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Lombardia, itinerario, cibo, food, Alpi, Prealpi, pianura, Padana, fiume, Po, Como, Maggiore, Garda, lago, cucina, Strategia del ragno, Rocco e i suoi fratelli, Miracolo a Milano

Foodie Cinema | Lombardy: the Peaceful Air of the Spider

(by Andrea Gropplero - Cinecittario: Archivio Luce)

With its almost 10 million inhabitants, Lombardy is the most densely populated of all the Italian regions while only the fourth largest in terms of surface area. Walled in by the Alps and Prealps to the North, a large part of its territory stands in the wide and fertile Po Valley which is crossed by the longest and most navigable stretch of the River Po from west to east. Other geographical characteristics of this variegated region are the three great lakes (Como, Maggiore and the eastern shore of Garda) which have influenced its cuisine for centuries with prime materials ranging from the stud farms and wild game of the Prealps to the farmed agriculture of the plain, and the abundant freshwater fish offered by the lakes and numerous water courses. The earliest human settlements, dating to the Iron Age, were established by the Celts.

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The locations

Region: Lombardia Type: Città Territory: città, periferia

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The Peaceful Air of the West

Silvio Soldini’s debut feature, The Peaceful Air of the West (L’aria serena dell’Ovest) (1990), inaugurated a new approach in Italian cinema, one whose most significant players would include Gabriele Salvatores, Giuseppe Tornatore and Mario Martone in addition to Soldini himself. The new wave of Italian cinema in the 1990s brought the centrality of Rome to an end and, in doing so, inaugurated an era of regional films, significantly contributing to the birth of the first Film Commissions.
In Soldini’s film, world events such as the fall of the Berlin wall and the protests in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square reverberate in the lives of six characters (who knows if the director was inspired by Pirandello) who are interconnected by a lost diary that is handed from person to person.
The city recounted by Soldini is a cold Milan: cold despite being late Spring, cold in his almost documentary-like direction, in Luca Bigazzi’s lighting, absolutely innovative for the time, cold in its settings and in the feelings of the characters unable to express their desire to change their lives. An apparent serenity floats through the film, like the calm before a storm that we are unsure will ever come. There’s no room for ossobuco in cremoladarisotto alla milanesecasseula. In this time out of time, food is simply morning breakfasts, hospital lunches and frugal dinners, the execution of an organic requirement that is not worthy of passion.

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The Spider’s Stratagem (1970) – © Archivio fotografico Cineteca Nazionale, Roma

The Spider’s Stratagem

Bernardo Bertolucci’s fourth film, The Spider’s Stratagem (Strategia del ragno) (1970), inspired by Jorge Luis Borges’s story Theme of the Traitor and the Hero (1944), tells the tale of a young man who travels to the ancestral village of his father, a local antifascist hero assassinated by the regime, where he starts investigating his death and discovers a truth that does not correspond to local legend. Sabbioneta, one of Italy’s most beautiful borgos and a UNESCO World Heritage Site, serves as Tara, the village setting. The paternal hometown celebrates his father as a victim of the Fascist regime but is hostile to the young man who bears his same name, Athos Magnani. Athos meets his father’s friends and enemies, with the former apparently keeping a secret of sorts. Betwixt a slice of culatello and a plate of tripe, “that should be thrown at the wall if it is not cooked properly”, the young man discovers the truth about his father’s death.
After all, trippa alla parmigiana, always in bianco (without tomato), is a key dish in our cuisine. Created with simple ingredients, often leftovers, the popular recipe is ancient, its origins lost in the mists of time. The dish begins by frying a classic mirepoix of onion and garlic cloves, followed by the tripe in pork fat, then the addition of beef stock. Once cooked, this is mixed with abundant grated parmesan, an egg yolk and the sauce from a roast, which should be combined off the heat. The finishing touch is a handful of chopped thyme and pepper.

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Piazza Duomo - Milan

Miracle in Milan

In Miracle in Milan (1951), winner of that year’s Gran Prix at the Cannes Film Festival, Vittorio De Sica tells the story of Totò, a young orphan boy who is searching for a world where “good morning really means good morning”, through the lens of a modern fairy-tale. On leaving the orphanage where he has lived for years, Totò becomes the leader of a group of homeless people who build an illegal camp near the Lambrate train station. Drilling holes into the ground to search for a water source, the group finds oil which sparks the greedy violence of the landowners and their police. In this context of social conflict, the young man falls in love with Edwige, a new arrival to the community of powerless and poor people for whom a roast chicken is akin to winning the lottery. The key conflict portrayed in the film juxtaposes poverty and profit which, in a fairy tale setting of class struggle, becomes the battle between the poor and the profiteers and ends in piazza Duomo where a parade of the dispossessed steal brooms from street cleaners to fly away to a place where “good morning really means good morning”.

