Focus on the Fish of Lake Trasimeno

One of the cleanest lakes in Europe, Trasimeno in Umbria teems with fish, and still supports a community of fishermen who use sustainable techniques to catch fish like eel, tench, pike and carp.

A Taste Workshop, “Meeting the Food Communities: Lake Trasimeno,” held today at Slow Fish 2007 in Genoa, turned the spotlight on a fisherman and a cook, who talked about the local fishing and gastronomic traditions as the audience tasted two lake-fish dishes and sipped Umbrian wines.

Alessandro Angeli, a young fishermen, described the conditions which make the lake so rich in fish: the low lake bed means lots of sunlight, encouraging the growth of vegetation which makes an ideal habitat for fish. There are no rivers bringing in contaminated water, and the region has no large, polluting cities. “We have great biodiversity also because we don’t catch the really young fish,” explained Angeli. “We use different kinds of nets for different kinds of fish. For carp we use a net with large holes so we don’t accidentally catch smaller fish.”

A member of the community of popular cooks who attended Terra Madre in 2006, Rita Maria Battistacci spoke about the long-standing fish traditions around the lake. “In ancient times fish from Trasimeno was even sent to the pope in Rome,” she said. “And one of the local saints, Sant’Ercolano, is represented in a church in Perugia with a crown of lasche [South European nase] around his head.”

The two dishes, firmly rooted in tradition, showcased the lake’s riches to great effect. Tegamaccio, a thick stew of eel, perch and catfish flavored with tomatoes, parsley, garlic and Trasimeno olive oil, was paired with two white wines, one a Chardonnay, Pinot Grigio and Grechetto blend from Carini, the other a Grechetto from Todi. The second dish, explained Battistacci, was unique to Umbria. “Umbria is the land of meat, the kingdom of the pig,” she said. So carpa in porchetta prepares a whole carp just like a suckling pig: Minced lardo, garlic, wild fennel, rosemary and bay are stuffed into the stomach and slits in the flesh, and the fish is roasted in a wood-burning oven until it turns dark brown with a crunchy skin.

A member of the audience asked if anyone had ever thought about starting a fish farm at the lake. Angeli looked at him blankly. “But why should we? The wild fish is so good.” It was hard to disagree.

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