In 1630 the Barbarigo family, a powerful noble family from the Republic of Venice, owned most of the land in Valsanzibio. They took refuge in this location to escape the black plague outbreak that was spreading throughout Venice and the rest of Europe and that had already killed the wife of Zuane Francesco Barbarigo. Soon after, Zuane Francesco made a solemn vow that, if the rest of his family would be spared from this terrible disease, he would create a spiritual masterwork.
This vow was completed by his son, Gregorio and his grandsons. The garden plans were drawn by Luigi Bernini, a distinguished Vatican architect, and the sculptures were completed by Enrico Merengo (1628 – 1723), who was a well-known sculptor in Venice. The garden contains seventy statues all of which have engraved inscriptions. Symbolism abounds around every corner and down every path, as the gardens were designed to serve as an allegory of man’s progress towards perfection.
Diane’s Pavilion or ‘Diane’s Doorway’ was the main entrance by water to the Barbarigo estate in the 17th and 18th century and was one of the first works in Bernini’s project. This impressive doorway represents one of the most important areas of the complex, in fact, it was not only the entrance to the Barbarigo estate, but it represented, as it does still today, the beginning of one’s salvation’s itinerary, desired by Gregorio Barbarigo in the plans. Just in front of the doorway, on its outside, on two solid pillars, are the Barbarigo shields held up by two statues representing angels with a peaceful attitude. Thirteen other statues adorn the area.
The sculptures depict a world of buildings, streams, waterfalls, fountains, small ponds, game and fish ponds and hundreds of different trees and plants all over an area of more than 10 hectares (over 24 acres).
The labyrinth paths were created with six thousand boxwood plants, many of which are almost 400 years old, since they were planted between 1664-1669. The pruning work takes fifteen hundred hours of work, with the help of manual and mechanical cutters, ladders, levels and plumbed lines. The maze of labyrinths represent the complex voyage toward achieving human perfectibility. The paths are designed to disorient the visitor by the high boxwood walls, The right path to arrive at the exit is never the shorter one. Every promising shortcut considerably lengthens the walk or ends up in a dead-end. Symbolically teaching: whoever mends his way and finds the right path, will have to avoid repeating errors.
This symbolic garden was awarded the first prize, as ‘the most beautiful garden in Italy’ in 2003 and as the third most beautiful garden in Europe in 2007.
The gardens are near Padua (Italian: Padova) Italy. The city is sometimes included with Venice and Treviso, in the Padua-Treviso-Venice Metropolitan Area, The city is the home of the University of Padua, almost 800 years old and famous, among other things, for having had Galileo Galilei among its lecturers. Padua is also the setting for most of the action in Shakespeare’s, The Taming of the Shrew.
The culinary tradition of Padua has its roots in the simple produce of the vegetable garden, the farmyard and the vineyard. Farmland products are represented by the well-known Paduan hen. Paduan hens are an ancient breed (a favorite subject of 16th-century European painters) of small crested and bearded chickens from the surrounding province of Padova, in the Veneto region of north-eastern Italy, The Paduan hen is distinguished by the splendor of its plumage and elegant form. The crest is replaced by a tuft of long feathers on the head, which gives the appearance of a chrysanthemum flower in the male or of a hydrangea in the female.
DOC wines are produced in five areas and Extra Virgin Olive Oil comes exclusively from the area of the Euganean Hills. All varieties of chicory (a bitter green) are cultivated in the countryside of Padua. Prosciutto crudo dolce di Montagnana, a specialty of the area, has a festival designated in its honor on the third Sunday of May.
Risotto with Porcini Mushrooms
- One-ounce packet dried porcini (25 g, about a packed half cup)
- 1/2 of a small onion, finely sliced
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 1/2 cups (300 g) short-grained rice, for example Arborio or Vialone Nano
- 1/3 cup dry white wine
- The water the mushrooms were soaked in, strained and added to chicken broth to equal 4 cups
- One bunch parsley, minced
- 1 cup (50 g) grated Parmigiano
- 1 tablespoon butter
- Salt and pepper to taste
Steep the porcini in one cup of boiling water for fifteen minutes. Drain and reserve the mushroom water. Chop the mushrooms and set aside.
