Many familiar Italian culinary delights hail from the Piemonte region: risotto, Nutella, truffles, and of course, wine. But wait, there's more! Grissini, those delightfully crunchy slender breadsticks that deliver antipasti to your palate hail from Piemonte. Borne from spiky hulls, chestnuts make frequent appearances in various savory iterations. Owing partly to the geography and climate, Piemontese cuisine on a whole is hearty and filling. This is the land for those that love food that is simple yet richly fulfilling.
Hazelnuts + Chocolate
While Perugia receives its own acclaim for chocolate production, outside of Italy Piemonte - particularly Turin - is off the radar. But who can ignore the home of now-ubiquitous Nutella? While chocolates of the finest quality have been produced in Turin since around the 18th century, during WWII ground or powdered hazelnuts were added to stretch strangled cocoa supplies. Thus began the beautiful marriage of chocolate with hazelnuts (gianduia) that has become a hallmark of Italian chocolate creations.
|Photo courtesy CycloneBill on Flickr|
While Prosciutto is arguably one of Italy's most famous exports, Piemonte has its own signature cured meat. Here you'll find Filetto Baciatto , a pork filet marinated in white wine before being covered in a salami paste, packed in a casing, and then left to cure for six months.
Perhaps you might enjoy a savory Bresato: beef filet braised in the famous Barolo wine. An unusual combination is Vitello Tonnato, which is veal simmered in a broth and garnished with capers and tuna sauce. If you're a fan of the unusual, try out common blood sausages or Finanziera - mixed organ meats seasoned with Marsala, mushrooms, vinegar, and garlic.
Rabbit is another popular dish, as well as a number of dishes using beef in similar preparation to a tartare or carpaccio. In season, truffles will often be used as a finishing garnish. Various bollito dishes abound, which will be boiled meats in broth - everything from beef to veal to poultry. These will frequently be accompanied by either bagnet verde (parlsey, anchovy, garlic, and bread crumbs) or ross (a spicy tomato condiment).
Seafood is a much rarer find, though anchovies and tuna have made their way in from Liguria, plus a smattering of freshwater fish like trout or perch. A dip for vegetables is called Bagna Cauda, made with olive oil, butter, garlic, and anchovies. Vitello Tonnato is of course veal, swathed in a creamy tuna and caper concoction and generally served chilled. On a whole, beef, veal, game, poultry, and organ meats will swiftly deliver meat lovers to food coma heaven!
|Photo courtesy Alessandro Liguori|
You'll often hear me wax poetic about cheese - the variety of cheeses in Italy is purely dizzying. Get outside of mozzarella and parmesean, and explore some delicious mountain cheeses that will really knock your socks off. Cow's milk cheeses dominate, with occasional additions of sheep or goat milk as well.
For hard cheeses, which are quite common in the region, enjoy the tang of Grana Padano or Castelmagno grated over gnocchi or just snack on chunks of it.
One of my personal favorites is Robiola. Many years ago, when working at Fred's in New York, there was a sort of pizza on the menu made with this very unusual cheese. With a hearty proportion of sheep's milk, this soft cheese has a tang not unlike sour cream, and comes in several iterations dependent upon the region.
One especially decadent offering is Fonduta, a fondue made with Fontina, egg yolk, butter, and milk - and sometimes a touch of truffle, naturally. You'll also find varying takes on Toma, Bra, Gorgonzola, Taleggio, and Raschera. This is by no means an exhaustive account - there are many varieties that are unique to their particular town, so hit the markets and take a cheese tour!
Piemonte can tie one arm behind its back and go head to head with Tuscany any day. It would be too easy to dedicate an entire post to that nectar alone. Piemonte produces an incredible amount of DOC and DOCG wines, the upper echelon of fine Italian production. The most famous varietals come from around Asti and Alba, and reds dominate. The robust Nebbiolo grape gives us the velvety rich Barolo and Barbaresco wines, while Barbera is a grape variety of its own. As Alba and Asti are the leading centers of wine production, much like Chianti in Tuscany, you'll often see "di Alba" or "d'Asti" one the label.
Dolcetto is another grape, often used to create sweet tipples well suited to accompany dessert. The Moscato grape is gaining popularity stateside amongst sweet-wine drinkers as we speak, but is also used to make bubbly Spumante. While traditional grapes are a pretty short list, like many regions of Italy, Piemonte is diversifying and starting to produce Cabernet, Pinot Noir, Merlot, Sauvignon Blanc and even Chardonnay.
Looking down on Piemonte's vineyards, courtesy Megan Mallen
It is harder to condense the culinary offerings of any region of Italy into a handful of paragraphs, but a few more items merit mention before you run off to book a flight or start researching recipes to whip up in your own kitchen. The towns of Novara and Vercelli are famous for their risotto production, a popular staple throughout northern Italy. The decadently thick and creamy dessert of Zabaglione originated here, originally made with Moscato D'Asti though typically seen now with Marsala. Snack on potato or rice croquettes laced with any number of cheeses, or reacquaint yourself with cabbage done right, stuffed with any number of hearty fillings. And did I mention truffles? If the heady scent of these rare culinary delicacies sends you into fits of irrational joy, head to Piemonte in the Fall for truffle concoctions galore.
With so much to choose from, it's entirely possible I've missed something, so let me know if I missed one of your favorites. Share it with us in the comments, and share this with your fellow chow hounds!