Lombardy is the fourth largest region and located along the northern border of Italy. The region’s capital of Milan is the second largest city and the largest metropolitan area in Italy. With its roots tied up in many different cultures, some of Italy’s most lavish and indulgent dishes began in Lombardy.
Like many many regions in Northern Italy, where the climate is colder and the farmable seasons are shorter, Lombardy is known for its heartier more decadent meals. While generous amounts of cream, butter and lard have always been typical of Lombardia cuisine, olive oil has been a more recent (and healthier) substitute. Risotto has to be the most well-known dish of the region. Risotto alla Milanese is an example of pure indulgence: a classic creamy rice dish loaded with butter and Parmigiano-Reggiano and made golden by the addition of saffron—the most expensive of all the world’s spices. Because it is so versatile, many Lombardia dishes are risottos made with ingredients like asparagus, broccoli raab, winter squash, sausage, veal, fish… you name it. Whether dressed up or simple and casua, like Risotto Parmigiano, the exquisite Risotto reigns in Lombardy.
Another hearty Northern Italian staple common to the region is polenta. Eaten more than rice or pasta, this versatile cornmeal dish is made to fit the season and circumstance. Polenta is traditionally served in its porridge form with loads of butter and cheese, but can be made up with pork, beef, poultry and vegetables. When left to cool, polenta hardens into a tasty ready-to-slice form that can be used to make more elaborate (layered) terrines. Polenta Pasticciata is a popular layered polenta made with mushroom sauce, tomatoes and pork. You have to try it!
Because the plains regions of Lombardy are home to many farms, meat and poultry are especially important to Lombardia cuisine—especially poultry. Two of the region’s specialties are preserved goose salumi, or Salame d’Oca di Mortasa D.O.P., and the delicacy, Foie Gras (fatty goose liver). Goose is even used to make sausages. At Christmas time, an elaborately stuffed turkey, known as Tacchina Ripiena, is served. These holiday fowl are stuffed with an extravagant combination of fruit like apples and pears, as well as chestnuts, walnuts, herbs, brandy and even pork and veal! Along with poultry, the flat plains of Lombardy are perfect for raising cattle, and so, beef always has been crucial to Lombardia cuisine. From the prized Zuppa alla Pavese, or bone broth soup served with pan-fried bread and poached eggs, to the famed Ossobucco Veal Milanese, beef is certainly always in rotation on the menu. Don’t forget the famed air-cured salted beef, Bresaola della Valtellina D.O.P., made in a valley in the Alps. Served sliced paper-thin and at room temperature, Bresaola is an incredible antipasto by itself, but can be paired up with Taleggio cheese—another regional specialty!
Along with the many dry cured pork sausages that Lombardy is famous for (such as Cacciatorini D.O.P), pork makes an appearance in tasty ways. Busecca, another popular regional soup, is made with pork, minced salami, vegetables, fresh herbs and grana cheese. A popular pork stew named Cascoeula, is made up of everything from pork sausage to ribs and leg meat—simmered with wine and fresh herbs. This is served over polenta, as per tradition.
Unlike many other places in Italy, seafood is not a large part of Lombardia cuisine. Without a coast, the region is known more for snails, crayfish and snails—even frogs!
Ready for something sweet? Lombardia cuisine is known for its prized sweet yeast bread from the city of Milan, Pannetone. Traditionally served at Christmastime, this raised egg bread is studded with raisins and candied citrus. Another traditional holiday bread comes from Lombardy, the prized Easter treat, Colomba—a sweet bread topped with almonds and shaped as a dove. Aside from holiday treats, other Lombardia desserts include Offelle di Parona (a simple crescent-shaped butter cookie), Miascia (a bread pudding accented with fresh rosemary and fruit), as well as Bussolano, a lemony potato cake.a