Padua and its environs
Padua, the provincial capital, is a city with ancient origins (it’s university was founded in 1222, after that of Bologna it is the oldest in Italy) and it has always been an important centre for trade and agricultural activity, both resulting from its position between the Brenta and the Bacchiglione rivers, as well as for it’s proximity to Venice, under whose rule it fell in 1405.
Under Venetian dominion, the region experienced a florid economic boom that tied it to Venice politically, administratively and culturally until it came under Austrian rule.
The province is mainly comprised of plains; except to the south-west at the Euganean hills which are of vulcanic origin. The rest of the land in the region has a north-south and west to east incline. The area is irrigated by the Brenta, Baccchiglione, Fratta-Gorzone, Agno, Frassine and Adige rivers; there are numerous canals that flow into and out of these rivers. Considering the distribution of produce together with the nature of the land, the province can be divided into three agricultural areas, of which the first is well-irrigated, high altitude and dry, to the north; the second, made up of the Euganean Hills and the Conselve-Monselice strip is somewhat dry with woodland, to the centre; the third which has only been made economically viable by way of intense funding, and has all the characteristics of such land, is situated to the south and south-west.
The traditions connected with Padua and its surrounding area, taken from a gastronomic viewpoint, thanks also to the geographical and cultural vicinity of Venice, range from the rich refined Venetian cuisine to the simpler traditions relating to produce grown on the land.
So if, on the one hand, the Paduan cuisine with regard to fish, whether of a common or of a high quality, is closer to the traditions and tastes of Venetian cuisine, it is closer to that of the Po Valley where the cuisine of produce from the land is concerned: linked to the countryside and its flourishing agriculture, Paduan cuisine is similar to that of the Po Valley where there is an abundance of vegetables and farm animals. This, however, does not prevent the rearing and consumption of beef and pork, both of which are cooked fresh or are cured for excellent sausages and salamis, and for the well know ‘berico’ ham. The area in which the legs of pork are typically cured and transformed into the famous Berico-Euganean “prosciutto” extends in the Po valley and the foothills of the Berici and Euganean hills in the provinces of Padua, Vicenza and Verona. The meat arrives in the ham-curer’s where it undergoes the traditional process of cleaning, salting and seasoning. The process of preparation for the berico-euganeo ham is about half-way between that employed to make Parma and San Daniele hams. It is subjected to a partial pressing, and for this reason is flatter than Parma ham but much less than that of San Daniele. Its weight at the end of the seasoning process is somewhere between eight and eleven kilograms (seventeen to twenty four pounds). The binding is formed by a string passed through an hole made at one end of the leg. The duration of the ageing process is proportional to the weight of the ham and the time required for salting. The berico-euganeo ham is mainly used as a hors d’oeuvres, on its own, accompanied by melon or figs in the summer months, but it can also be employed as an ingredient in the filling used for ravioli or tortelli and to enrich sauces made for pasta.
Tortelli made from sweet pumpkin seasoned with butter and cheese, risottos with asparagus and peas or radishes or, in spring, with bruscandoli (wild hops) are first course dishes typical of this region where food always has a hearty flavour. Obviously, polenta is widely available and here, as in many parts of northern Italy, it is consumed with every type of food. Typical, is the “polenta fasoa’”, prepared by cooking white flour made from corn with a soup of boiled beans enriched with pork lard. Left to harden, cut into slices and spit-roasted, it’s the ideal side-plate for grilled pork chops. In Padua it is known as the “devotional food” for the deceased.
With regard to second course dishes, one is reminded of the “duck all’orange” which can be cooked in a variety of ways, all of which are exceptionally tasty; but in this region one can find many and varied uses for farmyard animals which are cooked with stuffing, roasted or as part of a mixed grill where a particularly spiced sausage acts as seasoning for all types of meats. Worth mentioning is the well known “goose in fat”, that is; goose kept under fat, a process used by many Venetian and Paduan families to conserve sufficient amounts of meat and fat for the winter. Even today one finds such uses among families and in certain traditional delicatessens. The goose is put in a dish and covered with a base of olive oil, stalks of rosemary, garlic cloves, salt and pepper. It is left to cook slowly in order to facilitate the extraction of the largest quantity of fat from the meat. When the meat is reasonably tender, it is taken out of the dish, stripped of its skin and the legs and breasts are chopped into pieces. A layer of fat is placed in a terracotta vase and as soon as it has coagulated, the pieces of goose are arranged on top of it, along with a few bay leaves. One continues in this way repeating the process of layering fat and the chopped goose until both are fully used. The last layer will obviously be of fat , covered with bay leaves and olive oil. Goose prepared in this way can be conserved for a few months. The only intervention necessary is that of ensuring, as the goose is consumed, that the remainder is always covered by a layer of fat.
Also worth remembering are the sumptuous boiled specialities that are always of mixed types of meat, served when very hot and accompanied by intense and spicy sauces and mustards.
In the area of desserts, the Venetian influence is dominant with such delicacies as “baicoli”, “golosessi”, “zaleti”; along with these are the desserts of Austrian origin, most notably the famous “Sacher”, which by now is widely available even as far down as central Italy, and the less widely-known but equally exquisite “Dobos”.
In the Veneto region, every lunch is finished-off with a liquor, most often a Grappa which is often aromatized with fruit or with mountain herbs.