Piedmont


For the people of Piedmont eating is one of the great pleasures of life. It is something that is taken extremely seriously. The cooking includes some of the most complex Italian recipes, requiring time and precision to make perfectly. Already the range of antipasti is so vast and varied that it represents a compendium of regional cooking with dishes that elsewhere might qualify as main courses. Classic openers are fonduta, cheese fondue, vitello tonnato, veal with tuna sauce and bagna cauda, strong anchovies sauce for raw vegetables. Salads may consist of greens, asparagus, sweet-sour onions, beans or wild mushrooms. Red and yellow bell peppers are eaten with dressings or, like other vegetables, blended in flans called sformati. Zucchini flowers or Savoy cabbage (verza) leaves with meat-cheese fillings may be called caponet. Rice and cheese are used for croquettes, cakes and fritters. Eggs may be fried sunny side up with truffles or cooked with vegetables or peppers as frittata or in an onion custard.

Antipasto lists continue with tongue, tripe, fried pig's trotters called batsoa and stewed snails lumache. Patés and terrines are made of liver and game birds. Fine pork salumi include salame alla douja, aged in lard in terracotta vases, and blood sausages called sanguinacci. Salami is also made from beef, goose, trout and potatoes. Munched with virtually everything are grissini, yard-long breadsticks first baked in Turin in the 17th century.

Pastas are dominated by slender, hand-cut noodles called tajarin and ravioli-like envelopes called agnolotti, which take to different forms, fillings and sauces. Flatlands near the Po around Vercelli and Novara are Europe's leading suppliers of rice, notably the prized Carnaroli for risotto cooked with beans and pork as panissa or paniscia or with frogs, vegetable or meat sauces or simply with butter and shaved truffles. Polenta and potato gnocchis are favored in soups, such as cisrà, with chickpeas and pork rind, and tôfeja, with beans, corn flour, vegetables and pork.

The region raises prized beef of the breed known as razza piemontese to be braised in red wine, roasted, grilled or simmered as the base of bollito misto. Recipes abound for veal, lamb, kid and rabbit, as well as duck, goose, chicken, capon and pigeon. Pheasant, partridge, hare and venison are favorites among game. Meats and other items combine in fritto misto. Fried pork liver is the base of a dish called griva. Tapulone is a stew of donkey meat served around Novara. Anchovies and tuna flavor many a dish, though fresh fish is secondary in the diet, with an exception for trout from mountain lakes and streams.

Piedmont produces quantities of Gorgonzola from Novara, as well as Taleggio and Grana Padano; DOP cheeses that are also made in neighboring regions. Piedmont also offers an intricate array of local cheeses protected by DOP. Notable are the soft Robiola di Roccaverano, which is based on sheep's milk, and Murazzano, which is based on cow's milk with some goat or sheep's milk blended in. The little wheels of Toma Piemontese come from hill towns in the region. Tome or tume are usually based on cow's milk, as is the rare Castelmagno, sharp in flavor and flecked with blue mold. Bra, named for the town near Cuneo, may be soft when young or hard with age. The similar Raschera comes from the heights of the Maritime Alps. A pervasively pungent fermented cheese is known variously as brôs, bruss, bruz. Fontina, preferably from Valle d'Aosta, is widely used in cooking.

Piedmont is a major producer of hazelnuts, protected under IGP. They are used in pastries, cakes, chocolates and the nougat called torrone. Chestnuts are roasted or candied as marrons glacés. Among a wealth of biscuits, pastries and desserts, standouts are corn flour cookies, the chocolate or coffee flavored custard cake called bonèt, cream cooked with caramel as panna cotta, an opulent chocolate cake called torta gianduia and fluffy zabaione, which supposedly originated here.
  • Risotto alla piemontese: - risotto cooked with meat broth and seasoned with nutmeg, parmesan and truffle
  • Paniscia di Novara: - a dish based on rice with borlotti beans, salame and vegetables
  • Bagna cauda: - literally translated from Piedmontese dialect, it means "warm sauce". The ingredients suggest it is a country recipe, because all the ingredients are garden grown. Even the oil was probably produced on the farm. The exception is anchovies, which were widely used as a substitute for salt. To accompain vegetables (either raw or cooked), meat or fried polenta sticks
  • Carne cruda all'albese - steak tartare with truffles
  • Vitello tonnato - cooked veal in tuna sauce
  • Bollito misto - boild meats
BAGNA CAUDA
Ingredients:
  • 4 cloves garlic, crushed
  • 70 gr. butter, melted
  • 200 gr. salted anchovies
  • pepper
  • 1 cup olive oil
Preparation:
Sauté the crushed garlic and chopped anchovy fillets in the oil. Stir constantly until the anchovies disintegrate. Add butter and mix. Add pepper to taste. This sauce is served in a pot, for everyone to dip the vegetables in, or in individual terracotta bowls. The garlic's flavor becomes somewhat milder if you leave the cloves to soak in milk for a few hours or add a small amount of cream at the last minute. Bagna cauda must be placed on warmers, as it must simmer constantly. It is usually served with cardoons, fennel, peppers, celery and carrots, much like Pinzimonio.

BRASATO AL BAROLO
Ingredients:
  • 1 kg. top round beef
  • 2 carrots
  • 2 onions
  • a few celery stalks
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 2 tbs. oil
  • 1 bottle Barolo spices, flour for dusting, salt, pepper
Preparation:
Salt, pepper and marinate the meat with the vegetables, aromatic herbs spices and wine for 12-24 hours at a cool temperature, but not in the refrigerator. Drain the meat. Heat the oil in a large pan. Dust the meat with flour and brown the meat on all sides over a high flame. Add the marinade. Cover and cook gently in the oven at 175 C for 3-4 hours. Remove the brasato from its cooking juice, set aside and keep warm. Sieve finely the cooking juices with the vegetables. Adjust seasoning. Reduce a bit, slice the brasato, arrange in a pre-heated platter and serve with potato gnocchi, soft polenta, or mashed potatoes.

SEMIFREDDO AL TORRONE
Ingredients:
  • 3 large eggs, separated
  • ½ dl sugar
  • 3/4  dl hot milk
  • 2 dl finely chopped or crushed torrone classico
  • 2 tablespoons almond-flavored liqueur, such as amaretto
  • ¼ dl finely chopped bittersweet chocolate
  • 2 dl whipping cream
  • 150 gr coarsely chopped bittersweet chocolate
Preparation:
Put the egg yolks and sugar in a bowl. With a whisk or electric mixer, beat until thick and pale yellow, 1 to 2 minutes. Slowly add the hot milk. Pour the mixture into a saucepan and cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, until it's thick enough to coat a metal spoon. Do not let custard boil. Remove from heat and set in bowl of ice water; stir often until cold. Stir in 1 cup nougat and the liqueur.Line a loaf pan with a single sheet of plastic wrap, leaving overhang on all sides. Sprinkle the bottom first with remaining 1 cup nougat, then the 1/4 cup chocolate, spreading them evenly. In a bowl with clean beaters or a whisk, whip egg whites to stiff peaks. In a separate bowl, whip 1 1/4 cups cream to firm peaks.

Pour custard over egg whites and fold in gently. Fold in whipped cream until no white streaks remain.

Pour the custard mixture into the loaf pan. Cover with overhanging plastic wrap. Freeze semifreddo until firm, at least 6 hours or up to 1 week.