The Cuisine of Como

The cuisine of the area surrounding Lake Como can be divided into three geographic areas – the lake, the mountains with their valleys and the hills of Brianza (the area between Milan and Como). Those living by the lake have many dishes using freshwater fish. Lavarello is one fine example of a delicious fish from the lake, usually served fried and with a squeeze of lemon.

In many small, rural valleys and up in the mountains, polenta is the most famous dish in the area. Polenta is often served with wild game. It can also be cooked with a combination of buckwheat flour, butter and cheese (taragna polenta) or sautéed in butter with garlic and sage (polenta cunscia).

South of Como, the food becomes more Milanese. Popular to this region are the polenta e osei (polenta served with poultry), cassoela (a stew with pork ribs and cabbage), cotechino sausage with beans and many different kinds of cooked meats, salamis and cheeses.

Risotto with Perch Fillets
This risotto with perch fillets is a specialty of the northern Lombardy region of Italy. It uses the freshwater fish – a perch in the starring role. If you like risotto, this dish is certain to be a treat!

Ingredients Preparation
  • 3½ tbsp butter
  • 2 cups risotto
  • 1 small onion, finely chopped
  • ½ cup dry white wine
  • salt and black pepper for seasoning
  • ½ cup grated parmigiana cheese
  • 4 cups vegetable broth
  • 4 perch fillets (per person)
  • flour or bread crumbs for coating
  • butter or oil for frying
In a heavy saucepan, heat up the butter until it melts. Toss in the chopped onion and cook until it is tender. When the onion has become transparent, add the rice to the pot and mix it well. Let it cook for a few minutes. Before the rice gets limp, add the wine to the pot. Mix the rice until the liquid has evaporated, and then add the broth, a small amount at a time, stirring it constantly to allow even absorption of the liquid. When the rice has become tender, add the salt, pepper and parmigiana and allow the cheese to melt.

Meanwhile, to cook the fish – batter the fillets in the flour or bread crumbs and then cook in a hot skillet of butter, or oil turning over once until each side is golden brown.

Spoon the rice onto each dish, and top with a few fish fillets.

Valtellina Pizzoccheri
Pizzoccheri is one of Lake Como’s traditional pasta dishes. It consists of flat short tagliatelle noodles, made from buckwheat flour, common in the area of Valtellina in Northern Italy (on the east shore of Lake Como).

Ingredients Preparation
  • 1 pound of buckwheat tagliatelle pasta
  • 4 ounces savoy cabbage
  • 5 ounces potatoes (2 to 3 small potatoes)
  • ½ cup unsalted butter
  • 8-10 sage leaves
  • 5 ounces Fontina cheese, thinly sliced or shaved
  • 2 ounces Grana Padano cheese, grated
  • 1 clove of garlic
  • Freshly ground pepper
Peel the potatoes, cutting into large chunks. Discard the outer leaves of the cabbage and chop roughly.

Boil a salted water in a large saucepan and cook the potatoes for 20 minutes. Add the cabbage and pasta and cook for an additional 10 minutes.

Melt the butter in a separate pan and sauté the garlic and sage.

Drain the potatoes, cabbage and pasta and layer in a dish with the melted butter, slices of cheese and black pepper.

Serve with Grana Padano cheese.

Cotechino and Braised Beans
Away from the lake, the cuisine of Como often takes on the more rustic influence of the valleys and hill of Lombardy. This traditional dish contains enormous flavor using an abundance of fresh herbs.

Ingredients Preparation
  • 1 pound dried cranberry beans
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 4 cups chicken broth
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • 1 sprig fresh rosemary
  • 1 sprig fresh thyme
  • 1 pound Cotechino sausage
  • 1 bunch Swiss chard, trimmed and chopped
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • salt and ground black pepper to taste
Place cranberry beans into a large container and cover with several inches of cool water; let stand 8 hours to overnight.

Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in a Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Stir in onion. Cook, stirring, until onions are softened and translucent, 6 to 8 minutes. Stir in cranberry beans, chicken broth, water, bay leaf, red pepper flakes, rosemary, and thyme.

Pierce Cotechino all over with the tip of a knife, then place in broth and beans mixture. Bring to a simmer, skimming any foam that accumulates. Reduce heat to low; cook until beans are tender, 1 hour. Transfer Cotechino to a cutting board; discard string and casing, then slice into 1/4-inch rounds.

Stir Swiss chard into bean and broth mixture. Simmer until chard is wilted, 3 to 4 minutes. Season with salt and black pepper to taste.

Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in a skillet over medium-high heat. Working in batches, cook the Cotechino rounds until crisped and browned, about 1 minute per side. Ladle beans into bowls and top with Cotechino rounds.

Frittelle di Mela
Extremely popular in northern Italy, this treat is easy to create and often makes an appearance at summer and holiday festivals throughout the northern regions.

Ingredients Preparation
  • 1 tbsp active dry yeast
  • ¾ cups warm water
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 tbsp granulated sugar
  • pinch of salt
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 2 cups vegetable or olive oil
  • 3 large apples
  • 1 tsp of grappa
  • powdered sugar for dusting
Begin by preparing the batter. In a bowl, dissolve the dry yeast into the warm water. Add the flour, sugar, salt, and egg yolk and grappa. Mix together until it is smooth. Let this batter rest for approximately 15 minutes. In the meantime, prepare the apples by peeling, coring and slicing them into thin rings.

When it’s time, heat a pan with oil until a drop of batter sizzles on contact. Then take each ring and dip it quickly in the batter, coating each side. Drop them into the hot oil and let each side cook until golden. Remove them with a slotted spoon, and place them on rest on a paper towel to drain them of any excess oil. While they are still warm, toss them in a bowl gently with powdered sugar. Serve the apple fritters immediately and enjoy.

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