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Missoltini: a delicacy of Lake Como

What are Missoltini?

Missoltini are a culinary specialty of Lake Como. Agoni, a small fresh water fish, are salted, dried in the sun, and then pressed into a tin container to create the traditional Missoltini.

Agoni, drying in the sun after the salting process

History of the Missoltino

The first techniques to preserve fish in the area were inspired by fishermen salting seafood, and later on this method was introduced to Lake Como by the Greeks. With time, this system was modified and refined as it started to look like the one that the Scandinavian Countries followed. Perhaps for this reason, Agone is one of the main fish that is preserved following this technique. Similar to herring, this fish is suitable for this type of preserve.

There are lots of stories behind the origins of the name Missoltino. Some believe that it comes from the old containers called Missolte , while others suggest that it comes from the practice of salting the fish (literally translated as “fish under salt” – “messi sotto sale“). The most credible theory would link the name Missoltini to be named after a noble lady from Northern Europe called Miss Olten or Oltin. Regardless of its origin, they are delicious!

The process…

The prepare Missoltini you will need to find the freshest and deepest water of the Lake. Agoni are found in the central/Northern part of the lake and they are the most flavorful in June and July. In the afternoon, big nets as long as 200 meters are thrown in the water, left overnight, and retrieved early the next morning full of fish. Now, the long process of desquamation and gutting takes place. When the fish is finally cleaned, it gets salted and rested for 2 or 3 days to absorb the salt. Afterwards, the fish is rinsed and hang to dry for about 10 days. Past that period of time, the fish is ready to be placed in containers with bay leaves, and will be pressed to squeeze the fish fat to the surface of the container creating a seal. Doing so, the fish will be preserved for months.

Let’s cook!

Missoltini with polenta – photo from

Missoltini and polenta (grits) go hand in hand. It is a wonderful combination that will forever remind of you of Central Lake Como, and of course, let’s not forget about a glass of red wine to marry this traditional dish.

Recipe for this traditional dish

Ingredients for 6 people :

  • 500 g corn flour
  • 12 Missoltini
  • 100 ml Vinager
  • 150 ml EVOO
  • 100 g Parsley
  • Salt

Add two liters of water to a deep pan. Once the water starts to boil, add salt, and slowly add the corn flour. Gently whisk it to make sure it has a smooth consistency. Lower the temperature of the stove and use a wooden spoon to stir the polenta for the remaining of the time. The polenta will need to cook for about 45 minutes.

Meanwhile, rinse the missoltini with lukewarm water and vinager to get rid of the extra salt and fat. Pat them dry and gently put them on the grill for a few minutes. Place them on a serving plate and dress them with EVOO, vinager, and parsley. Serve missoltini with hot and steamy polenta.

Buon appetito!