Piacenza is a city in the Emilia-Romagna region of northern Italy. It is the capital of the province of Piacenza. Piacenza is located at a major crossroad between Bologna and Milan and between Brescia and Tortona. The city hosts two universities, Università Cattolica del Sacro Cuore and Politecnico di Milano.
Founded by the Romans, destroyed by the Goths and resurrected by medieval noble families, this elegant Emilia-Romagna city flourished due to its location on a natural commercial artery, the Po River. In this place, nature dominates among rocky spurs, hills strewn with vineyards and sceneries dominated by spires, towers and impressive fortresses. It is a land full of natural beauties, valleys and mountains, but also history and art. It is also an excellent example of Gothic-Lombardy architecture. This is also the main production area for Parma hams (almost all are produced here) as well as Parmigiano cheese and Colli di Parma wines.
The outermost roads and valleys have always been used as passageways and battlegrounds. This explains the presence of castles and strongholds here since ancient times. Some of them are open to the public but others are still occupied. The great number of medieval castles with their unmistakable shapes stand out all over the land: for example, the Fortress of Castell’Arquato and the castles of Gropparello, Paderna, Rivalta and Rocca d’Olgisio.
The best preserved castle is Torrechiara. The castle is almost unchanged, since the 15th century when it was built by Pier Maria Rossi. Every room is filled with “grotesque” frescoes, where naked acrobats perform impossible feats of fantasy atop lions. In other rooms, fantasy scenes combining animals, plants and people are strung out over every surface.
Rocca d’Olgisio is set in the rock and presides over the valley of the Tidone. It is one of the oldest and most striking strongholds in the Piacenza area, surrounded by 6 rows of walls. It was built in the eleventh century and, after several owners, it changed hands in 1378 from Gian Galeazzo Visconti to Jacopo Dal Verme, the valorous winner of the Battle of Alessandria against the Florentines.
Castello di Corticelli is in the municipality of Nibbiano and the little fortress has belonged to the Arcelli Counts for centuries. It was first mentioned in 1028. Originally the fortress may have been made up of just two towers (now the layout is quadrangular) surrounded by a moat and walls that enclose an oratory and several rural houses within, which are built in stone and are still standing.
The Castle and Fortress of Agazzano was first built in the 1200s for purely military purposes (round corner towers, drawbridges) with a loggia added by Luigi Gonzaga. Next to the fortress there is an eighteenth-century villa. The contrast between the two buildings that make up this architectural complex adds to its charm. The walls of the large rooms of the villa contain furnishings from the seventeenth to the nineteenth centuries. Particularly noteworthy are the ceramics and porcelain pieces. The French-style garden, with its statues and fountains, is from the end of the eighteenth century, when Luigi Villoresi, director of the park of the Royal Villa in Monza, assisted in its design.
The Castle and Village of Rivalta is mentioned in documents as early as 1048 and in the fourteenth century it passed into the hands of the Landi family, who still own it today. It is an impressive residence surrounded by a magnificent park and among its frequent visitors there are members of the English Royal family. It stands out for the unmistakable and unique profile of its turret. The large reception room, dining room, kitchen, cellars, prisons, bedrooms, tower, armory, gallery, billiard room and museum of military costumes are all open to the public. The castle also has 12 luxury rooms in the village, if you want to stay the night.
Some of the folklore that exists around these structures are:
One of the most famous in the region is the Bardi Castle and it was the setting of a romantic love story between lady Soleste and Morello, one of her young and more valiant knights, whose ghost apparently still visits the place.
According to legend, the fairy, Berna, elected Montechiarugolo Castle as her home. People say she appears to young brides on the night before their wedding day to give them all the advice they need.
Far more unsettling is the story of Lady Cenerina, who was brutally murdered in 1573 at Soragna Castle. Her ghost still haunts the place and her presence is felt by the family whenever something awful is about to happen.
Another haunted place is Grapparolo Castle where Rosania was imprisoned by her jealous husband. Her laments and wails can still be heard on stormy nights.
Supposedly, the ghost of Count Pier Maria Scotti can be seen and heard at Agazzano Castle. The unlucky nobleman was stabbed to death by a group of traitors who wanted to get hold of his fortress.
The Cuisine of Piacenza
Piacenza and its province are known for the production of seasoned and salted pork products. The main specialities are pancetta (rolled seasoned pork belly, salted and spiced), coppa (seasoned pork neck, containing less fat than pancetta, matured at least for six months) and salami (chopped pork meat flavored with spices and wine that are made into sausages).
Bortellina (salted pancakes made with flour, salt and water or milk) and chisulén (a torta fritta made with flour, milk and animal fats mixed together and then fried in hot clarified pork fat) are then paired with pancetta, coppa or salami and Gorgonzola and Robiola cheeses.
Among the culinary specialties of the region are mostarda di frutta, consisting of preserved fruits in a sugary syrup strongly flavored with mustard and tortelli dolci or fruit dumplings, that are filled with mostarda di frutta, mashed chestnuts and other seasonings.
Turtéi, a similarly named Piacentine specialty, is a type of pasta filled with either squash or spinach and ricotta cheese. Pisarei e fasö is a mixture of handmade pasta and borlotti beans.
Piacentine staple foods include corn (generally cooked as polenta) and rice (usually cooked as risotto), both of which are very common across northern Italy. There are also locally produced cheeses, such as Grana Padano.
