It is the 'queen' of the Lombard lakes in the winter season: intense, refined, dried according to ancient rules. Soul of traditional recipes, especially on the Iseo, but also used for creative dishes. It does not fear the comparison with the sea sardine …
It's time for sardines: even in the square (if desired) but for Lombard gourmets they certainly have more value those that are fished in Iseo and in Garda. Because from November to March, the agone – as it is called in Italian – reaches its peak, exactly as it happens for many species in salt water: contrary to what many think, it is in the coldest months of the year that much of the fish raw material reaches the top and therefore deserves more than ever to end up on the table. «We started well, thanks to a clean lake due to the abundant autumn rains – he says Andrea Soardi, fourth generation of the most famous family of Ionian fishermen – perch is good, but this is the period where sardine reigns. Ours is different from the Garda one, more lean and small, which is certainly better to eat fresh and not dried .
The size of the product begins here, recognized by Slow Food as a Montisola-based Presidium, and which follows ancient rules: after being caught by the typical 'sardener', the fish are left in salt for at least 48 hours and then placed in the sun and in the lake air for 30-40 days. In the past, ash or hornbeam branches were used to dry them, arched and held in position by taut threads tied at the ends: the suggestive 'archèc', visible in the winter, to avoid the heat that would have deteriorated the fish, and also to prevent the attack of insects, especially of flies. The drying structures today have evolved: larger, placed on special terraces and sometimes replaced by modernity. «We try to respect the canons, but quality is even more important – continues Soardi, who with the family also takes care of the historian Locanda al Lago in Carzano – so if the conditions are not perfect, we use dryers set to recreate the natural ones. If there is too much wind or too much humidity, it does not make sense to keep the fish always open as before. They would be ruined .
Clusane, the temple
After drying, the sardines are arranged concentrically in steel containers – or in wood as it was in the past – and pressed with a weight, or twisted, to release the fat, which is immediately eliminated. Then they are covered with plenty of olive oil and stored for a few months, but they can last up to two years, provided that the extra virgin olive oil is changed after 9-10 months. Curiosity: they should not be confused with missoltini, the dried agoni of Lake Como because in the preparation they do not require oil and therefore take on a stronger taste, not far from that of herring. «If dried well, our sardines are formidable: just cook them for a few minutes on the burning embers and season them with oil, parsley and garlic. We serve them with polenta and it is the most traditional dish of the lake, with an intense and particular flavor. But they are also very good with bigoli or in other recipes explains Mauro Begni who manages the note Trattoria del Muliner in Clusane, location on the Iseo of Brescia which, in addition to being the 'capital' of baked tench, is full of places that devote attention to the Sardinian. His partner is Andrea Martinelli, Giovanni's grandson, nicknamed 'El Muliner' because he was transporting flour, frying for the fishermen of the town and he opened the restaurant in 1963, now well renovated.
Fantasy in power
Sardines the same tradition (and the price is not indifferent, the tin ones cost on average 40 euros per kg but fresh just under 10 euros) but also a stimulus for the great chefs of the area. It started Vittorio Fusari – Iseo's favorite son – proposing a salad of onions, dried sardines and cuttlefish ink or Bocconcini of lake sardine, onion salad and basil granita at 'his' Pantry & Wines. Complex, in apparent simplicity, and tasty as one of the 'cult' of the starry Lido 84 in Gardone Riviera: Rice, stracchino and sardines from the lake on a spit. "It is the union of a popular product such as the stracchino from our valleys with a fish from the Garda on which I reasoned, inspired by the meat dish symbol of Brescia: a dish always loved by customers came out. But now we have another, equally interesting, on the menu: Smoked and fried sardines, honey, rosemary, citrus fruits says the chef Riccardo Camanini. Other creative dishes that have entered the memory of those who love the product: Organic chicken salad, dried sardines, chicken popcorn, green sauce jellies signed by Stefano Cerveni from Due Colombe di Borgonato and Sarda di lago, humus, crispy celery, lovage, pink grapefruit sorbet, reduction to Surlo that Saulo Della Valle prepares at H2O in Moniga.
The Sardinian BBQ of Acquaroli
The most interesting dish of the new 'vision' on the Sardinian is that – visible at the opening – of Marco Acquaroli, executive chef of Natura di Adro, fast growing restaurant. Enfant du pays – is from Palazzolo sull'Oglio – like the patron Daniele Merola, he decided to review the beloved fish in a BBQ version where (very fresh) they are prepared in a pan with butter, sage and rosemary, cooked at 120 ° for 4 hours and smoked, after removing excess fat. But the extra touch is the carpione gel. "Bring white wine, vinegar, sugar to the boil with the agar agar. I cool it and once it solidifies, I work it with an immersion blender up to the consistency of gel. Then I cook the onion clean and cut in two in the oven at 250 ° until completely carbonized. With the blender I make a powder and reserve the onion ash for the dishing, "explains Acquaroli. The sardine is finally heated on the grill, sprinkled with gel and slightly 'covered' with herbs. «Chervil, lemon balm, mint, thyme, lemon, verbena come from our garden – continues the chef from Brescia – and recreate that exchange at the base of the culinary history of the Iseo when fishermen and farmers exchanged products, creating delicious, simple and tasty dishes .