On my recent trip to the south of France, the opportunity to visit Verona in Italy came up. Since the Italian border was a stone’s throw from where we were staying on the French Riviera, we (wrongly) assumed that North Italy would not be that far off. By North Italy, I refer to the area known as Veneto (Venice, Verona ), Lombardy (Milan) and Piedmont (Turin). Piedmont, with its great wines and truffles, is probably the nearest to France. Verona turned out to be six hours away from the French border—whichever way you travel, by train or road. I have been to Verona a couple of times and have fallen in love with this town. It is the quintessential memorable North Italian experience—history in every corner, frescoes (real ones) on cafe walls, more old churches than you can count, an impressive arena which has opera in summer, great shoe shops, antique dealers, cobbled streets, beautifully dressed people and great food. North Italians like their food, are elegant people with a wealthy financial and cultural heritage. The cuisine tends to be meat-centric, with game and offal as specialities; polenta, gnocchi and risotto dominate the cereals, some amount of lake fish, biscuits and cookies, good cheeses and white peaches (an essential ingredient for that famous Venetian discovery, the Bellini cocktail, from Harry’s Bar in Venice where Prosecco, the local bubbly, is mixed with white peach juice to create a summer
On this trip, I tried a condiment called mostarda. I had been given a bottle years ago by a chef friend in Cremona (in Lombardy) and I remember finding it so strange that it lived in my fridge for several years (unspoilt) before I eventually threw it out. I really did not know what it was nor how to use it. Mostarda is fruits—figs, cherries, pears, apricots and clementines—which are candied in heavy fruit syrup and flavoured with the essence of mustard. The result is a very piquant flavour of sweet with more than a hint of spice, which is basically an accompaniment to boiled meat, such as bollito misto (a speciality of the Veneto area), salamis and other cold cuts and cheeses.
In Verona, we tasted the mostardaof a 90-year-old company called Boschetti. These mostarda were made from pureed fruit—figs and clementines (they are the only company to also make mostardawith red onions, green tomatoes and radicchio, or red lettuce) and are called salsa to distinguish them from the mostarda from Cremona, which are made with whole fruit and vegetables. I suppose the nearest equivalent for us would be chutney.
We tasted them with a platter of local cheeses and local hams and salamis at an osteria (a casual restaurant specializing in wines by the glass, bruschetta and home-style dishes) called Buglioni on the Via Anastasia in Verona. This osteria, thanks to the fashionable location in the heart of Verona, serves food of a rare simplicity, but of top quality. The wines are from its own vineyards and the salamis are all freshly sliced, as you order, by a machine which maintains a low temperature so that it does not melt the fat of the cold meats. Italians take food very seriously, and this is one product I would urge you to pick up on your travels.
4 celery stalks, cut into chunks
3 carrots, cut into chunks
½ tsp peppercorns
1 big onion, peeled and spiked with 4 to 5 cloves
1 kg boneless beef, cut into 2 chunks
1 large chicken, cut into 4
1 kg boneless veal, cut into 2 chunks
2 Italian sausages (cotechino), or salami, weighing about 500g altogether
Boschetti Clementine or fig mostarda to serve
Put the vegetables and peppercorns in a large pot of slightly salted water and bring to the boil. Add the beef and cook gently for 30 minutes. Then add the chicken and veal and simmer for two hours, skimming regularly to remove any scum from the surface. Make sure that the meat is always covered by water. Add the sausage or salami, bring to a boil. When all meats are tender, remove them from the water. Slice and arrange on a large serving plate. Serve hot, accompanied by the mostarda, vegetables and a little stock.
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