The hills surrounding Piacenza are known for their vineyards. The wine produced in this area is qualified with a D.O.C. (Denominazione di origine controllata) and is called “Colli piacentini” (“Hills of Piacenza”). Some of the other local wines are Gutturnio (red wine, both sparkling and still), Bonarda (a red wine, often sparkling and foamy), Ortrugo (a dry white wine) and Malvasia (a sweet white wine).
Recipes From Piacenza
- 10 large tomatoes
- A bunch of parsley, chopped
- A bunch of chives, chopped
- 6-7 basil leaves
- 1 clove garlic
- Salt and pepper to taste
- 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- Balsamic Vinegar of Modena, a few drops
- Croutons for garnish
Blanch the tomatoes for one minute, peel, seed and purée them in a blender. Pour into a bowl and add the chopped herbs, the fresh garlic without its core, the oil, salt and pepper. Let it marinate for a few hours at room temperature. Remove the garlic and process the mixture in the blender, again. Add salt and pepper to taste.
Add a few drops of Balsamic Vinegar. Place in a covered serving bowl, refrigerate for a couple of hours. Serve garnished with croutons.
- 1 lb all-purpose flour
- 2 eggs
- 3-4 tablespoons water
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 5/8 lb spinach (about 3 cups, packed)
- 7 oz ricotta cheese
- 1 ½ oz Parmigiano Reggiano cheese, grated
- 1 egg
To prepare the filling:
Cook the spinach, drain, squeeze and chop. Mix together with the ricotta cheese, then add the one egg, cheese and a little nutmeg.
To prepare the pasta:
Sift the flour onto a pastry board, make a well in the center and add the eggs, 3 tablespoons water and the salt and mix well. Add the extra water, if the dough seems a bit dry. Roll out into a thin sheet, divide it into strips about 3.2 inches wide and make as many small squares measuring 1.6 inches that you can.
On each of these put a dollop of filling. Fold the pasta to make either a triangular shape or a ravioli shape and seal the edges.
Cook the tortelli in boiling salted water.
Drain and serve dressed with melted butter and a generous helping of grated cheese.
The chisolini can be served with various ingredients such as Parmigiano cheese, prosciutto, salami, etc. An easy way to eat Chisolini is to put the meat and cheese in the center of the rectangle and fold it in half. They can also be eaten for breakfast with coffee and milk.
- 2 cups unsifted all-purpose flour
- 1 ounce pork lard
- 1/2 ounce fresh yeast or 2 ½ teaspoons instant yeast
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 10 tablespoons (5/8 cup) tepid water
- Oil for deep frying
Put the flour onto a working surface and make a little well. Put the pork lard in the center of the well, then add the salt to the flour and finally dissolve the yeast in the water before adding to the flour. Mix everything together using your hands and knead the dough for 10 minutes.
Once the dough is ready, put it into a container and cover with a kitchen cloth. Let it rise for a couple of hours. After two hours the dough should have doubled its size. Spread a bit of flour onto the working surface, so that the dough will not stick to it when rolled out. Turn the tough out onto the floured surface.
Using a rolling-pin, make a large disk roughly 5 mm (3/16″) thick. Then, using a pastry wheel, cut the dough into rectangles, about 10 x 8 cm (4″ x 3 1/4″). Don’t be worried, if you get some with different sizes, like 10 x 6 cm (4″ x 2 1/2″) or 10 x 7 cm (4″ x 2 3/4″); it will work, with whatever shapes are cut.
Fill a Dutch oven halfway with oil and heat to 180-190°C (355-375°F). When you drop the rectangles, one at a time, into the hot oil, you will see that it will stay in the bottom of the pan for just few seconds, then it will float and after few seconds again, it will inflate. Then, fry each side until they are golden. Usually, it takes 30-40 seconds per side, if fried at 190°C (375°F), but it could be less, if the temperature of the oil goes up, so look for the golden color rather than going by the time.
Fry all the rectangles and put them into a large container with a tight-fitting lid.
Chicken or Rabbit Piacenza-style
- 1 Chicken or Rabbit, cut into 8 or 10 parts
- 2 ounces lard or shortening without trans-fats or oil
- 1 ounce butter
- 2 onions (medium size – thinly sliced)
- 1 celery stalk (thinly sliced)
- 3 1/2 ounces crushed Italian tomatoes
- 1 clove of garlic
- A small bunch of flat leaf parsley
- 6 tablespoons (3/8 cup) white wine
- 1/4 cup white wine vinegar
- 1/2 cup chicken broth
- Salt and black pepper for seasoning
Put the chicken or rabbit parts into a large bowl filled with cold water. Add the vinegar to the water, then cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for one hour. After about an hour, take the bowl out of the refrigerator, discard the water, rinse the chicken or rabbit parts and pat them dry.
In a large sauté pan with a cover, melt the lard together with the butter over medium-high heat. When the fats start sizzling, add the onion and the celery to the pan and sauté for 3-4 minutes.
Add the chicken or rabbit to the pan. Cook on each side for a few minutes until lightly brown. Add the tomatoes and stir until evenly distributed around the pan. Add the wine to the pan and stir. Then, add the chicken broth. Season with salt and black pepper.
Turn the heat to low, cover the pan with a lid and cook for about 1 hour, turning the chicken or rabbit every 20 minutes.
Finely chop the parsley and garlic together and add to the pan. Stir and continue cooking for another 10 minutes with the lid on. Uncover the pan and cook 10 minutes more to reduce the sauce to a thicker consistency.
Plate the chicken or rabbit and serve with polenta in the Piacenza style.