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a tavola - august 1999
Piemontese cooking is among the best of the Italian regions. Great wines come from here and it's not a coincidence that the land that produces a great wine also produces a great cuisine.
Autumn has always been the richest season for the Langhe, land of Barolowine and of truffles, and of well-cultivated vineyards. After the grapes have been harvested the farmers go hunting for truffles. The Barolo wine does not betray, and goes perfectly with specialties such as "taiarin," narrow tagliatelle enriched with aromatic truffles. But be careful if you ask for "just a taste" of Barolo. Legend has it that King Carlo Alberto once asked the Marchesa di Barolo to "Send me a taste of the wine from you rcellars so that all will praise me." A few days later more than three hundred carts pulled by oxen arrived at the palace in Turin, each cart holding a "carrata" of wine, each "carrata" holding 800 litres.
One of the Piemontese specialties is "agnolotti," pasta made with eggs stuffed beef, pork, or rabbit, flavored with sausage, parmesan cheese, eggs and herbs. "Risotti" or rice dishes are another specialty, often covered with truffles. In past times a "risotto" might compose the entire meal, enriched with " (mushrooms), eels and frogs from the Po River, little birds on a spit, and other delicacies.
The second courses served in Piemonte reflect the French influence, for example "Brasato al Barolo" (braised beef with Barolo) and "Finanziera." The latter was originally a stew. "Bollito" or boiled meats is a dishServed without any extras. The assortment of meats is rich and includes pieces of pork, veal, turkey, beef and vegetables accompanied by pickled sauces and "salsa verde", a spicy green sauce made from parsley, garlic, breadcrumbs drenched in vinegar, hard-boiled eggs, olive oil and pepper.
Cheeses from the area include "Tome delle Langhe" and "Brus." The best "Tome" are soft inside with a thin pale yellow crust. Some farmers conserve them with oil and herbs. "Brus" is not advised for those with delicate stomachs, as it burns like a hot iron. It is the color of earth, and served spread on bread like jam, but what an explosive jam!
Turin is the capital of sweets. This austere and solemn city has always been linked to its glorious traditions. Even today Cambio, an historic restaurant, boasts a bronze plaque with the inscription "Conte di Cavour 1848-1861" marking the table reserved for the first Prime Minister of Italy. And it was a dessert that permitted the Savoia family to graduate from counts to dukes back in 1348 when Amedeo VI of Savoia presented a confection in the shape of a castle crowned with his crest to Carlo of Luxembourg, who aspired to the imperial crown of Germany. On becoming emperor Carlo repaid Amedeo by naming him Duke and imperial viceroy. From that day the pastry chefs of Turin let their imaginations flower.
Chocolate was produced in Turin even before Switzerland, and chocolatiers Giroldi and Giuliano were already famous in 1700 where their shop in Via Doragrossa served hot chocolate to faithful customers. They were joined by Peyrano, who today uses nine different types of cocoa in their production which includes bitter gianduiotti (made with almonds), pistachio shells and other specialties. Baratti & Milano and Caffarel are other famous names. And the French might be surprised to know the most French of desserts, the Montblanc, made with chestnuts and whipped cream, came originally from the Varaita Valley in Cuneo, and was translated into the elegant dessert in Turin and named after the nearby mountain Mont Blanc.
A brief history of truffles
In 1564, Dr. Alfonso Ciccarelli of Bevagna wrote a treatise entitled "DeTuberibus" dedicated to that most "scent"-ual of tubers, the truffle. The truffle's physical character obviously fascinated Pliny, who referred to it as a "callous under the earth". A Piemontese chef by the name of Giacomo Morra is credited with having been first to put truffles on the table.
As truffles grow under the earth, they are located using the sensitive noses of specially-trained dogs, who carefully dig them up with their paws. These dogs are referred to by the Piemontese as "tabui", which strangely enough means "bastards.".
ANTIPASTO - APPETIZERS
It is said that these small and savory breadsticks were developed in 17th century Piemonte, for the royal but delicate stomach of Vittorio Amedeo II, Duke of Savoy.
