter, eggs, pine nuts and candied oranges. You should also be able to get your hands on perfectly crumbling biscuits and almond brittle!
Cooking in the villages will introduce you to a deliciously earthy cuisine which often uses staples such as game, rustic cheeses, freshwater shrimp, chestnuts and taragna vuncia polenta. Cheese is even still made on the old wood burning stoves in wooden pans; believe it or not the cheese is left to mature for about three months in natural grottoes and cellars. The Valsassina is a true professional in cheese making circles and a cheese you must try is taleggio, although the ricotta is also to die for. ‘Peasant-cooking’ as some people refer to it flourishes in the Lake Como area thanks to its rural and agricultural assets, such as the Brianza region.
The Brianza area is also rich in vineyards and it’s no secret that Lake Como is home to a land of fantastic wines. There will never be an excellent red or white wine far away for you to wash down your Italian fare with. Rumour has it that the finest wines come from the Montevecchia hillside, although the Domasa area is also highly celebrated.
Lecco is known for its pani croccanti or crisp breads, the succulent pork fat pounded with herbs ‘pestata di lardo’ which is added to soups and offal which is used to wrap sausage meats. Be a daredevil and try some, you might never go back. Of course there are also the flavoursome mountain cheeses including goat’s cheese, gorgonzola and even yoghurts. Pair the yoghurts with homemade honey and you may just have found heaven.
The Varese area is also a fighting competitor in the cheese stakes; with taleggio, fresh formaggella and quartirolo taking the lead. Cotiche pork rinds, braised beef stew and even donkey stew are also popular. Risotto is cooked to perfection with fireworks of flavours such as frog, pumpkin and saffron in this region and you can often find handcrafted crayfish ravioli. You will also be able to taste the famous gnocchi dumplings for some pure Italian indulgence.
Natural ingredients, statement flavours, simple recipes and excellent cooking…that’s what makes Como cuisine.