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The Riches of Lake Garda: A Fish for Every Recipe

Fishing has always been one of the greatest sources of food and earning for Lake Garda, and it is also a sport that tourists love. Today, the significance of this economic sector is supported even more strongly by food and wine travel.

Between late May and early June in Malcesine, the shores of the lake play host to a very special event called Fish & Chef. The gastronomy of the Garda is its star, but in the front row – and the name of the event says it all – the great riches of the lake stand out: freshwater fish.

First place among the gems of the lake goes to the Lake Garda carpione. Carpione has become synonymous, in Italian, with a cooking method (sousing), and it is often forgotten that, in origin, the word refers to this fish, a salmonid which is becoming rarer and rarer in the waters of the Garda. That means fishing is tightly regulated, and Slow Food has listed it among its Presidia. This species has been considered critically endangered since 2006, not least because it lives only in Lake Garda, where over the past forty years the natural habitat of native fish has unfortunately undergone significant change. Of course, this means it's a true rarity in local restaurants, a treasure to hunt for. There are no real recipes for carpione, because if you are lucky enough to taste its delicate white flesh, it would be best to compliment it with a light cooking method, either steaming or grilling, and to savor it simply drizzled with extra virgin olive oil.

Lake Garda is rich in many other species, and their flavors are fully brought out by the cuisine of Verona and the Veneto. Trout is a very versatile freshwater fish. Its firm meat, which is free of bones and very tasty, is prepared with simplicity, for example with an olive oil marinade. It is greatly appreciated also smoked – and with good reason.

Smoking is applied to tench as well. Its flesh has more fat than trout, so it is just right for risotto or to make a sauce for tortelli (a kind of stuffed pasta) filled with pumpkin. Freshwater fish recipes are not that elaborate, but they hold the wholesome taste of local products.

Perch filets cooked in butter or whitefish baked en papillote (al cartoccio) with olive oil are certainly not complex dishes, but each of their few ingredients are there to enhance all flavors to the utmost.

Eel served in sauce fhas a richer taste, as do sarde 'en saor' (lightly fried and then marinated shad served with tasty onions). Lake shad has always been one of the great riches of the area, and this dish has by now become the feather in the cap of Veneto cuisine.


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