A vast and picturesque region in Northeast Italy, Veneto covers an area of varied geological features, including the Dolomite Mountains to the north, the Adriatic coast to the east, the flat plains of the Po Valley and Lombardy to the west. Venice, its largest city and capital, was a state of great power and influence during the Middle Ages. Known not only for its rich history but as the “Floating City,” as it is made up of 118 small islands that are navigated by its many canals.
From mountains to flat plains to its long coastline along the Adriatic Sea, Veneto’s diverse landscape is reflected in its varied cuisine. Agriculturally, the region of Veneto is among the most productive in all of Italy. Grains, like rice and corn, are grown in the flatlands—an area that takes up a little over half of the region. Because of this, Veneto is characterized largely by its carbohydrates, but not pasta! The two main courses most common are risotto and polenta. Risotto is a creamy rice dish that is as hearty and filling as it is versatile—paired with everything from seafood (as in Risotto ai Fruitti di Mare) to wild mushrooms and Italian sausage. Specifically, rice is popular around the town of Verona, as it is home to the prized Italian IGP variety, Vialone Nano Veronese. Like risotto, polenta is a hearty Northern Italian classic. This humble corn meal porridge has since transcended its peasant roots, appearing in both its hot and cooled form in number of recipes, even fine-dining-style dishes. Polenta with Mushrooms and Taleggio and Pumpkin Sage Polenta with Roasted Vegetables are two of our favorites.
Aside from its renowned grains, Veneto is known for its fish and seafood dishes. In the north, the famous dried salted cod, baccalà, is popular. Known here in the U.S. as an Italian Christmas fish—as it is enjoyed during the Italian holiday, Feast of the Seven Fishes—baccalà is a tradition in itself. But salted cod isn’t the only fish enjoyed in Veneto. Fish and seafood dishes reign along the vast Adriatic coastline of the east. Because of this, cuisine of the area often includes mussels, clams, crabs and anchovies—even sea bass—in abundance. Fish soups and stews, such as Brodetto, are a staple, too. (Here’s our take on one!) Other regional favorites include the deep-fried seafood dish, Fritto Misto di Mare, and Risotto al Nero di Seppie, a risotto dish featuring black squid ink.
The mountainous region of Northern Veneto is on the food map for its cheeses, many of which with prized D.O.P. status. The most famous of them is Asiago, but others include Grana Padano, Piave, Taleggio and Provolone Valpadana. These cheeses are produced by small-scale dairy companies that rely on the milk from local farmers; likewise, all aspects of climate, feed, recipes and production methods are unique to the region.
Veneto is part of Tre Venezie, a group of three regions known for their highly productive wine industry. The largest producer of DOC (Donominazione di Origine Controllata) wines of the three, Veneto is significant in the Italian wine industry. Collectively, the three regions produce more red than white; however, Veneto is responsible for more white wines (with D.O.C. status than reds) and is home to such varieties as Valpolicella, Prosecco and Soave. The northern landscape with its cooler climate is conducive to white grape growing, as the Alps help to protect the region from the harsher European climate. That said, the warmer weather of the river valleys, of the Lake Garda region (of the west) and the Adriatic coastal plains (of the east) are the perfect growing conditions for reds, such as Valpolicella, Amarone and Bardolino D.O.C. Overall, Veneto produces more bottles of DOC wine than any other region in Italy.
But that’s not all! When it comes to Italian desserts, Veneto is home to the beloved Italian sweet bread, Pandoro. Made in and around Verona according to ancient recipes, Pandoro is a sweet yeast bread made in a distinct star-shaped tin and often presented as a tree shape, as it is most popular as a staple of Christmas and New Year’s celebrations.