The Veneto and Friuli–Venezia Giulia Feature

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Eating and Drinking Well in the Veneto and Friuli–Venezia Giulia

With the decisive seasonal changes of the Venetian Arc, it's little wonder that many restaurants shun printed menus. Elements from field and forest define much of the local cuisine, including white asparagus, herbs, chestnuts, radicchio, and wild mushrooms.

Restaurants here tend to cling to tradition, not only in the food they serve but in how they serve it. This means that from 3 in the afternoon until about 7:30 in the evening most places other than bars are closed tight, and on Sunday afternoon restaurants are packed with Italian families and friends indulging in a weekly ritual of lunching out. Meals are still sacred for most Italians in this region, so don't be surprised if you get disapproving looks when you gobble down a sandwich or a slice of pizza while seated on the church steps or a park bench. In many places it’s actually illegal to do so. Likewise, your waiter will likely be very upset if you order just one course at a meal. If you want to dine lightly yet fit in with the locals, eat while standing at a bar.

The Best in Beans

Pasta e fagioli, a thick bean soup with pasta, served slightly warm or at room temperature, is made all over Italy. Folks in Veneto, though, take a special pride in their version. It features particularly fine beans that are grown around the village of Lamon, near Belluno.

Even when they’re bought in the Veneto, the beans from Lamon cost more than double the next most expensive variety, but their rich and delicate taste is considered to be well worth the added expense. You never knew that bean soup could taste so good.

Pasta, Risotto, Polenta

For primi (first courses), the Veneto dines on bigoli (thick whole-wheat pasta) generally served with an anchovy-onion sauce delicately flavored with cinnamon, and risotto flavored either with local fish, sausage, or vegetables. Polenta (corn meal gruel) is everywhere, whether it's a stiff porridge topped with Gorgonzola or stew, or a patty grilled alongside meat or fish.

Fish

The catch of the day is always a good bet, whether sweet and succulent Adriatic shellfish, sea bream, bass, or John Dory, or freshwater fish from Lake Garda near Verona. A staple in the Veneto is baccalà, dried salt cod, soaked in water or milk, and then prepared in a different way in each city. In Vicenza, baccalàalla vicentina, is cooked with onions, milk, and cheese, and is generally served with polenta.

Meat

Because grazing land is scarce in the Veneto, beef is a rarity, but pork and veal are standards, while goose, duck, and guinea fowl are common poultry options. Lamb is available mostly in spring, when it's young and delicate. In Friuli–Venezia Giulia, menus show the influences of Austria-Hungary: you may find deer and hare on the menu, as well as Eastern European–style goulash. Throughout the Veneto an unusual treat is nervetti—cubes of gelatin from a cow's knee prepared with onions, parsley, olive oil, and lemon.

Radicchio di Treviso

In fall and winter be sure to try the radicchio di Treviso, a red endive grown near that town but popular all over the region. Cultivation is very labor intensive, so it can be a bit expensive. It's best in a stew with chicken or veal, in a risotto, or just grilled or baked with a drizzle of olive oil and perhaps a little taleggio cheese from neighboring Lombardy.

Wine

Wine is excellent here: the Veneto produces more D.O.C. (Denominazione di Origine Controllata) wines than any other region in Italy. Amarone, the region's crowning achievement, is a robust and powerful red with an alcohol content as high as 16%. Valpolicella and Bardolino are other notable appellations.

The best of the whites are Soave, sparkling Prosecco, and pinot bianco (pinot blanc). In Friuli–Venezia Giulia the local wines par excellence are tocai friulano, a dry, lively white made from the sauvignon vert grape, which has attained international stature, and piccolit, perhaps Italy's most highly prized dessert wine.

Updated: 2014-04-10

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