FORMAGGIO - CHEESE
Tomini Elettrici - Electric Tomini
Prepare six Tomini by sprinkling a little vinegar.
Separately, chop one hot pepper. Add one teaspoon of tomato sauce and mix
them with abundant olive oil.
Pour the sauce over the tomini so that they are completely covered and set
aside for at least 30 minutes before serving.
Literally translated as "hot bath," this dipping sauce for vegetables often appears in many Italian homes as part of the Christmas Eve buffet. Although cardoons (an edible thistle related to the artichoke but resembling celery) are traditional, celery makes a fine substitute and any combination of vegetables will do. In Italy, the routine goes like this: Vegetable pieces are dipped into the sauce (a fondue-style fork will help) and then eaten, with a slice of bread held underneath to catch the drippings. Once the bread is soaked with sauce, it's eaten, too. Then everyone starts over. It's fun for a party appetizer no matter where you live.
3/4 cup olive oil
6 tablespoons (3/4 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
12 anchovy fillets
6 large garlic cloves, chopped
Assorted fresh vegetables, cut into bite-size pieces
1 1-pound loaf crusty Italian or French bread, cut into 2-inch sections
Blend oil, butter, anchovies and garlic in processor until smooth. Transfer oil mixture to heavy medium saucepan. Cook over low heat 15 minutes, stirring, occasionally. (Sauce will separate.) Season with salt and pepper.
Pour sauce into fondue pot or other flameproof casserole. Set pot over alcohol burner or gas table burner to keep warm. Serve with vegetables and bread.
PRIMI PIATTI - FIRST COURSES
Taiarin with Gorgonzola and Walnuts
1 recipe taiarin pasta, rolled to thinnest setting on machine and cut into
1/8th inch strips
1 cup whipping cream
1/2 cup walnuts
1/2 cup Gorgonzola, broken into thumbnail-sized pieces
Bring 6 quarts water to boil and add 2 tablespoons salt.
In a 12 inch to 14 inch sauté pan, heat cream and walnuts to boil and remove from heat. Drop pasta into water and cook until tender, about 45 seconds. Drain well and toss into pan with nuts. Sprinkle with Gorgonzola cheese pieces, toss two or three times and serve immediately.
Risotto alla Piemontese
1 cup of risone (which is large, roundish rice)
4 cups of broth
50 g good cheese
50 g fresh butter
50 g white truffles, washed and cut into thin slices
salt and pepper
sauce from a roast
Put a good broth on to boil. Throw in some large, cleaned rice and cook it for 18 minutes on medium high. When it is almost done, season it with the cheese, fresh butter, white truffles, nutmeg, salt and pepper. Serve it in a soup terrine with a little sauce from a roast.
SECONDI PIATTI - SECOND COURSES
Bollito Misto - Boiled Meat and Vegetables
With seven kinds of meat seven vegetables, and seven condiments, this is a large party dish. You can pare this down to a simple dinner for 2 – 4 people by making only boiled beef and/or chicken and serving only one sauce- I would choose the mostarda or bagnet verte.
Though seven kinds of meat may seem like a lot, the variety is important because each compliments the others, producing a whole that is greater than the sum of the parts. You should include beef, veal, pork, chicken, tongue, zampone or cotechino, and feel free to add whatever other cuts of meat you feel might work. The pieces should be from older animals, because they will be more flavorful, and should also be large - this means that a good bollito misto is ideal for a convivial meal with friends, or for when you want to make something that will provide the wherewithal for several meals. In terms of cooking technique, preparing a bollito misto is straight forward: Bring a pot of lightly salted water to a rolling boil and add the beef, veal, chicken and vegetables (the hot water seals the meat; see below for timing). Boil, separately, the tongue and zampone or cotechino, assuming you choose to include them.
