The ancient Italian custom of Carnevale has begun and the traditional Lenten fast that begins on Ash Wednesday is a few days away. The word “carne vale” in Latin means “meat farewell” and 40 days of meatless Fridays can be a challenge. So what’s a carnivore to do? Channel your inner Italian for dishes inspired by the culinary and cultural history of Northern Italy influenced by the food traditions of the SudTirol, a mere yodel away from Switzerland.
The southern half of the region (Trentino) is ethnically Italian, the northern half (Alto Adige, or SüdTirol) is ethnically Germanic and the entire region was once part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire until Italy annexed it at the end of World War I. Although you are in Italy, the geographic boundaries and historical alliances of the region make the South Tyrol a melting pot with a distinctive mixture of flavors and food customs. One unique specialty of Tirol cuisine are canederli, large round dumplings (similar to gnocchi) that are found on just about every table in the Trentino-Alto Adige. With a cuisine influenced by neighboring Germany, Switzerland and Austria, where they are known as Knödel, these little bread balls are often flavored with speck (a regional aromatic cured meat, similar to prosciutto, flavored with juniper, laurel and rosemary). You can make them a meatless meal by using spinach, mushrooms, sauerkraut, cheese, herbs or beets (canederli di barbabietola served with a tangy horseradish sauce like they do in the Dolomites near Bolzano).
Another region of Italy a mere yodel away from Switzerland is the Aosta Valley in northwest Italy that borders Switzerland and France. For a memorable meatless Friday melt into a Valdostana fondue . A recipe from the Italian Alps that has its origins in the traditional Swiss fondue, but it differs in the presence of egg yolks, instead of wine or liquor. Should you need to make this alpine fondue even less penitential add a glass of Italian Sauvignon Blanc.
- 1 lb Fontina cheese or Italian Truffle Cheese from Trader Joe’s
- 1 ½ cups whole milk
- 4 egg yolks
- 8 slices cubed toasted bread
Slice the cheese and place it in a container to rest overnight, covered with some milk.
When preparing fondue, melt the cheese soaked in milk in double boiler (not allowing the water to boil) with beaten egg yolks. Stir continuously with a wooden spoon until you have obtained a thick cream. Serve the fondue in terracotta bowls with slices of toasted bread. Alternatively, you can use the typical fondue pot with its heater at the table, and allow each diner to dip pieces of toasted bread into the pot using long stem forks. 30 minutes preparation + 20 minutes cooking.