Engadine Nut Cake

Since 2000, Gianlucca Canalicchio has been leading exciting (and delicious) trips through his native Italy and neighboring Switzerland. Having learned to cook from his mother and opened two restaurants — one in Rome and one in San Francisco — Gianlucca loves to make food a theme of the trips he leads and share his passion with fellow adventurers. In April, he told us all about The Best Risotto in Northern Italy, and now he’s back with mouth-watering tales of the best dishes on each of his three WT trips.

I hesitate to choose one dish from this tour as “the best,” for fear of offending all the others! But there is one item from Marche and Umbria that will always amaze and delight me: the truffle, or tartufi. There are so many ways to incorporate this regional product into a dish—it can be as simple as sprinkling some shavings on pasta, a meat dish, or even dessert! Many locals find they can make a living of truffle hunting and mushroom picking, and many of my trips include stops at the simple stands where you can buy them fresh-picked. Black truffles grow in the wild from October to March, and white truffles grow from October to December, making this a true seasonal delicacy!

In the mountainous Lake District of Northern Italy, rustic flavors infuse an endless variety of fish dishes. Fish like Burbot, Perch, and Lavarello are often tossed in egg, breaded, and served fried with local butter, sage, and olive oil. Carpione, on the other hand, is usually fried and marinated in vinegar. It might sound odd, but try it! Missoltini is generally sun-dried with bay leaves, a months-long process requiring great skill—make sure you order this in a good restaurant. If you’ve had enough fish and are ready for dessert, I recommend miascia, a traditional cake made with bread, apples, pears, pine nuts, raisins, chocolate, lemon zest, rosemary, and sometimes chocolate.

Italian influence is heavy in the cuisine of Ticino, in the southern tip of Switzerland—in fact, the difference is almost imperceptible! In the Engadine, on the other hand, you must try the famous bundnerfleish (known to the French-speakers of Switzerland as viande de grisons), or smoked meat. This features prominently in another fun dish, the famous Capuns, or meat-filled rolls. And don’t forget to try Engadine Nut Cake, an ancient pastry filled with almonds, raisins, and walnuts.

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