Lombardy-style ragù with farfalle is a regional speciality, ideal for cold weather /

In northern Italy they know a thing or two about seasonal ingredients. Julia Platt Leonard takes inspiration from the region of Lombardy

If you’re looking for winter-inspired dishes, then look to the people and places who know a thing or two about the season.

Of course trendy Scandinavia springs to mine as does Austria, Russia and Eastern Europe. What might not, but should be ncluded in this list is northern Italy and the region of Lombardy. 

Lombardy is a land of lakes and mountains with Switzerland to the north, the Veneto and Trentino to the east, Piedmont to the west and culinary powerhouse Emilia-Romagna to the south.

It’s home to Gorgonzola, rice for risottos, maize for polenta as well as gorgeous cured meats including bresaola. 

I confess my knowledge of Lombardy was limited to occasional trips to Milan but a new book by Christine Smallwood called An Appetite for Lombardy is changing all that.

It’s part of her series on regional Italian food and drink (she’s already published ones on Umbria and Puglia). In it, she charts “the people, the places, the food”, painting a detailed culinary portrait of Lombardy. 

One stop on the tour is the mountain town of Morbegno and Maurizio Vaninetti’s Osteria del Crotto.

Vaninetti left a steady job in the fabrics industry to become a chef. It was a bold move followed in 2003 by perhaps an even bolder one to use only produce from the region; so locally raised meat, cheeses and in the spring and summer foraged herbs from Morbegno and nearby Gerola. 

Maurizio Vaninetti gave up his day job to become a chef 

During the warmer weather, diners eat outside but I think I’d like to be there in the winter with a plate of his farfalle with venison ragù and a glass (or two) of red wine from the Valtellina.  

Farfalle with venison ragù

Maurizio sometimes makes his own farfalle with a mix of wheat and buckwheat flour, but dried pasta is always an option. He finishes this off in the oven, but for the small quantity used here, it’s easier to keep it on the hob and ensure it doesn’t dry out. 

Serves 4 

200g venison, chopped to a coarse mince
Olive oil, for frying
100g each of carrot, celery, onion, chopped
Small handful of dried porcini, soaked and finely chopped
100ml red wine
A few juniper berries
1 cinnamon stick
A splash of brandy
Small amount of meat stock
320g dried farfalle
Butter and grated Parmesan, to taste

Brown the meat in the heated oil. Add the chopped vegetables, mushrooms and the wine, then the juniper, cinnamon and cloves, the brandy and enough meat stock to almost cover.

Keep covered on a gentle heat until the meat is cooked through and the flavours have amalgamated, adding further stock if required.

Cook the pasta in plenty of salted water until not quite done. Drain and sauté with the meat sauce. Add fresh butter and Parmesan to taste.