Traditional food and wine of Mantua
Enjoying regional food and wine is always a key element in our travels. While staying at Palazzo Castiglioni in Mantua, we indulged in a variety of local specialties. We also learned about Mantuan pride in the agricultural richness of the area (in large part due to its proximity to the Po River) and the deep traditions of their culinary heritage. With this in mind, it is fitting that East Lombardy (which includes the areas of Mantua, Bergamo, Brescia, and Cremona) has been awarded the designation of European Capital of Gastronomy in 2017.
Mantuan specialities at Locanda delle Grazie
Locanda delle Grazie
Via San Pio X, 2 – 46010
Grazie di Curtatone (MN) Italy
We really relished our experience at Locanda delle Grazie in Grazie di Curtatone, a town about 9 km west of Mantua. The town is famous for the Sanctuary of the Blessed Virgin Mary which we wrote about in our post Highlights of Mantua: 2016 Italian Capital of Culture.
We were on the early side for lunch, so we had our choice of inside or outside seating. You may know that I love al fresco dining on a beautiful day, so we immediately opted to dine at one of the tables outside although the interior of the restaurant is equally inviting.
Locanda delle Grazie’s owners Fernando and Daniela Aldighieri are warm and charming people who made us feel welcome from the moment we arrived. They are enthusiastic ambassadors of Mantuan heritage and talked about their passion for Mantuan cuisine, organic products, and local history. They also spoke of a most important opportunity they had to meet Pope Francis and there are photos of them with the pontiff proudly displayed in the restaurant. The food, the wine, and the hosts made this a delicious, fun, and interesting time.
Here are just a few tastes of our lunch at Locanda delle Grazie to whet your appetite.
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.
As we were leaving, Daniela mentioned that Fernando also offers cooking classes, quickly giving me one of many great reasons to return sometime. Grazie mille to our hosts Fernando and Daniela for the marvelous introduction to Mantuan food and wine and their warm hospitality.
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.
And with that lovely cake fresh on your mind …..