The Soup of Theodolinda, Barbarian Queen

Immigration to Italy was simpler in 560. No lines, no forms, no waiting - just rush down from the north. The great human migrations in Europe in the period from 300-700 AD are often called the Barbarian Invasion.  The word Barbarian evokes an uncivilized image,  but paradoxically we travel to Italy to enjoy the civility of the society they were instrumental in creating.  A key figure in that creation was the Barbarian Queen, Theodolinda.

The Longobard tribe migrated south from present day Germany beginning in 560 and they controlled most of the Italian peninsula by 750. A signal event in the establishment of Lombard power was the marriage of Theodolinda to King Authari in Verona in 589. Theodolinda was a Catholic and she pushed for Christianization, which became an important means to further Lombard influence.

Theodelinda's relevance to Italians today is remembered - by us, at least - in a hearty but simple soup - suitable, no doubt, for the rigors of a rough day ruling barbarians. It is based on rice, sausage, onion, and broth. It's quick to make, adapts well to variation, and is enjoyable every time.

Zuppa alla Teodolinda
150 g. carnaroli rice
150 g. mild sausage, crumbled
2 Tablespoons cornmeal
1 liter mild broth
1 small onion, finely chopped
Handful of Parmigiana, gruyere or emmenthal
Salt and pepper as needed

Bring the broth to boil, add in the rice, the crumbled raw sausage, the onion. After about 8 or 9 minutes, add in the cheese, stir to mix well. Take out a ladle of hot broth and mix in the cornmeal, stir it back into the pot to thicken. Continue cooking an additional 7 or 8 minutes, until the rice is done.  Adjust salt and pepper, serve hot.

Notes on the recipe. Carnaroli rice is recommended because it will retain some texture. Other short or medium grain rice types, such as Arborio, will work fine, and what one may lose in texture, one will gain in the broth.  In Italy, luganega sausage is the preference. Outside of Italy, one should seek a plain pork sausage. We usually use chicken broth as we are simmer-and-freeze types, but any tasty base will do. This soup utilizes similar ingredients to the better known dish Risotto alla Monzese (or Riso alla Monzese).

Some History  The Lombards (Longobards) were a defining element of Italian history, and their influence is still evident in the Lunigiana - the region where Liguria and Tuscany meet. The fortified towns of Filattiera and Filetto were key defense points where the Byzantine Romans resisted the Lombard push from the north. Also in Filattiera is the Pieve of St. Stephen at Sorano with early evidence of a Lombard Bishopric. The Lombard Lazzaro I became the Bishop of Luni around 660 and consolidated the power of that office.  However, the most prominent visual reminders of the Lombard influence are the many Malaspina castles of Lunigiana, as the Malaspina family were descendants of the Lombard Oberto I.

For the tourist interested in the Lombards, Benevento, in Campania, has the best preserved Lombard building, the Church of Santa Sofia. Pavia has some sites of interest, as does Cividale di Friuli where there's a neat little Longobard museum as well as an oratorio of Lombard construction.  More accessibly, in Monza is the Duomo of St. John, where Theodolinda is buried. The duomo has the Chapel of Theoldolinda and it's famous 15th century Zavattari frescos (link below), as well as the Iron Crown of Lombardy, which was fashioned for Theodolinda, and includes one of the original nails in the Cross (they say).  It was used during the coronation of Charlemagne in 774 as the King of the Franks became the King of the Lombards as well.

More Info.  Some very concise information on the Longobards in the Lunigiana and Lunigiana history in general is available in Italian on seven pages at:

The English Wikiipedia has a good article on the Lombards  The Italian Wikipedia has informative articles on Theodolinda, Monza and the Malaspina.

The website for the Monza Duomo:  Pretty images of the Theodolina Chapel frescoes with Italian text are at:

Written by Martha