The only Italian cities which, still today, constitute a reference point for Alto-Adige are Trieste and Venice, both of which are of Central European culture and have exerted a strong influence on the region also in matters of cuisine.
The recipes contained in the booklet of the thirteen-hundreds by Anonimo Veneziano (an Anonymous Venetian) "Libro per cuoco" (book for the cook) are an example of such, and though the book contains mainly recipes for fish, it also includes a number of meat recipes which are still a part to this day of the cuisine of Alto Adige: we can also come across instructions for the making of "Civirio (salmì - a kind of pickle) or black flavouring for wild boar", which may also be used with venison from roebucks and other deer, as well as a recipe for "Magnificent Emperor pancakes", pancakes made of sugared cheese, a combination of this area, where - to cite a dish in common use - potato gnocchi filled with apricots (or plums) seasoned with butter, cheese and/or sugar which can be served as a first or last course and which in mountainous areas of the region finds a variation in gnocchi filled with dried prunes, the ancient recipe for which is as follows:
Boil six hundred grams of potatoes, mash well, and mix with flour, kneading until a soft and consistent dough is obtained. Make into small balls of dough or small cylinders of about six-seven centimetres in diameter, inside of which has been inserted a dry prune (without stone) that has already been covered in sugar. Cover these balls with sugar and place in a pot of boiling water. In the meantime, melt some butter in a frying-pan and then add sugar, butter and breadcrumbs and mix well while not allowing the sugar to caramelize. As the gnocchi start to rise to the surface, remove and transfer to the frying-pan while still hot and mix well, then serve straight-away. This is a dessert typical of big feasts in our mountain regions". A similar example of such recipes are those collected by Cristoforo di Messisbugo, originally from Flanders and employed at the court of the Estensi in Ferrara as a steward at the beginning of the sixteenth century; being influenced by the cuisine of various parts of Europe, he gathered a collection of recipes under the title of "compositions of the most important foods", which also contains a recipe with meticulous instructions for the making of "German tarts" which, as we will soon see, was a forerunner of apple tart and strudel, both of which have been a part of the cuisine of Alto Adige for centuries: " take fifteen to twenty sweet apples of various sizes and peel and cut into rather thick slices, then place in a pot with half a pound of sugar, half a pound of butter, add water and leave until nearly cooked and well steeped and sweetened.
Gently remove the slices without breaking them and place them in a dish. Then butter a baking dish with 2 ounces of fresh butter, place on this a layer of pastry with 4 ounces of sugar and ½ ounce of cinnamon and place on top of this as much apple as the pastry can hold.
On top of the apple slices sprinkle 4 ounces of granulated sugar, ½ ounce of cinnamon and 4 ounces of melted butter, pouring on a little at a time. Over this place the other pastry layer along with 3 ounces of melted butter. This can then be cooked at a low temperature, as not much heat is required to cook this dish. When cooked, sprinkle the tart with another 4 ounces of sugar. This tart can also be made with two or three layers of apple covered in-between with sugar and cinnamon". It is also the case that with meat recipes much of the preparation is done in the traditional German manner, and with reference again to Messisbugo who supplies us with a recipe for the preparation of "Pheasant, or capon, or pigeon, or dishes of beef, or other meat cooked in sweet white wine, 'vernazza' or 'malvagia' wine, cooked in the german way" we can see that to be true.
Francesco Leonardi in his famous work entitled "the modern 'apicio', or the art of preparing every kind of food" by Francesco Leonardi, cook to Catherine II Empress of Russia" alludes not only to German cuisine in recipes for fresh pork sausages, widely popular in Alto Adige, but also to the manner in which they are served, noting that they are to be "divided in half, with parsley", the only cuisine which allows for the use of parsley on pork sausages is that of Germany and Alto Adige.
The origin of cuisine in Alto Adige is, therefore, German both in its execution but also in the combination of the flavours (sugar/salt), in the use of spices, and in the predominance of meats and foods such as pork, potatoes, rye and barley, and the use of cabbage for sauerkraut. Other influences (beyond those of Venetian cuisine) can be noted from the similarity with Hungarian cooking, due not only to the geographical nearness of Hungary, but also to the historical events which made this area part of the Austro-Hungarian empire under Franz-Josef (1830-1916): a political dualism based on the supremacy of the Germans and Hungarians in their respective parts of the empire to the West and East. As culinary testimony to this influence is the wide diffusion of Goulash, a stew given a sweetish taste from the onions (a kilo/2.2 pounds of meat for every 800g/1 ¾ pounds of onion!) and a spicy taste from the paprika. A dish that is rounded-off by 'polenta' which can be found widely still today in homes, restaurants, hostelries and beerhouses, where it can also be found to accompany bread 'knodel'.
