Our cycling tours in the Veneto bring us along the fertile valleys of rivers such as the Po, Brenta and Adige. These valleys offer us some wonderful terrain – scenic, yet flat – and a wide variety of agricultural products to play with during our cooking classes. Risottos take center stage during many of our classes, as there are over 20 varieties of rice grown in Italy, most of them in the Veneto, Piedmont, and Lombardia regions of the north.
My search for subject for my blog post this week began with a delivery of fresh duck eggs from a friend. I’ve been preparing them all week in frittatas, and I’ve already covered duck egg pasta in a previous post. I am rediscovering the cuisine of Tuscany, as we now have a Bike the Wine Roads of Tuscany tour on our schedule. I researched and cooked many Tuscan recipes as I developed a food and wine guide of the region for a tour I participated in a few years ago, and it is great to get back to enjoying their fresh and simple cuisine. So, I wanted a Tuscan recipe that would make great use of my precious duck eggs – the answer, Acquacotta.
No matter where we travel in Italy, we find various types of meat ragu on the menu. A ragu is a sauce of sauteed vegetables and chopped meat cooked in a liquid. The liquid can be lots of things, – wine, beef or chicken broth, milk or cream, or a combination of several, but one thing it is not – a tomato sauce. A ragu can be flavored with tomato, but it is not a ‘marinara’ sauce with meat.
We find frittatas all over Italy during our cycling tours and ski holidays, but each region has its own favorite traditional variation. This dish hails from Umbria, where it would be served for Easter lunch. Easter dishes to me always celebrate the beginning of spring, when after a long winter of root vegetables and soups, we welcome fresh baby greens, asparagus, artichokes and herbs. In the Veneto, discovering fresh asparagus and baby artichokes is one of the highlights of a market visit during our spring cycling tours. To quote from La Cucina – The Regional Cooking of Italy, “The sight, smell and taste of this dish will make it abundantly clear that spring has finally arrived.”
Wherever we travel in Italy on our bike tours, be it Tuscany, Umbria, the Veneto, Trentino-Alto Adige, or Friuli Venezia Giulia, we find farro dishes on the menu. Farro is one of my favorite whole grains, we which find in hearty wonderful soups in Tuscany and Umbria, or in creamy risottos in the Northeastern regions. However, I find much confusion exists about what exactly IS farro.