2 1/4 pounds beef -- the cut used in Italy is shoulder; (James Beard suggests beef brisket)
2 1/4 pounds neck or breast of veal
1 1/4 pounds calf's head (though required by tradition, this is becoming difficult to find; should you choose not to include it, increase the beef and veal, or add a pound of lean pork instead)
A veal's tongue, weighing 1 1/4 pounds
A chicken, weighing about 2 1/4 pounds
A cotechino weighing about 3/4 pound (cotechino is a pork sausage, available in Italian delicatessens; you can also use a zampone, which is a stuffed pig's foot)
3 ribs celery
2 onions, stuck with 2 cloves each
Fill a large pot with water sufficient to cover the meat. Lightly salt the water, add the vegetables, set the pot on the fire. Since you want the flavor to remain in the meat, wait until the water comes to a boil before adding the beef (the heat will seal in its juices). Reduce the flame to a simmer, and after about an hour, add the breast of veal, chicken, and calf's head (should you prefer not to use it, increase the quantities of beef and veal, or add a pound of lean pork -- this isn't piemontese, but the emilians do it.)
In the meantime, set a second pot of lightly salted water on the fire, bring it to a boil, and begin simmering the tongue when you add the veal and chicken to the beef. If you are using a fresh cotechino or zampone set it in a pot of cold lightly salted water at this time (prick the cotechino
all over, or loosen the string of the zampone first) and begin simmering it. If you instead buy precooked sausage, follow the instructions on the package.
The meats will be done when they are fork-tender, this will take about an hour or slightly more from when you add the veal and the chicken to the beef. Come serving time, the meats should be arranged on a heated platter, sprinkled with a ladle of hot broth, and carved at the table (cut the tongue and the cotechino or zampone, into 1/2-inch slices).
While the meats are boiling, you should see to the accompaniments.
Some of the condiments can be bought, and others made ahead; feel free to improvise as well. If you decide to follow tradition to the letter you will need:
salsa del pòvr'òm,
saosa 'd avije (honey sauce) (recipes follow below)
and coarse sea salt.
This sounds like, and is, a lot; feel free to make a selection of sauces -- for example the bagnetti (which you should serve), salt, mayonnaise, horseradish and a selection of good quality commercially prepared mustards.
2 1/4 pounds ripe tomatoes
A scant pound (400 g) onions
2 medium-sized carrots
1 rib celery
3 cloves garlic
1 tablespoon sugar
3/4 cup olive oil
2 tablespoons vinegar (red wine if possible)
hot red pepper to taste (go easy)
Coarsely chop the tomatoes, onions, carrots and celery,crush the garlic and put them all in a pot with half the oil. Bring the vegetables to a boil, then reduce the flame to a minimum and stir in the sugar and the vinegar. Simmer uncovered for about 3 1/2 half hours. Crank the vegetables through a foodmill into an elegant bowl, stir in the remaining oil, and add crushed red pepper and salt to taste.
Bagnet vert, which is closely related to salsa verde, requires:
1/4 pound of parsley
1 clove garlic
2 salted anchovies
2-3 slices day-old bread, with crusts removed (this will depend upon the
size of your loaf of bread)
3 small mild pickles (dills will work, though pickles without dill would
1 teaspoon capers, preserved in either vinegar or salt, rinsed
A scant cup of red wine vinegar
1/3 cup plus one tablespoon olive oil
Soak the bread in the vinegar. Bone and wash the anchovies. Mince the parsley with the garlic, anchovies, and pickles. Gently squeeze the bread to drain it, and add it to the mixture; continue mincing for a couple more minutes, then transfer the mixture to a bowl. Using a wooden spoon, slowly stir in the olive oil, working the mixture well so as to obtain a fairly fluid sauce.
Salsa del pòvr'òm, the poor man's sauce, requires:
2-3 spring onions
A few cloves of garlic
A cup of dry red wine
The juice of a lemon
Salt and pepper to taste.
Grind the onions, shallots, spring onions and garlic into a paste. Bring the cup of wine to a boil, then stir it into the paste. Salt the mixture to taste, and stir in the lemon juice. Put the sauce through a strainer (or blend it until it is very finely chopped), season it with pepper to taste, and it is ready.
