The traditional cuisine of Belluno is similar to that of the rest of the Veneto region, with the exception of the coast. Seafood does not really feature in the cuisine. However, the province is well-known for its cheeses, especially Piave and Montasio Vecchio, so each of the recipes this week for Lent features these cheeses. Large scale dairy cattle breeding in Belluno began centuries ago and the production of Piave cheese in the Dolomites is an important part of their economy. Piave is a cow’s milk cheese, named after the Piave River and the only “official” Piave is produced in the province of Belluno. Piave is offered at five different ages: Piave Fresco (20 to 60 days); Mezzano (61 to 180 days); Vecchio (more than six months); Vecchio Selezione Oro (more than 12 months) and Vecchio Riserva (more than 18 months) aging. Once fully aged, it becomes hard enough for grating and it develops an intense, full-bodied flavor.
Piave Broiled Tomatoes
This simple delicious dish can be an appetizer or pair it with the Minestrone and Orzo dishes featured. It uses Piave cheese, but make sure to get a wedge that is aged at least 12 months.
3 medium tomatoes, sliced into 1/4” slices
3/4 cup breadcrumbs
1 clove garlic, minced
1 tbsp fresh sage leaves, finely chopped
2/3 cup Piave cheese, finely grated
1/4 cup olive oil
1 tsp fresh basil, finely chopped
1 tsp fresh Italian parsley, finely chopped
Place tomato slices on paper towels to drain. In a medium bowl combine the breadcrumbs, garlic, sage and Piave cheese; stir to combine. Preheat the oven to broil. Arrange tomato slices on a baking sheet covered with parchment paper. Equally sprinkle breadcrumb mixture onto each tomato; drizzle with olive oil and place under broiler and cook for approximately 3 minutes or until breadcrumbs are golden brown. Remove from the oven; top with fresh herbs and serve.
Minestrone with Gnocchi
Minestrone is a great soup during the Lenten season. Gnocchi is one of the favored pastas in Belluno and rather than Parmigiano, grated Montasio Vecchio cheese is used. The cheese is pleasantly sharp and works beautifully in rustic soups and on pasta.
3 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling
2 stalks celery, chopped
2 carrots, chopped
1 onion, chopped
coarse sea salt and freshly ground pepper
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 tsp red pepper flakes
1 15-oz can diced tomatoes
1 small sprig rosemary
½ cup Montasio Vecchio cheese, grated
1 small head escarole, chopped
1 lb gnocchi
Heat the olive oil in a large pot over medium-high flame. Add the celery, carrots, onion, ½ teaspoon salt, plus a few grinds of pepper. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables soften, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and red pepper flakes and cook for another minute.
Add 6 cups water, the tomatoes, rosemary and ½ teaspoon salt to the pot. Bring to a simmer, then reduce the heat to medium and cook until the vegetables are very tender, about 15 minutes. Stir in the escarole and cook until wilted, about 3 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. Stir in the gnocchi and cook, gently stirring occasionally, until tender, about 3 minutes. Discard the rosemary sprig. Ladle the soup into bowls; top with the grated Montasio Vecchio and drizzle with olive oil.
Piave Orzo with Peas and Asparagus
A simple, but satisfying dish, Piave Mezzano is the ideal cheese to use in this recipe.
½ cup heavy cream
1 cup vegetable broth
1 tsp lemon juice
2 tsp lemon zest, grated
1 ½ cups Piave Mezzano cheese, shredded
1 lb fresh asparagus, trimmed into 2” lengths
1 – 15 oz can of peas
2 cups orzo
1/4 cup Italian parsley, chopped
In a medium saucepan over a medium flame, bring the cream and vegetable broth to a slow boil. Add the lemon juice, lemon zest and Piave cheese. Reduce the flame to medium-low and continue to cook, stirring often, until the cheese has melted.
In a large pot of salted, boiling water, add the orzo and cook for approximately 5 minutes. Add the asparagus, peas and continue cooking until the pasta is al dente and the vegetables are tender – approximately 4 additional minutes.
Drain the pasta and vegetables and return to pasta pot. Stir in the cheese sauce and add parsley. Garnish with additional Piave cheese and serve.