A typical dish is also a soup made from bread covered in a spleen patè which is then flavoured with parsley, marjoram, lemon peel, salt and pepper and mixed with butter and egg. The crostini are prepared like a sandwich, fried in olive oil, dried, cut into slices and covered with boiling broth, and then sprinkled with chives. Also typical is a soup made with Terlano wine, using broth, egg yolk, cream, white wine, which is then whipped into a cream and served in small bowls with bread that has been fried in butter, sprinkled with cinnamon and cut into cubes. Many first courses are soups, while those that are not include a wide variety of 'gnocchi' (potato dumplings), there being a decided absence of pasta in the local cuisine if one excludes the rather recent introduction of 'tagliatelle'. These are accompanied by a sauce made from mushrooms and pork, the latter being a meat widely used even though there is an availability of beef, veal, kid, or bullock, which are usually either boiled or cooked in a saucepan with potatoes, as well as other meats such as wild game, most notably deer and roe-deer. Fish is limited to the fresh-water trout (the salmon-trout from the Avisio river are well known) cooked 'al cartoccio' (wrapped in paper or in tin foil), boiled or fried with butter, lemon and parsley; not forgetting, of course, 'Baccalà' (codfish) or "Stockfischgrostl" which is cooked in a saucepan with potatoes, butter, onion, garlic, cream and parsley. Among the vegetables, the potato is the one that dominates, being prepared in a variety of ways, but there is also 'polenta', sauerkraut as well as spinach, turnips, cabbages and - when in season - 'gallinacci' mushrooms, which are particularly flavoursome in this area, and 'funghi porcini' (gourmet mushrooms) which are cooked chopped up with lemon and parsley.
Desserts and sweets are consumed in large quantities in the area and are made in a variety of different ways using apples, sweet chestnuts, prunes, poppy seeds, dried fruits, aniseed, sultanas, apricots, bilberries, ricotta cheese (a kind of cottage cheese), cherries, pine nuts, cinnamon, carrots, and chocolate. Finally, it is worth noting the importance of bread in the local cuisine which is made almost exclusively made from rye or whole-wheat, enriched with linseed, aniseed and/or fennel seeds, while bread made from white flour is considered "Sunday bread" and is flavoured with milk and butter and seasoned with sugar and sultanas.
The well known gastronomy of the Alto Adige region presents different aspects of interest; its Hapsburg and middle European origins are clear and so offer the visitor many interesting experiences, often with special memories of the excellent traditions of the hostelries and a highly professional style of hospitality. The region has developed its own complex cuisine over the years, (not extensive but of excellent quality) based on natural products.
The bread is delicious, darkened and flavoured by cumin. Barley and rye are used in a large variety of very tasty soups; the fruit (apples, pears and grapes, the great grapes of the valley of the Merano) with honey and prime top quality butter form the ingredients of magnificent sweets.
The celebrated, refined Austrian tradition has created the school of making chocolate and fruit tarts available to customers everywhere, like the fragrant ‘krapfen’, and the ‘strudel’, the famous sweet with a base of apples and a flavouring of cinnamon which is enveloped in a parcel of crisp pastry. One of the pleasures of a holiday in the Dolomites or in the valleys running through them, is to have a place to rest and recuperate after a walk through the woods or through the plains carpeted with flowers. Enjoying a delectable slice of tart or a bowl of raspberries and cream, whilst gazing on the ragged mountain tops and overhanging cliffs, changing colour in the northern light, is an experience which ‘makes the journey worthwhile’, and even with all this the bonviveur will certainly not fail to deepen his appreciation of this magnificent wine producing homeland. Trentino and Alto Adige are the most felicitous regions for the richness, variety and quality of their wines; the whole region is studded with vineyards yielding a vast production often characterised by typical, exquisite bouquets.
An ancient custom, which is recorded in the annals of the Renaissance, is still in being and is offered during the course of grand banquets, particularly for separating the fish dishes, (from lake and stream), from those of meat, is that of serving a sorbet which also aids the digestion; most typically this will be the rhododendron flavoured sorbet. To make this for four people you need 1 litre (2 pints) of water, 300 g (11 oz) of sugar, the grated rind of a lemon and 50 g (2 oz)of rhododendron petals. The rhododendron petals are cooked in the water together with the sugar and lemon. The mixture needs to boil for ten minutes. Then it is passed through a fine strainer, removing the petals and lemon rind. It is then poured into a container and placed in the freezer