Mantova's Food & wine

The food and wines of Mantova has been regarded as the “cuisine of princes and people”. Many of its dishes date back to the days of the Gonzaga family: the talents of the cooks at the Gonzaga court ensured that a good number of dishes and recipes have lived on. The above comment gives a good clue as to the reason for the popularity of Mantova cuisine. It uses simple ingredients that all can enjoy but puts a rich, detailed spin on the recipe to create something full of thought, care and attention.

The food of Mantova is the “cuisine of princes and people”

- Traveler

Let’s start with the wine of Mantua Lambrusco Mantovano — Mantua’s Lambrusco Mantovano is a young sparkling ruby-red wine, frothy when first poured, which pairs beautifully with lunch courses like those we had at Locanda delle Grazie. The wine is a blend of four grapes (viadanese, marani, salamino and maestri) and was awarded DOC designation of origin accreditation in 1987. Mostarda Mantovana (Mantuan Mustard) — Originally a staple for the rich, these are spicy preserves are made with fruit (particularly typical ripe Mantuan pears or apples), sugar, and mustard oil. It is a popular specialty that goes with a wide range of dishes. We especially liked it with Mantua’s Grana Padano cheese (similar to Parmigiano Reggiano, also of the Lombardy region). Daniela told us that most families have their own recipes for Mostarda Mantovana, a process that is delicate and time-intensive. The mustard oil that is used is very powerful and in Italy it must be purchased at a pharmacy. Mother-in-Law’s Tongues— These typical Mantuan bread products with the provocative name are flat breadsticks (bottom right in the bread basket above). They are crisp and eaten with meals instead of bread. “Mother-in-Law’s Tongues” is a name I’ve only heard before associated with a plant with long tongue-like leaves. Tortelli di Zucca — This pasta dish, pumpkin tortelli, was a highlight for me. In ancient times, it was considered to be the “pork of the poor”. This tasty dish became more popular over time and even became a symbol of the land of the Gonzagas, the ruling family of Mantua from 1328 to 1708. Fernando’s Pike Specialty — Mr. TWS eagerly devoured one of Fernando’s special recipes for pike in a green sauce of capers and parsley accompanied with grilled polenta. Torta Sbrisolona — Perfect for snacking or as dessert, Torta Sbrisolona is a hard, but crumbly cake made of flour, sugar, butter, and almonds. Going back to its ancient origins, it’s often called a “traveling cake” because of its hardness and ability to keep for a long time. More tastes of Mantua A few other tasty specialties you’ll find at restaurants and shops when you visit Mantua are these traditional foods. Risotto alla Pilota — Mantua is rice country. It is believed that Federico I Gonzaga first introduced it to the area. I’d only known of rice grown in rice paddies before, but here different types of rice can be grown in dry or wet fields and there are many ways it is prepared. Risotto alla Pilota is prepared with pork, garlic, pepper, and onion sauteed in butter and served in a sort of pyramid shape. I loved this dish! Stracotto (Donkey Stew) – A real comfort food usually eaten in fall and winter, Stracotto is prepared with cut donkey meat with primarily onion, garlic, salt, black pepper, spices, carrots, celery, tomato sauce, and a strong, dry red wine served with polenta. It comes from the times when farmers killed and ate their animals when they were too old to work. I didn’t have a chance to try this, but will do so next time. Salame Mantovano (Pork salami) — Pig breeding in the area goes back to the Etruscans of the 5th century. Pork was an important dish of the Renaissance regularly enjoyed by the Gonzaga family and is still a major Mantuan staple. Pork salami is very popular in Mantua, sliced and commonly eaten with polenta or bread. Torta di Tagliatelle — Made with sweet egg noodles atop an almond cake, Torta di Tagliatelle (shown below left) is a rather wild-looking dessert. Torta Mantovana — Shown in the photo above on the right is yet another popular dessert, Torta Mantovana consisting of typical Mantuan ingredients: flour, sugar, butter, almonds, pine seeds, eggs, and lemon peel. Torta delle Rose (Rose Cake) — It’s said that this sumptuous cake resembling a bouquet of roses was created for the wedding in 1490 of Isabella d’Este to Francesco II Gonzaga. The rosebuds symbolize the beauty of Isabella, who was only sixteen at the time of her marriage.

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