Garda Trentino, Italy – the other side of the Lake:
The largest lake in Italy, you could be forgiven for believing you are looking out to sea from any lakeside vantage point in Riva del Garda. The bay at the northern end of the lake may have rugged mountains on three sides, but looking out across the water the lake appears to continue forever. Over 50 kilometres long (to provide some scale, France and England are separated by just 32 kilometres of the Channel), the regional differences between the Northern and Southern ends of the lake are marked. Perhaps most significantly, Trentino, the northern part of the lake was not part of the Unification of Italy. It remained under Austrian rule until after the first world war when it was formally unified with the rest of Italy after the London Deal brokered in 1915 during the war, when Italy sided with the countries of the Triple Entente in return for the promise of various Italian regions in the case of victory against Germany and its allies. Visitors to Riva del Garda even today might easily be convinced they were in Austria. Though there’s more than a hint of Venetian influence too.
As is often the case, the cultural heritage of the area is evident throughout the region in the wonderful mountain and lake food. You’ll find dishes like spätzle and apple strudel on menus, alongside more local specialities. Yes, there should be a wealth of dishes made from lake fish, but you’ll also find some hearty options – a local type of gnocchi made with bread and used for both sweet and savoury dishes, carne salada, a cured beef cooked and served with beans or offered raw in carpaccio or tartare form and plenty of polenta. There are plenty of places to eat. Restaurants serving traditional food and those offering a contemporary take on the local cuisine. It’s an area famous for outdoor activities – climbing, sailing, canyoning and mountain biking. Still popular with Germans and Austrians – the Northern part of Lake Garda can be reached in just a couple of hours from Munich.
La Casina, high up in the hills near Drena, serves typical local dishes, ably cooked by the 26 year old ‘Lady Chef’ Giada. It’s an area particularly famous for chestnuts, though not too far away in the Sarca Valley there’s a unique DOP plum, grown only in the village of Dro. Such is the regionality of Italian food.
Giada gave us a quick cookery demonstration – making a dish of Strangolapreti, a bread based gnocchi. With just a handful of simple ingredients she managed to make a dish that was utterly delicious. Even if it does go by the rather macabre name of ‘Strangled Priests’ . We went on to enjoy more dishes from the region. A plate of local cheese and meats, followed by three hearty meat dishes of braised venison with polenta, guinea fowl with artichokes and pork shank.
I don’t have the exact recipe that Giada used so I’ve adapted this one from the Garda Trentino website making it a little closer to her methodology. In Italy many dishes are passed down through generations and never written down, so, for example, I know Giada used stock rather than milk and I believe the ratio of eggs to breadcrumbs was rather higher. I also remember her showing us a pre-cooked spinach mixture which I believe included some finely chopped onion, nutmeg and sage. I’m planning on experimenting with this basic recipe to see if I can make my own Strangolapreti variation too – it was a delicious alternative to conventional gnocchi, rather lighter and fresher with a good proportion of spinach and sage.
- 500 g Dry bread Grated or blitzed to make a rough crumb
- 250 g Spinach
- 1 Small Onion Very finely chopped
- 2 Medium Eggs
- 100 g Trentino Garda Cheese Finely grated
- 100 g Butter
- 250 ml Stock
- Salt and pepper
- 8 sprigs Fresh Sage
- Steam the spinach in the microwave or steamer till wilted
- Gently soften the onion in half the butter till it is translucent.
- Stir the spinach and a grating of nutmeg in with the onion and continue to cook until the mixture is very soft. Allow it to cool.
- Drain as much liquid as possible from the spinach mixture. Tip out onto a board and chop finely. Put the mixture back into a bowl and mix in the eggs
- Add the spinach mixture to the breadcrumbs, season with salt and pepper and continue to mix with your hands
- Add the stock bit by bit to create a soft dough
- Dust a board with flour and roll the dough into small balls.
- Heat a pan of boiling salted water and drop the balls in carefully
- Once the balls float to the top they are ready to be drained
- Melt the remaining butter in a pan with a little chopped sage
- Pour the butter over the dumplings, garnish with sprigs of sage and serve with more grated grana
Drena itself is dominated by the remains of a 12th Century castle, perched on the rocky hillside. Originally the village was fortified and the rock provided a strategic vantage point over the junction between the Sarca plain and the Cavedine Valley. In 1703, much of the main castle was destroyed by French troops, led by General Vendome during the seige of Riva del Garda. But, the 25 metre high, fourteenth-century tower is still amazingly intact and the complex has been carefully restored so that the Ghibellina wall encloses the remains of the count’s palace a chapel and a few other buildings open to the public, as well as the tower itself.
Still further back in time, the Marocche itself is a strange landscape formed by the Quaternary glaciations. Almost lunar in aspect, the area is full of fossils of small animals and there are even Jurassic Dinosaur tracks (though we didn’t actually venture deep enough into the valley to find them. It’s a protected area, but you can walk along a clearly marked path and explore this peculiar and unique space. Even the name for the area, Marocca comes from the paleo-European term Mar, meaning rock or stone
There is still more to discover in this part of the region, in the form of a unique sweet wine which I will cover in my next post.
I was a guest of Garda Trentino Tourist Board for this trip
I flew to Verona with British Airways. There are direct flights to Verona from London with British Airways and Easy Jet. A transfer to Garda Trentino will take around an hour by car.
I stayed at Hotel Luise in Riva del Garda.
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