Wednesday 15 October 2014

Vigevano for risotto?

Vigevano is a small city only 30 minutes by train from Milan's Porto Genova station.  It should be much more famous than it is.
The Piazza Ducale in Vigevano is recognized as one of the most beautiful piazzas in Italy.
Arcades of arches surround the piazza, providing a lovely shady walkway and a relaxing spot to enjoy a leisurely coffee in one of the many cafes.
The internal grounds of  Castello Sforzesco.
During the 15th century the Piazza Ducale was built to form a noble entrance to the Castello Sforzesco.  In medieval times, Vigevano was an important strategic centre coveted by the Sforza and Visconti families. The castle, including the stables designed by Leonardo da Vinci, and the huge covered roadway which provided the Duke of Milan with a sheltered escape route, maintain their grand proportions today and are beautifully maintained.
For more historical information about the city's history CLICK HERE.
Now the castle complex includes several museums and galleries, while the old roads and tunnels continue to provide pedestrian access through the city.  
A small Shoe Museum occupies one of the long halls in the castle.  It describes another facet of Vigevano's history. During the last century, particularly after World War II, the city was a hub for shoe design and manufacturing.

Although Vigevano's monuments and history seem largely undiscovered, this charming city is famous throughout Italy for ...
Rice fields near Vigevano. Image from here
RICE.  Specifically, arborio and carnaroli rice.

The Po plain surrounding Vigevano has been  famous for rice production since 1482 when Leonardo da Vinci was employed by the the Duke of Milan to design a network of irrigation canals to ensure a consistent water supply for food production.  Since then rice has been grown in this area and with it came the staple dish of northern Italy, risotto.  

Stefano loves cooking risotto, so the goal of our visit was to taste risotto in the city which is famous for producing the best quality rice in Italy. But where to eat risotto in Vigevano? 
L'Oca ristorante Vigevano
L'oca Ciuca, a small restaurant off the Piazza Ducale was suggested by a woman at the tourist office. We arrived just before one o'clock and already the colourful front courtyard was full of families enjoying lunch.  Encouraged by the local crowd, we were happy to be seated inside feeling quietly pleased with ourselves as the restaurant recommendation seemed like a winner.

Choosing from the menu was easy.  Risotto made with local Bonarda wine, fresh bortolli beans and topped with grilled goose sausage immediately caught our eyes.  Not only did it feature local produce, but there was a caption below stating that risotto could only be ordered for two and it would take at least 20 minutes to prepare.  Perfect!  We seemed to have found the right place to taste this famous dish.  
Although we didn't order an antipasti course, the Maitre D', concerned that we might starve, arrived at our table with a complimentary appetiser of home-made toast topped generously with goose liver pate'.  What a delicious surprise.  The pate' was sensational, light, creamy and very moreish.  Another lesson learned about how seriously Italians take their food - restaurant patrons shouldn't wait in hunger.

Stefano's risotto verdict?
Perfetto! He was delighted to discover that this risotto was cooked with a light red wine giving it a slightly pink colour, which although tasty, wasn't photogenic. We learned that Bonarda grapes are grown in the hills around Pavia, so not only did Stefano discover a new risotto recipe, but he is now planning a weekend drive to explore another wine growing region close to Milan.  Yes, he was just a little excited!  

And so was I. After eating such a hearty lunch we decided to take a stroll before catching the train back to Milan.  We passed several gelaterias on the main piazza, but none seemed quite right.  Then we turned down one of the smaller side streets and discovered a local crowd enjoying the sunshine with gelato cones in hand.  Of course we had to stop.

Gelateria Susy
Corso Vittorio Emanuelle II 33
For more reviews CLICK HERE

Taste test summary
Gelateria Susy doesn't sound very Italian, but their gelato tastes autentico.  The nutty flavours are dotted with large crunchy bits just as I've come to expect at the best gelaterias in Italy.  I was tempted by the peanut crunch, but in an effort to maintain a rigorous taste comparison, I chose the standard nocciola flavour which was very good, as was the caffe'.   It was an excellent combination and I must add that the wafer cones were possibly the best I've tried.

Gelati ranking ****
Worth walking off the main square to find this spot.

Sue and Tim back in Milan after their day in Vigevano.
This week our friends, Sue and Tim, had a spare day while visiting Milan, so we suggested that they visit Vigevano.  Like us, they returned raving about this delightfully, undiscovered town. So if you find yourself in Milan and you feel like escaping the crowds, jump on a train to this little city which should be much more famous than it is, but perhaps then its unique charm would be lost.

Questa settimana il tempo a Milano ha cambiato. Autunno ha arrivato.  Ci vediamo prossima volta.