Saosa 'd avije, honey sauce, requires:
1/2 cup honey
1/2 cup broth
1 teaspoon powdered mustard
Mix the honey and the broth and stir in the mustard. Clean the walnuts, removing the brownish skin surrounding the nutmeats, and mince them very fine. Stir the nuts into the honey mixture and the sauce is ready.
A jam-like condiment made from grape must that goes quite nicely with boiled meats, and is also surprisingly good with a selection of cheeses (you can substitute granulated honey in this case). Alas, the recipes I have seen all call for beginning with a gallon or more of grape must, an ingredient not easily available in most places. Nor is mostarda d'uva easy to find outside of Piemonte. However, if you have access to a well stocked delicatessen, you may be able to substitute Mostarda di Cremona, a distinctive sauce made by candying fruit with mustard seeds. As a final condiment for your bollito, you may want some balsamic vinegar – the Emilians generally do.
In addition to meats and condiments, you will need vegetables -- again,variety is important. Seasonal variability will of course dictate yourselection, but it should include at least onions, carrots, celery and potatoesboiled in or steamed over lightly salted water until are fork tender; servethe vegetables with olive oil and sweet butter for those who want them.
Finally, don't forget to serve good Italian-style bread.
Serves 8 - 10
Source: about.com Italian Food
SECONDI PIATTI VEGETERIANI - VEGETARIAN SECOND COURSES
Fungo gratinato - Mushroom gratin
4 medium sized porcini mushrooms
2 egg yolks
2 anchovy filets chopped
juice of one half a lemon
4 tbsp. oil
1 oz melted butter
2 tbsp chopped or olive oil
salt & pepper
Clean and cut the mushrooms in thin slices and place them on a lightly buttered plate on which you will have sprinkled small squares of celery and carrots. Prepare the sauce by blending the yolks, the anchovies, the lemon juice, the melted butter and the water until it forms a well creamed sauce that must not be too thick. Add parsley and season. Cover the mushrooms and place in the oven at 200°C/400°F for a few minutes then serve.
CONTORNI - SIDE DISHES
Spinaci Rifatti - Recooked Spinach
Spinach goes very well with roasted meats, and if you're eating in an old-fashioned home or restaurant in Northern Italy, you may well be served it with a sprinkling of the drippings from the roast.
Two pounds fresh spinach, washed well
2-3 tablespoons olive oil
2 medium cloves garlic, halved and crushed
Salt and pepper to taste
Optional: 1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper
Pick over the spinach, removing and discarding tough ribs, and coarsely chop the leaves. Heat it in a pot until it has wilted and drain it well, squeezing it to remove most of the water.
Heat the oil in a pan with the garlic, and once it begins to crackle, add the spinach in one fell swoop. Stir vigorously, season with salt and pepper to taste, and when it is heated through it is done.
Source: about.com Italian Food
Slice 1 kg of tomatoes into half-centimeter rounds. Season them with a little salt and pepper and a pinch of sugar and set aside. Roll out puff pastry (using frozen is fine) 26 to 28 cm springform tart pan (with a removable base). Dip the tomato slices in cornmeal coating them on both sides, and fry them slowly in a little olive oil until golden brown. Layer the slices into the pastry case. Sprinkle the top with chopped basil, then with 2 tablespoons of grated Parmesan cheese. Sprinkle with a few drops of oil.
Bake in a preheated 230C oven for 15 minutes, then lower the heat to 190C and cook for a further 20 minutes or so. Serve straight from the oven before the tomato juices can make the pastry soggy.
Peperoni Ripieni alla Piemontese - Piedmontese-Style Stuffed Peppers
7 oz. Mozzarella cheese
5 1/4 oz. Ricotta cheese
1 heaping tbsp. grated Parmigiano-Reggiano or Grana Padano cheese
3 1/2 oz. tuna preserved in oil, drained
3 anchovies cleaned of salt and boned
1 large bunch parsley
4 sage leaves
6 tbsp. tomato sauce
oregano or thyme
2 whole eggs and 1 yolk breadcrumbs.
