At the polentoteca in Varese

Polenta alla spinaOn our arrival in Varese New Year’s Day, slightly lost and looking for the B&B, we walked past the polentoteca and said “Ooohhhh…..” It was closed, but we took note: we wanted northern Italian food on this trip, and the menu looked amazing. Polenta is not something you see so much on Rome menus: it demands cold weather, ruggedness, skiing trips. Or just being very hungry. And here the sign said polenta alla spina, polenta on tap…… So this was Friday night dinner.

Polenta menuChoices, choices…….. The cheese ones sounded amazing. The owner explained that those are served with a layer of polenta, then cheese, then polenta. “La gorgonzola e nata per morire nella polenta!” (The gorgonzola is born to die in polenta…..). You can choose between classic polenta and taragna polenta, which is the one below. It is a fast food place, but the food was amazing! Really friendly as well, and in the center of Varese.

Taragna polentaThe taragna polenta is darker, due to inclusion of a local saracen wheat. It’s buckwheat, like they use for pizzocheri in Valtellina. Lovely flavour! This polenta was made at a local mill, stone ground. Very good with cheeses, or with lardo, or with sugar, we were told. I was very tempted by the Nutella or honey dessert option.
Capriolo e funghi trifolatiI had capriolo e funghi trifolati, roe deer and mushrooms, which was just wonderful, on taragna polenta. My husband had gulash Trentino with funghi porcini, on classic polenta, which was also superb. Excellent beer as well.

Polenta is solid food. We could not finish our plates, and got our leftovers wrapped in foil to eat for lunch the next day. Too good to waste. Wonderful conversation with the owner about polenta. He was bemused why we had chosen to come to Varese, especially when living in Rome. We explained that we had heard about the Sacro Monte, wanted some days near mountains but in not a ski resort, without many foreign tourists, with different food and easy to reach by train. After visiting Foggia we have had great trips to places like this, and Varese was very pleasant indeed. 52 minutes by regional train from Milano (Porta Garibaldi).


And this is the taragna polenta from Mulino Bernasconi, in Malnate (just outside Varese), with buckwheat.
Taragna polenta Now we are back in Rome, after bringing back some puff pastry camels for dessert last night, and the first loads of laundry are drying in the afternoon sun. Last day of my holidays, and we have finally unpacked and caught up with Christmas cards and news. Tomorrow is the Epiphany, the giorno della Befana and a public holiday in Italy. I’m packing away tinsel and suitcases and looking forward to cooking again. With polenta and gorgonzola from Varese, and paella spices and chorizo from Spain, there are lots of options. Good to be home again!

Puff pastry camels in Varese

Puff pastry camel Varese

We are in Varese for a couple days, north of Milano, near the Swiss border. One of the reasons we chose Varese was the Sacro Monte with a mountain walk, the other reasons was the camelli di pasta sfoglia. Yes, puff pastry camels, only made in Varese these days before the Epiphany (6 January), in honour of the three wise men. Baked in puff pastry and slightly sugar glazed, they are a very local specialty. So we hopped on the Italo train from Rome to Milano yesterday, then the local train to Varese.

Via delle capelleToday we went to Sacro Monte. You are meant to walk uphill, past fourteen chapels with the rosary, but not being Catholic or sporty, we just got the bus to the top and walked down. There is a funicular, not always open, so then it is bus C from the centro to Prima Capella (to walk up) or Sacro Monte (to walk down).

image Starting the descent.


Lovely day, and lovely views over Lago di Varese and snowclad mountains (some of which were Swiss). Lots of families and dog walkers, it was all rather jolly, though more hilly than mountainous. I particularly enjoyed the posters commemorating the 30th anniversary of Pope John Paul II visiting Sacro Monte, with photos of him and of the rapturous onlookers.


Back in town, I was thrilled to find the legendary puff pastry camels of Varese, only appearing for the days up to Epiphany. And even the small ones are HUGE! We will get some tomorrow to take back to Rome on Sunday, and we bought one for afternoon tea today. I am very curious to try it.

I had forgotten today was Friday…… Two weeks of holidays is wondeful! As we are still on holidays and not at home cooking, I am bringing a tray of these puff pastry Epiphany canels from Varese for Fiesta Friday #49. Happy New Year to all! And many thanks to our hosts Mr Fitz @CookingwithMrFitz, Kaila @GF Life 24/7 and of course, Angie @thenovicegardener.

UPDATE 5.1.2015: See these wonderful camels made by Rowena @Rubber Slippers in Italy:  are they not fabulous? The camel, the cake, and the crown (part I)

Fiesta Friday