Rovigo and the Polesine
Rovigo is the chief town in the Polesine (Po Delta), lying between the rivers Po and Adige, but more in the vicinity of the latter which is amongst the most fertile flat land in Italy. Owing to its position, distant from mountains and sea, it has a misty, humid climate in winter, sultry in summer. The province corresponds with the area called Polesine (a name deriving from the medieval Latin 'policinum' signifying a marshy area), one which is completely flat, formed in recent times by the accumulation of fluvial silts deposited amongst the lower reaches of the Adige and the Po rivers. The Polesine has well defined limits, except in the north east where the area of Cavarzere forms part of the province of Venezia, and in the west where the boundary with the province of Verona in the Valli Grandi Veronesi is uncertain. It slopes gradually from west to east, with plenty of water and also with frequent drainage problems: to such an extent that man has had to work hard on defences (dykes) and modifications (canals) in order to render the land cultivable. The Polesine is furrowed by a network of water courses, partly natural, partly artificial. Considerable damage was caused to the water courses in the neighbourhood of Occhiobello on the 14th.November,1951 following which a large part of the Polesine was submerged. To the west (the upper Polesine) where the countryside was transformed in ancient times, the aspect is brighter, the fields being bordered by rows of vines and trees interspersed with dykes and meandering drainage ditches. In that area, small holdings predominate and the agriculture is different, some producing wheat, others more profitable, commercial crops (hemp, beet). Central Polesine has conditions which are intermediate between the upper and delta zones; small holdings are not so common; the main crops are grain and sugar beet and vines are fairly frequent. In the lower Polesine, where the land has only recently been reclaimed, one seventh of the area is occupied by fishing valleys and two sevenths are uncultivated; larger properties predominate and agriculture is exercised on a bigger scale; one sees straight roads and large farms. The main crops are wheat, beet, maize and tobacco; there are no hedges and woodland is scarcer (mostly poplar and willow). The ‘valleys’ extend towards the east where there are a few fishermen’s huts; also frequent rice fields and cane-brakes. Amongst the varied crops of the Polesine, cereals are in first place, comprising about one third of the agricultural area. Large herds of cattle are reared and also poultry, owing to the favourable conditions provided by the production of rich grain crops.
A very productive territory then, which has concentrated on the development of a cuisine based on its own products and which distinguishes little between those of the town and those of the countryside.
Eels and fresh water fish are cooked on a grill pan and usually served with polenta whose importance, in this area too, is undisputed. Common and highly regarded are the river Po's sturgeon which are found at Rovigo and throughout the area of the 'valleys'; boiled, stewed, fried and roasted. The eggs make an exquisite caviar, much more delicate than the Russian.
Game is also very plentiful, especially in the aquatic parts of the 'valleys'. Wild duck, pin-tails, widgeon, coots, curlews, herons and others can all be found in the cuisine of Rovigo and in the special recipes of the celebrated provincial cookery; local white truffles often add distinction and richness.
Agricultural practice allows for an important pork production which is then used to fill various sausage skins, of which the most renowned is the 'bondiola affumicata' typical of the Lower Polesine and above all traditional in the Ariano, Taglio di Po and the Porto Tolle areas. The pork meat is minced coarsely, mixed with pepper and salt, stuffed into a pig's vesica and hung up to dry. It is a dish to eat freshly cooked, having boiled it for four hours. The 'bondiola' is served as a main dish with mashed potato or cooked vegetables.
There is also the 'bondiola di Adria' which could be confused with the ‘salama da sugo’ (the meat sauce sausage) from Ferrara but that the mixture is different; the salama sausage is made solely with pork while in the 'bondiola Adria’, there, is minced lean veal together with pork rump and lard. The mixture is flavoured with salt, pepper and red wine and inserted into an ox intestine or pig's vesica. Seasoning takes place over at least four months in well ventilated and fresh conditions. The 'bondiola' is cooked to the same specification as the sausage; a lengthy boiling (at least four hours) on a low heat, suspended in water without touching the sides of the pot. It is served cut into sections and presented on a bed of mashed potatoes or buttered vegetables.
The cuisine of Rovigo and its province is very delicious and genuine, somewhat simple owing to being confined to farm products with few specialities but open to various external provincial influences, in particular that of the area of Ferrara.
A typical Polesine dessert is the 'torta polesana’ or ‘miassa', the recipe of which was composed in 1829 by a pastry cook of that time, Angelo Busso; it was brought back in vogue in the eighties by the pastry cook Olindo Meneghin of Badia Polesine who elaborated it again and rigorously fixed the quantities of the ingredients. It belongs to the family of the very rich desserts, probably of Renaissance origin, considering the use of candied fruit, sultanas and dried figs which, finely ground, were blended with a mixture of yellow and white flour, butter, eggs and sugar.