Tiramisuing in Treviso

An autumnal foodie jaunt.

Tiramisù. A name that makes the hearts of foodies beat faster and their sweet tooth sweeter. The quintessential dessert. Among the several claims to the recipe by different locations in Northern Italy, the most solid one is probably by Treviso. This medium-sized town in Veneto is indeed proud of tiramisu but its food scene offers more. I visited in fall, a bad time for the weather but a great time to snack on seasonal fare.

Porta Santi Quaranta – old city’s western gate.

Piazza dei Signori – Treviso’s main square.

Ladyfingers (sponge cake biscuits known in Italian as savoiardi) are soaked in coffee and covered with a creamy mix of mascarpone, eggs and sugar, everything sprinkled generously with cocoa powder. Sometimes liquor is used too, for example a few drops of Marsala wine, but this is already an addition to the archetype.

One day, three tiramisùs in three locations. I started with the very place that lays claim to being the first to ever serve it. Yes, „Alle Beccherie” declares that the dessert was invented here, in 1969. But the restaurant is not the only claimant – other ones in Veneto, as well as in Friuli-Venezia Giulia, aspire to the throne too. On top of that are urban myths and legends. We may never know the truth.

Neither the recipe nor the name can be traced to written sources prior to the 1980s. That doesn’t mean that there was „nothing like” tiramisù before – it comes in a long line of other confections, most notably zuppa inglese, composed of layers of ladyfingers and custard. Chef Roberto Linguanotto, who worked on the recipe with the Campeol family, Alle Beccherie owners, stated that he simply added mascarpone to „sbatudin,” which is the Venetian term for egg yolks beaten with sugar, a common peasant energizer. Eggs, sugar, coffee – still today, tiramisù is often advertised as „energizing.” Even in the name – originally spelled in Venetian as tiramesù, later Italianized to tiramisù, it means „cheer me” or „lift me up.” Local legends say that it was served as an aphrodisiac in brothels in the 19th century.

Let’s head to another, but this time undoubtful, symbol of the city: Fontana Delle Tette. The current fountain, hidden near via Calmaggiore, is a modern replica of the original one, built near the Praetorian Palace in 1559. It is said that it used to pour wine – red from one and white from the other nipple – for three days each autumn to celebrate the grape harvest.

Treviso in Treviso? Cultivated from at least around the 16th century, Radicchio Rosso di Treviso, or Treviso Red Chicory, is sometimes just called ‘Treviso’ in English. Its hallmark are the dark purple leaves, while the stems are white, fleshy and crunchy. In case you fear chicory’s notorious bitterness, I hereby report that this one is way milder than other cultivars.

There are two types, precoce and tardivo, or ealy and late harvest varieties. The former is tightly closed, whilst the latter is opened, with separate, curled, narrow leaves. What you see on my photos is the tardivo. Pretty cool, huh?

Both the color and the shape are actually forced on the vegetable. It is shocked with cold spring water from the Sile river and kept in darkness to achieve its signature looks and texture. A special consortium monitors and safeguards the use of traditional processing in growing it.

Rosso di Treviso is not the only chicory in the region. Other Venetian radicchios include di Chioggia, di Verona and Variegato di Castelfranco. Besides Veneto, there are other areas of Northeastern Italy that specialize in chicory too, such as Gorizia.

Fall and winter are also a great time to try calderroste (roasted chestnuts) . Chestnut trees grow on the southern foothills of the Alps since centuries. The region of Marca Trevigiana (the March of Treviso) boasts two IGPs (‘Indicazione geografica protetta’ or ‘protected geographical indication’), namely Marroni di Combai and Marroni del Monfenera. The former area is known for a chestnut festival, organized in October, but if you visit the Province of Treviso any time between September and December, you will find them on the streets of Treviso.

Italian language has two big words for chestnuts, “castagne” and “marroni.” While the first could be used as a general term for any kind of chestnut fruit, for gourmands they are distinct: the two differ in both appearance and taste. Singular for marroni is marrone.

Time for photographs of the Duomo, or the cathedral church of Treviso:

I next headed to the esteemed pasticceria called Nascimben. Their appealing „Trevissù” was the second tiramisù I tried that day. Delicious to say the least.

Treviso is not Venice, but still offers some charming canalscapes:

Is every town in Italy an art history treasure cove? Look at those 12th-century frescoes in the church of San Vito:

Another interesting church, the Gothic mammoth of San Niccolò:

I had a few hours to kill before dinner so I went to Dai Naneti. This cult bar offers wine and cicchetti – small snacks, something like tapas but in Veneto (and around), instead of Spain. Sitting alone over a platter and a glass of red looks more like a formal degustation than a social situation such a spot is designed to hold, but it was packed with cheerful crowd and I didn’t feel out of place. Among the cold cuts and cheeses was soppressa, a typical local salame. Of fatty look but actually quite lean, it is made with ground pork and cured for several months with simple seasonings and sometimes a bit of Prosecco wine too.

There are several acclaimed restaurants in Treviso but I had a way to narrow the choice: one specific dish in mind. The girl at the tourist information not only recommended me a good place but also called to book a table for me. And so I went to „Toni Del Spin.”

The dish I craved for was sópa coàda. The name is in Venetian and translates to „brood soup.” The Italian spelling would be „zuppa covata.” Although both the name and my photo might hint that it is a kind of soup, the truth is not that simple. It is a pigeon pie baked in broth. Many forms of the dish exist and the broth could be served separately or not at all. The centerpiece is the pie, made of bread and pigeon meat.

The pudding melted in my mouth like a chunk of warm lard. I found the taste pretty unusual, simultanously bland and rich, mellow but heavy. Another word that came into mind is ‘rustic’ – for a second I forgot that I am in a restaurant and not on a farm.

After the primo (first course), came the secondo. I asked for dishes with radicchio – perhaps most obviously. The impeccable waiter suggested beef meatballs, polpettine di manzo al radicchio con polenta. As you probably know, the consistency of polenta differs around Italy – sometimes so thick that you cut it with a knife, sometimes viscous. Here it was almost as fluid as the accompanying sauce. And in the sauce was radicchio – cooked very soft. Tasty, but maybe next time I could order it in a salad to relish on its famed crunchiness.

I was not very hungry after the whole day of snacking but it was possible to order just half a portion – which I did with both the meatballs and, you guessed it, tiramisù.

All the three versions of the dessert I tried in Treviso were delicious and surprisingly similar in taste, which perhaps means that all stick to the classic recipe(s). Alle Beccherie’s tiramisù was possibly the most balanced one, sweet and heavy with cocoa. The unusually-shaped “Trevissù” at Nascimben stood out with lightness of the texture. Toni Del Spin’s version seemed more intense and used more coffee, giving it a robust kick.

I left the trattoria – and the town – satisfied.