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Sunday, September 13, 2020

Eat, Sip, Relax: Lake Como

                   This dream villa is one of the few on the entire lake that is directly on the water

An Italian friend sent me an email two years ago with photos attached exclaiming, “You have to rent this villa!”  She had seen it in an Italian magazine and knew I loved Lake Como.   I contacted the villa's owner immediately and the rest is least until Americans were banned from recently traveling to Italy.   I was to have spent two weeks here with two different groups of fellow foodies and wine lovers for some Italian-style dolce far niente (“the sweet do nothing life,” aka relaxation).   COVID-19 prevented us from traveling, but to honor what might have been, I'm cooking all the planned dinners at our home in San Diego.

Lake Como is replete with food specialties (and all can be easily procured in California).  Located in Italy’s Lombardy, there’s a cornucopia of local items that would thrill any gourmand.   Lombardy, Italy’s financial and industrial powerhouse, is one of the richest provinces in all of Europe.   It’s also a huge agricultural giant.  Finding high quality local ingredients for a magnifico dinner is as easy as saying “vino.”

                             Risotto Milanese uses the area's top-rated Carnaroli rice & saffron

Rice dominates over pasta in Lombardy and risotto is one of the area’s classical specialties.   The Po River, which traverses Lombardy, is the growing district for the most prized rice in all of Italy, Carnaroli  Tonight  I'm making a risotto Milanese (rice made in the style of Milan), an ethereal silky version made with saffron.

                                     Fresh funghi porcini on bite-size polenta with Tallegio

While risotto is very popular in the Como area, the nearby rugged foothills of the Alps lean often toward polenta.   The season’s first wild mushrooms from the nearby Alps were to have been available at the local outdoor markets.  No problem as I was able to track down some funghi porcini here in San Diego.  Last night in my appetizer I used polenta,  funghi porcini and Tallegio cheese.

              Tallegio & radicchio made for a great lunch  using leftovers in a sandwich

This cheese is one of Lombardia’s culinary super-stars.  Made from cow’s milk, it is a buttery and luscious decadence.   Although its smell is strong, the cheese’s taste is comparatively mild.   Tallegio melts beautifully, so it’s perfect for an ooey-gooey  warm sandwich.    

                    One of Lombardy's perfect bite desserts---figs stuffed with Gorgonzola

One of Lombardy’s greatest cheeses, blue-veined Gorgonzola, has already appeared on my table once this week stuffed in figs which have then been drizzled with Italian honey as a dessert.  

                                             Bresaola makes a perfect antipasto
A specialty of the foothills of the Lombardian Alps, this air-dried beef is immensely popular in the area of Lake Como.   Chocked full of flavor, the beef is first marinated in wine and spices prior to aging.  Sliced paper-thin like prosciutto, I used bresaola earlier this week in a simple but super yummy appetizer:  brescola, topped with olive oil & lemon juice, arugula, shaved Parmiggiano-Reggiano, and sea salt.  Delizioso.

                               Spicy mustard oil flavors this chutney-like condiment

This condiment is a classical Lombardian accompaniment to simple meat dishes… or even cheese.  Made from a cooked mixture of different fruit and mustard oil, it adds a zesty profile (think spicy salsa on tacos).  For anyone turning up their nose, don’t!   This stuff rocks.  I’ve purchased a small (and very pricey) jar on the Internet and plan to use it with a pork roast later in the week.

                                         Ferghettina is Franciacorta's best bubbly

I may have saved the best for last.  Franciacorta is a wine district located not far from Lake Como.  It produces Italy’s Lamborghini of sparkling wine.  Made in the same labor-intensive method used for Champagne, Franciacorta is expensive but is worth every Euro.   I’ve bought my favorite, Ferghettina Rosé, for tonight’s bubbles.    

Viva Lombardia  !    Viva Lago di Como !

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