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FISH PONDS AND FRIED FISH IN HILLY ROERO PIEDMONT
OF FISH AND OF PONDS
Ponds, natural occurrences but mostly man-made holes dug in the ground, were used to collect water to quench the thirst of cows, goats, lambs, and the likes, in the dry months of late spring and summer, as well as for the irrigation of the ever present vegetable plot. When shadowed by willows, ponds were also used to cool the occasional bottle of Barbera.
Flat land was a prerequisite for a pond: Ceresole d’Alba, by no means the only place around where ponds are found, was the ideal place to dig a pond.
Ponds could be much more than water reservoirs: they could be used to farm fish, a welcomed complement to the diet of “Roerini” in winter, when, as usual, no other crops were available. Tenches proved to be the ideal fish to farm in Ceresole’s ponds, especially the “Tinca Gobba Dorata”, the hunchback golden tench.
Fish-ponds were dug in the reddish clay characteristic of this flattish area of Roero; and this type of soil proved to be an ideal environment for the food-stock of which tenches are voracious: small invertebrates. But tenches are also fast breeders: they are either sex starved or concerned about the survival of their species having to live in such small pools: they reproduce like rabbits.
Tenches’ farming dates back in time: the first documented occurrence is found in the 13th century, when a gluttonous lord, in evident position of power, issued an edict ordering fish farmers to provide him specific quantities of fish as a form of tax (in other words he got the tenches for free).
Ceresole hosts more than 100 fish ponds used to farm tenches: some of them have been documented in the town cadastre as far back as the 16th Century. The annual production of tenches is very small, about 6,000 kg, compared to more than 50 million Kg for trouts. The village organizes bike and trek tours of the most important ponds: call 0172-574135 for info.
A tenche average’s weight is around 300 grams, but can be as weighty as 1,5 kg, and up to 30 cm in length. They have a stubby body, a greenish back, and golden sides. The meat is lean and tasty.
Here are two recipes you will find in restaurants in Roero:
“Tinche in Carpione” (tenches in vinegar) – for 4 people (served cold in summer)
Ingredients: 8 tenches, white wine, ½ glass of vinegar (from wine, please), garlic, extra virgin olive oil, sage, salt, pepper, one carrot, one onion, a pinch of persil, a pinch of sage, a twig of rosemary, a clove of garlic.
Preparation: gut the tenches, then sprinkle them in white flower, then fry in olive oil until ready (it takes about 15 minutes). Prepare separately the “soffritto”: finely cut onions, carrots, persil, sage, rosemary and garlic, then fry the mixture, very delicately, in olive oil. Then add the wine and the vinegar, and heat until the mixtures boils: cover the tenches with the broth, and let everything rest an overnight.
Served: cold with Arneis or Barbera. The dish can be preserved for 15/20 days.
“Tinche fritte” (fried tenches) - for 4 people (served hot all year round)
Ingredients: 8 tenches, olive oil, salt.
Preparation: gut the tenches, then fry them in olive oil.
Served: hot, right away, with Arneis or Barbera.
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