Preheat the oven to 450° F. Roast the peppers, remove the skins, stems, seeds and filaments and cut them in half. Break up the cheeses and tuna into small pieces, chop the anchovy fillets with the parsley and sage leaves and carefully mix all of the ingredients. Add several tablespoons of tomato sauce and a pinch of oregano or thyme. Beat the eggs and 1 yolk and work into the mixture. Stuff the peppers. Pour a bit of olive oil and water in a baking dish, arrange the peppers in the dish and sprinkle the surfaces with breadcrumbs. Bake in a 450° F. oven for about 30 minutes. The peppers can be served warm or hot
DOLCI - SWEETS
1 quart cream
1 1/8 cups granulated sugar
3 sheets fish glue to thicken or flavorless gelatin
1 tablespoon all purpose flour
1 cup milk.
Warm the milk (don't let it boil), then dissolve the fish glue or gelatin in it and stir in the flour. Meanwhile, bring the cream to a boil for a couple of minutes, with 1 cup of the sugar. Remove from the fire and gently stir in the milk mixture.
Caramelize the remaining sugar and coat the insides of 8 individual-portion custard cups. Fill them with the cream mixture, and chill for 2 hours before serving.
Unmold them onto pretty plates when you serve them.
This is the basic recipe; you can make a sauce with fresh red & black currants, blueberries, and wild strawberries. Combine them (the amounts are up to you) with a tablespoon of currant jelly and gently warm them over the fire till the fruit is cooked and begins to come apart.
Spoon a bit of sauce over each serving.
Pere al Vino - Pears in Wine
2 1/4 pounds fresh, hard pears
20 whole cloves
2 cinnamon sticks (about 4 inches of cinnamon stick)
3/4 cup sugar
1 quart Barbaresco or other full bodied dry red wine
Wash and dry the pears. Bring the wine to a boil, with 2/3 cup sugar, the cloves, and the cinnamon. Add the pears and cook covered for about 45 minutes, at a steady boil, taking the lid off every now and again to check the level of the wine, which should cover the pears. When the pears are cooked transfer them to a platter with a slotted spoon. Strain the sauce, and, if it is too runny, cook it down until it thickens somewhat. Then pour it over the pears and sprinkle them with the remaining sugar. Serve cold.
Torta Piemontese alle Mandorle
1 1/4 cups granulated sugar
1 1/4 cups confectioner's sugar
1 1/4 cups almonds
2/3 cup finely ground corn meal
1/3 cup sweet butter
1/3 cup all purpose unbleached flour
1/3 cup potato starch (I have found this in the Kosher sections of
2/3 cup + a tablespoon raisins
Some maraschino liqueur
Butter and flour for buttering the pan.
Rinse the raisins and set them to soak in a little warm water. Blanch and peel the almonds, and heat them through in the oven to dry them (don't let them brown). Divide the almonds in half, and using about 1/4 cup of granulated sugar, grind the almonds to dust in a mortar (you can also use a blender to do this, but take care not to over blend lest the almonds give off their oil and form a paste).
Butter and flour a high-sided, 8-inch diameter cake pan. Melt the butter over a low flame and then let it cool to just above the temperature at which it solidifies. Crack the eggs into an untinned copper bowl with the remaining granulated sugar and whip the mixture; heat it until it is tepid, whipping all the while (over a double boiler will work), and transfer it to a larger bowl. Continue to beat the mixture (an electric beater will be fine here) until it becomes fluffy. Meanwhile, preheat your oven to 400 F (210), and pat the raisins dry.
Sift the flour, cornmeal, starch and almond powder into the egg mixture, making sure each ingredient is completely incorporated before adding the next. Add the raisins last, following them with the cool melted butter, added a little at a time, and 3 teaspoons of maraschino. Pour the batter into the cake pan and put it in the oven, reducing the temperature to 375 F (190 C), and bake the cake for about 40 minutes.
While it's baking, mince the remaining almonds. When it's done, remove it from the oven and let it cool on a grate. When it has cooled whip the confectioner's sugar with about a tablespoon of water to make an icing. Spread it over the cake, sprinkle the cake with the minced almonds, and it's done.
Based on a recipe by Fernanda Gosetti.
Source: about.com Italian Food
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