Italy’s beautiful Lake Iseo is the venue for artist Christo’s latest project, “The Floating Piers,” a 52-foot-wide, 2.7-mile pathway on the water from the town of Sulzano to the Monte Isola island, continuing along pedestrian roads from Peschiera to Sensole, then reaching to San Paolo Island. The project runs through July 3.
The artist describes the sensation of strolling along the floating piers as “walking on the back of a whale” and, yes, it is a long walk indeed.
If you are lucky enough to experience this, you’ll probably be hungry after your walk. There are many osterias along the lakeside promenade where you can enjoy the traditional dish of manzo all’olio di Rovato, or Rovato beef in oil. (Rovato is a small town located in the Franciacorta hills, close to the lake.)
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At the time of the Republic of San Marco, the meat market in Rovato, in northern Italy, was the most important one on the route from Venice to Milan. Merchants coming from Liguria used to bring the typical products of their land, such as oil and anchovies, which are central to this beef dish.
The dish can be accurately dated to the second half of the 16th century, when the recipe was written down by a noblewoman, Donna Veronica Porcellaga. It has been a family recipe for five centuries, handed down from one generation to the next, so that each family has its own version. It consists of three basic ingredients: olive oil, anchovies and the lean meat called cappello del prete (priest’s hat), usually used for bollito misto. Garlic, bread crumbs and some vegetables are also added. According to experts, the trick is to sear the beef quickly on the sides so it cooks slowly and remains tender, keeping all the juices in.
Rovato beef reinvented
Just like art, this 500-year-old recipe can be made in the traditional spirit — or it can be revisited with an innovative twist, as Christo does with his projects.
Three local top chefs have different takes on it.
Stefano Cerveri from Due Colombe in Borgonato di Cortefranca keeps alive the family tradition and remains faithful to Granma Elvira’s cooking, a classic version dated 1955 and enriched with a spoon of acacia honey.
Matteo Cocchetti from Dispensa Pani e Vini Franciacorta serves a slightly nontraditional dish, a beef filet cooked at low temperature with dried lake sardines and parsley sauce.
Finally, Vittorio Fusari, born and raised between the Franciacorta wineries, is a true philosopher when it comes to local cuisine. At magnificent Palazzo Lana Berlucchi, he serves an innovative version, vacuum-sealing the meat and slowly warming it up to 125 F, then taking off the packaging and slowly cooking it in his own extra virgin lemon-flavored olive oil at 150 F. The meat lies over a green bed made with broccoli, spinach and chicory, and served with baguette-shaped polenta, green sauce, fresh anchovies and pressed olives.
“I believe that a traditional recipe may be changed only if you respect it, know it well and love it,” says Fusari, “and that’s exactly the opposite of demolishing it.”
Cooking Time: 3 1/2 hours
Total Time: 4 hours and 20 minutes
Yield: 4 Servings
3 pounds of lean meat
1 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 onion, finely chopped
9 tablespoons butter
3 anchovies in oil
6 fresh leaves of spinach
1 pound whole-grain wheat flour
3 garlic cloves
4 cups warm water
2 tablespoons cornstarch
1. Saute the anchovies in butter, adding the chopped onion and the garlic cloves.
2. Cut the meat long, making two pieces, and brown the pieces in the pan for 10 minutes. Add about 4 cups warm water and slow-cook the meat for at least three hours, removing the fat that comes to the surface.
3. Halfway through, add the oil. Mix a handful of cornstarch with a little water and add it to thicken the sauce.
4. Remove the meat and cut it into slices of about 3 inches. Strain the sauce into another saucepan, add the carrot and finely chopped spinach and, if necessary, a teaspoon of cornstarch to thicken further.
5. Serve accompanied by polenta or a steamed potato.
Main photo: Matteo Cocchetti’s innovative version uses lake sardine, beef filet slowly cooked and parsley sauce. Credit: Copyright 2016 Arianna Mora