The Veneto region of northeastern Italy is a portion of what was once the 1,000-year Venetian Republic, birthplace of some of the West’s greatest art, music, and architecture. It also offers extraordinary culinary treasures, such as risotto, polenta, sumptuous cheeses like Taleggio and Asiago, and perhaps Italy’s most sublime olive oil.
Every city in the Veneto has a square called Piazza delle Erbe, which literally means “the square of greens,” where each morning fruit and vegetable vendors set up their stands and locals shop for whatever is in season. This time of year it’s broccoli, cauliflower, artichokes (which are usually available from October to May), cardoons (also in the artichoke family, though they look more like a head of celery), Savoy cabbage, fennel, leeks, and several varieties of radicchio. After a good rain that encourages mushrooms to thrive, you will also see stands dedicated entirely to wild mushrooms, such as porcini, chanterelles, and many others. The fertile soil of the Veneto sets its produce apart from other Italian regions. Locally grown produce is always most prized, and vendors will highlight it with signs that proclaim nostrani, meaning “ours.”
Although most Italians are not strictly vegetarians, vegetables play an important role in the cuisine, both as main and side dishes. Vegetables can easily be the highlight of a meal. For example, a grilled succulent porcini cap, braised vegetables paired with creamy polenta, or a hearty risotto offer substance. With a little bread and a tasty cheese on the table, you have a healthful meal. Here are some of the dishes you might find if you were to visit this rich, bountiful region.