Rovereto and its environs
Rovereto is a small town in the province of Trent in the Val Lagerina (river Adige) where it joins the river Leno. Tobacco, cereals and vines are grown in the countryside.
The traditional cuisine of this region is distinguished from that of the main town because of the two cultures which have influenced the life of the local people, contributing to the formation of traditions and characters: Germanic (making for strictness, order and precision) and Venetian, a legacy of the Republic of Venice; this second is that which has predominated in the Rovereto area, leaving important traces both in the character of the inhabitants and their eating habits, which we are able to associate with the area of Lake Garda in the Trentino, the most important centre of which is the town of Riva. This small town, together with Torbole (on the lake of the same name), can boast the sole production of olive oil in the whole region due to the mild climate. One strip of land which extends for a few kilometres grows about a hundred thousand olive trees of the ‘casliva’, ‘frantoio’, and ‘leccino’ varieties. The oil produced is excellent and very light, squeezed at low temperatures, it has low acidity and a distinctive bright green character. The whole production is taken up locally, distinguishing the cuisine in this part of the Trentino where the use of butter is very limited.
This region also enjoys a strong tradition for growing vegetables; potatoes, carrots, red turnips, cabbages, beans and onions contributing an important part in the economy of these valleys. The undisputed capital of this production is the Valle di Gresta (Gresta Valley) which has known how to exploit to the maximum the potential of an area particularly dedicated to open air cultivation and organic practice. Leaving the trunk road which leads from Rovereto to Lake Garda in the neighbourhood of Loppio, climbing towards the Bordola Pass and going along the 15 km which cross the whole of the Valle di Gresta, it is possible to see hundreds of fields of vegetable cultivations. The traditional crops (potatoes, carrots, savoy and head cabbages used in the preparation of sauerkraut) have been augmented in recent years by new products (cucumbers, green beans, celery both early and late varieties, courgettes, radicchio, lettuces, leeks onions, parsley and basil).
There are few typical dishes but in general it can be said of the cuisine of this remaining part of the Trentino that that of Rovereto is lighter, with milder and less positive flavours; a gastronomy in which fish from the local lakes plays an important part and in which influences from the Venetian cuisine have been adapted locally.
One example is that of the “baccalà alla cappucina” (‘Capuchin dried codfish’); this is cooked with onions, bay leaves, sultanas, pine nuts, sugar, cinnamon, pepper, anchovies and breadcrumbs and the result of this combination is that it emerges from the oven with a richer and more complete aroma than that of the equivalent Venetian regional dish.
The trout are worthy of the place of honour. A typical recipe is one where the trout is fried and soused with onion, vinegar, parsley, mint, the zest of an orange and a lemon and sultanas. Also reminiscent of Venetian cooking is the preparation of eel browned in butter with plenty of onion and then cooked at length in a mixture of water and white wine with a bouquet garni (of celery, parsley and cinnamon). The eel is cut into pieces which are then folded into a sauce made from beating egg yolks into the cooking liquid.
Of course this region does not escape Northern influences, although the names of the dishes here do not show their German origins.
An example are the ‘probusti’, a speciality of Rovereto; thick sausages of pork and veal with a generous addition of garlic, stuffed into a sheep’s intestine and for further flavouring, smoked over juniper or birch fires. The origin of this dish can be found on the other side of the frontier; the name ‘probusti’ is a corruption of the word ‘wurstel’.
We remember the famous ‘salted meat’ which is a very ancient dish, enjoyed from the the time of the Council of Trent, a religious-political gathering which for eighteen years (1545-1563) gave Trent a role as a world leader. The preparation of this speciality is not particularly complicated. The cut of the meat used is of fundamental importance, as are the ingredients used for the marinade: salt, pepper, garlic, bay leaves, rosemary, juniper and white wine. The preparation is very simple: the fresh meat is laid down in small wooden tubs and conserved in the marinade for twenty days. It is the undisputed king of all light snacks, accompanying the legendary tastings of red wine at traditional hostelries, the ‘salted meat’, the speciality of the Basso Trentino has a typical presentation: cut into thin slices, seared on a slab and surrounded with beans dressed in olive oil.
A special starter is ‘strangolapreti’, vegetable gnocchi (small dumplings), (usually with spinach or beet greens/Swiss chard), flour, egg, grated cheese and nutmeg; a somewhat substantial dish which is served with juices from the roast and with Parmesan cheese. The gruesome nickname was probably a form of popular protest which fermented in the centuries of none too gentle leadership by the prince-bishops, a protest which, in the zone of Rovereto, one can imagine having existed due to the character of its inhabitants which has always been more free and pleasure-loving compared to that of those living in other parts of the Trentino region.
In the range of humble cooking we also find two dishes which were one time very widespread: the “polmone in guazzetto” (‘lung stew’) a kind of stew flavoured with onion and tomato which was served with polenta, similar to the ‘tonco di pontesel’ which literally means ‘sugo di balcone’ (‘balcony sauce’). Small pieces of cooked meat with plenty of onion and flour to make up the quantity of sauce needed to flavour a large quantity of polenta. This sauce was nicknamed ‘de pontesel’ because it was often diluted with water from the fountains which, right up to the end of the 18th century, in the houses of the poor were found on the balconies or galleries.
Amongst the cheeses we find the ‘bagoss’. Its origin is from the Brescia region, from the town of Bagolino, a mountain centre at an elevation of 800m (6,500 ft) in the Valle del Caffaro (Caffaro Valley), but production extends also to a good part of the Alta Valle del Chiese (the Upper Chiese Valley), in particular in the Stovo district, enough so that it is also considered to be a Trentino cheese. It is hard textured, half fat, made from cows’ milk by a complex technical process, yielding a high quality milk derived from the herds grazing on summer pastures rich in flowers and aromatic herbs. The aroma of the ‘bagoss’ cheese is, in effect, absolutely unique. The cylindrical shape is about fifteen centimetres (six inches) in height, has a diameter of about twenty centimetres (8 inches) and a weight varying from twelve to fifteen kilos (twenty seven to thirty four pounds). The period of maturation is from a minimum of three months to a maximum of two years. The texture, compact with either minute holes or none at all, has initially a yellowish colour which with age mellows to a more amber tone with a light greenish tinge. When young it is a classic table cheese, with age it is excellent with polenta, cut into strips and placed under the grill for a few minutes. It is also a splendid cheese to grate for those who appreciate stronger flavours.
As regards the desserts, one can also find some desserts of Austrian origin from strudel to ‘krapfen’, but alongside these are also ‘torte’ (then spread throughout the region) more Italian in style like the ‘torta de fregoloti’, made with butter, almonds, sugar and a little flour, so called because one lines the tart case with a handmade crumble, which is called ‘fregoloti’ in the dialect (= a crumble). A thin tart, usually rather dry, which is difficult to cut in slices. A typical dessert to dip in sweet wine, and which is available in all the pastry shops and can also be provided by the bakeries.
Trentino dessert dishes also have a place in daily meals: principally tarts made with jam of all types, from apples to quinces, carrots, tomatoes and chestnut, all home made, (through a long tradition based on the work of the women and the necessity of preserving produce to be used to accompany meat with sauces and various sweetmeats), and the apple pies which are prepared in various ways, more or less rich but always exquisite.