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Rocco and his brothers (1960) - © Archivio fotografico Cineteca Nazionale, Roma

Rocco and his brothers

Awarded the Silver Lion at the Venice Film Festival, Rocco and his brothers (1960) by Luchino Visconti, the great director from Milan, tells the story of a mother who, following the fantasy of an economic boom and escaping poverty, travels with her four sons from Lucania to join her oldest child in Milan. Five brothers, like the fingers of a hand, like a fist clenched in the boxing ring of life, try to make the most they can of the future. The six live in two rooms in Lambrate which are filled with braided garlic, probably brought from their home town, hanging from the rafters almost like an amulet that attempts to protect them from the harsh reality of Milan. This protection is similarly reflected in their family dinners where the viewer can almost smell the pasta al forno (baked pasta) whose magical dishes also serve to brush away fear of the new surroundings. The five brothers try hard to find work and create stability. Rocco (Alain Delon) becomes a boxing champion, following in the footsteps of his brother Simone (Renato Salvatori) who ends up taking a path that distances him from his family. The two brothers also fall in love with the same woman, Nadia (Annie Girardot), destined to end in tragedy because of Simone’s jealousy.

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Historical notes on Lombard cuisine

Given the unusual geography of this region, there is no single Lombard cuisine. The first to create elaborate dishes were the Celts, responsible for the origin of cuz, while later dominations, from the Roman, Austrian, Spanish, French to the Venetian Republic, also left obvious traces over the centuries. Still today, the western side of Lombardy reflects the influence of Piedmont cuisine while contamination from the Veneto region is very evident in the east.
Once the necessary differences are drawn between the territories, in particular between plain and mountain, the cuisine here tends to feature rice and stuffed, rather than dried, pasta. In general, meat is cooked long and slow (braisedboiled) while a separate consideration must be made for freshwater fish which differ from area to area. Butter (or lard) is preferred to olive oil (given the scarcity of this prime material, produced only in the lake area), while porkeggs, milk and its derivations (including a vast selection of excellent cheeses) and – as in all of Northern Italy – polenta abound. It is a very varied cuisine and, in some ways, very original.

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Corteno Golgi, Valcamonica – Ph. Luca Giarelli

Cuz, the original recipe

Cuz is an ancient dish whose present form has been dated to 700 C.E.: there are those who call it the oldest spezzatino or beef stew in the world. It began in Valcamonica, in Corteno Golgi to be precise, and the formula for its preparation was handed down orally for centuries. It was a favourite of shepherds who used this method to make meat last longer. Over time, it became the dish for family celebrations locally. The meat should be Corteno mutton, an animal that can weigh up to 60/70 kg: a large lamb is a possible substitute.


  • 1.5 kg lamb, chopped into small pieces
  • 1 bunch of sage
  • 1 garlic clove, pressed
  • 2 glasses of stock
  • 1 glass of white wine
  • 80 g sheep fat, finely chopped
  • rock salt

Place the diced lamb (as well cleaned as possible, fat removed) in a large copper pot. Add a glass of stock, the sheep fat and herbs. Place the pot on the heat, ideally on a fireplace, and cook very slowly for about 4 hours. As the meat gradually changes colour, add the wine and stock, a little at a time: it should not become excessively liquid because the meat must cook and not boil. Regular shaking (not stirring) of the pan is required to stop the meat sticking to the pan. After a couple of hours, add the rock salt and repeat without exaggerating. Serve the cooked meat, which must be very soft, on polenta and garnish with its sauce.
Alongside, a hard polenta of granoturco or mista di saraceno with a handful of maschèrpa, grated cheese made from whey, are de rigeur.

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Rocco and his brothers (1960) - © Archivio fotografico Cineteca Nazionale, Roma

Recipe to make your own trailer on food and film in Lombardy

This game is for anyone who wants to make a homemade trailer about The Peaceful Air of the Spider. We’re providing the time codes for the film clips. Any edit program will work for this. Input the following data into the timeline and you’ll have your trailer in minutes.

  • Download the film titles for The Spider’s Stratagem
  • attach to sequence from 11.00 to 12.25
  • attach to sequence from 26.00 to 31.55
  • download the film titles for Miracle in Milan
  • attach to sequence from 40.21 to 41.28
  • download the film titles for Rocco and his Brothers
  • attach to sequence from 11.40 to 13.51
  • attach to sequence from 02.40.07 to 02.45.30
  • add the end title card “End”
  • enjoy it in company and, if you haven’t yet seen the films, watch them.

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