Strain the mushroom water and add chicken broth to equal 4 cups. Place in a saucepan and bring to a simmer.
Slice the onion finely and sauté it in oil in another large saucepan. Stir in the rice and cook for several minutes, until it becomes translucent, stirring constantly.
Add the wine and continue stirring until it has evaporated completely. Then stir in the first ladle of the chicken broth.
Add the mushrooms, 3/4 teaspoon salt and continue adding broth, a ladle at a time, stirring occasionally.
About five minutes before the rice is done, check seasoning and add more salt if needed.
As soon as the rice is al dente, turn off the heat, stir in the butter, a little ground pepper, the parsley and 1/2 cup Parmesan cheese.
Cover the risotto for two minutes. Serve with the remaining grated cheese.
Hens with Garlic and Rosemary
Since Padua hens are not available everywhere, I offer an alternative.
- 4 Cornish game hens, about 1 lb each
- Salt and pepper to taste
- 1 lemon, quartered
- 4 sprigs fresh rosemary
- 3 tablespoons olive oil, divided
- 24 cloves garlic
- 1/3 cup white wine
- 1/3 cup low-sodium chicken broth
- 4 sprigs fresh rosemary, for garnish
Preheat oven to 450 degrees F (230 degrees C).
Rub hens with 1 tablespoon of the olive oil. Lightly season hens with salt and pepper. Place 1 lemon wedge and 1 sprig rosemary in the cavity of each hen. Place in a large, heavy roasting pan and arrange garlic cloves around hens. Roast in the preheated oven for 25 minutes.
Reduce the oven temperature to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C). In a mixing bowl, whisk together wine, chicken broth and remaining 2 tablespoons of oil; pour over the hens. Continue roasting about 25 minutes longer or until hens are golden brown and juices run clear. Baste with the pan juices every 10 minutes.
Transfer hens to a platter, pouring any cavity juices into the roasting pan. Tent hens with aluminum foil to keep warm.
Transfer pan juices and garlic cloves to a medium saucepan and boil until liquids reduce to a sauce consistency, about 6 minutes. Cut hens in half lengthwise and arrange on plates. Spoon sauce and garlic around hens. Garnish with rosemary sprigs and serve.
- 1/2 cup sugar
- 1/4 cup water
- 2 tablespoons limoncello
- 3 packages (3 ounces each) ladyfingers, split
LEMON CURD: or 1 (10-12 ounce) Jar Lemon Curd
- 1-1/2 cups sugar
- 1/3 cup plus 1 tablespoon cornstarch
- 1-1/2 cups cold water
- 3 egg yolks, lightly beaten
- 3 tablespoons butter, cubed
- 1/2 cup lemon juice
- 2 teaspoons grated lemon peel, plus extra for garnish
- 1-1/2 cups heavy whipping cream
- 1/2 cup sugar
- 1 carton (8 ounces) Mascarpone cheese
For the syrup: In a small saucepan, bring sugar and water to a boil. Cook and stir until sugar is dissolved. Remove from the heat. Stir in limoncello; set aside.
For lemon curd: in another saucepan, combine sugar and cornstarch. Stir in water until smooth. Bring to a boil; cook and stir for 1 minute or until thickened. Remove from the heat.
Stir a small amount of hot mixture into the beaten egg yolks; return all to the pan, stirring constantly. Return to the heat and bring to a gentle boil; cook and stir 2 minutes longer.
Remove from the heat. Stir in butter. Gently stir in lemon juice and peel. Cool to room temperature without stirring.
For the filling: In a large bowl, beat cream until it begins to thicken. Add sugar; beat until stiff peaks form. Fold cheese and whipped cream into lemon curd.
Arrange a third of the ladyfingers on the bottom of a 9-inch springform pan. Drizzle with a third of the syrup; spread with a third of the filling. Repeat layers twice.
Cover and refrigerate overnight.
Carefully run a knife around edge of the pan to loosen. Remove the sides of the pan. Garnish the top with lemon zest and mint, if desired. Yield: 16 servings.