Sitting together around a granite table and sipping local red wine out of a boccalino is still something we highly enjoy here in the area. Even better if it’s during a hot summer night in a cool grotto or in the wineyard. And if somebody gets out some cheese from the alp and a salametto, then you can be sure that nobody will leave the table for hours.
But what other typical things should you try when spending time in the area? Well, there are a lot, but here is a small selection of the main specialties that you will find pretty much everywhere.
1.Minestrone is what you should have on a cold winter night, or even as a small appetizer. Minestrone actually means big soup, and is exactly that, a soup that the nonna used to cook in a big pot and where she added a little bit of everything that was left in the household, and many years ago that was mostly scraps of vegetables, potatoes and beans. And if the family was lucky, maybe even a little bit of bacon rind.
2. Polenta has to be cooked in a big pot over an open fire, only like that it gets that very special aroma. It also takes time, a lot! Polenta is, and was, a cheap meal so it was eaten regularly in every household. Sometimes we eat it only with a piece of cheese (today it’s often gorgonzola), some mushrooms or a glass of milk that children like to pour over the polenta in their plate (polenta e latte). But more often we have it with meat: brasato, coniglio or spezzatino. Or even game, like the one in the first picture. And if there is some leftover polenta, we just put it in the oven with some cheese and tomato sauce and call it polenta pasticciata.
3. Risotto is another typical dish from Ticino, and another one that you can have in many different versions. Our favourites are with porcini mushrooms (ok, not for me, I don’t like mushrooms) or with luganiga, a local sausage. But you can have many other varieties too, for example with vegetables (asparagus or pumpkin are quite popular), fruit (blueberries), alcohol (champagne or red wine), fish (seafood) and so on. I could eat risotto everyday without getting bored.
4. Luganiga or luganighetta are our two most famous sausages, they have a similar name but they are quite different, especially in their shape but also in the way they are cooked. Both are pork sausages, but the first one is short and thick and often boiled, while the second one is very long and we often put it in a spiral shape and cook it on the grill. We like to eat both of them with risotto, of course…
5. Costine are our second favourite thing to put on the grill, and it comes in second place only because it’s more time consuming to cook. First you have to marinate the pork ribs, of course every cook has its own marinade recipe, and then you put them on the grill. But take care, get the temperature right or your costine will be crunchier than expected. Oh, and don’t even dare taking out your fork and knife for eating them, costine must be eaten by hand as that’s half the fun. Many local restaurants have costine on their menu during the summer, so even if you don’t know how to grill you will get to eat a whole bunch of them.
6. When we’re not really hungry or just want to nibble a little something along with a glass of wine, we order a Piatto Ticinese, and what we get is usually a plate or wooden board loaded with local cured meats and cheeses. Sometimes we also simply order a salametto, a small salami made of pork, venison, boar, horse or goat meat, or a piece of local cheese.
7. Torta di pane and amaretti are just two things we can offer our guests to satisfy their sweet tooth. Torta di pane, or bread cake, is exactly that, a cake made of old bread. You just soak your bread in milk and let it rest overnight, then add cocoa powder, eggs, sugar, raisins and pine nuts. Bake. That’s it! Of course everyone has it’s own recipe and favourite ingredients to add, I like to add some more nuts, chocolate pieces and often leave out the raisins. Others add candied peel (yuck!). Amaretti are fab to have with a cappuccino in the morning. They are made of almonds, confectionery sugar and egg whites. They are amazing, a bit crunchy on the outside and fluffy inside.
8. If you’re here in autumn or winter you will be able to eat chestnuts in all its forms. Of course there are still a few roasted chestnuts vendors around town, but also try the vermicelles (pureed chestnuts often eaten with meringue and vanilla ice cream), chestnut jam, chestnut bread, marron glacé, chestnut panettone and so on. I kind of messed up the vermicelles on my picture, it looks better when you have it in a restaurant ;)
9. Gazosa is our children’s drink of choice when going local. It’s a fizzy drink that nowadays comes in many different flavours and colours, but the original one is colourless and tastes of lemon. It’s a very sweet and really fizzy drink, and just perfect to have on a hot summer day. Adults sometimes mix it with wine or beer. And look at those bottles… don’t you just want to take them home?
10. But what do you have after all this food to round off your meal? Something strong maybe? Yes, a grappa or a nocino is the perfect choice if you are in Ticino. .Both are strong liquors that we drink in tiny teeny little shot glasses. The first one is made with grapes and the second one with walnuts. We also like to add a little grappa to our espresso after lunch.
Ok, that’s it! Feeling hungry yet? I certainly do! Off to the kitchen… bye!