is an everyday passion in
red sauce. Piedmont's cuisine is
rich, with white sauces, not red, and plentiful butter, as befits
Piedmontese family has secret
addresses for a winemaker tucked into the steep, castle-topped hills of Barolo
who will give them a private taste of the latest vintage, or a restaurant 45
minutes into the hills where a grandmother still makes the most delicate pasta
for Sunday lunch. It's no accident
that the world leader in conserving traditional cuisine, Slow Food, was born and
still has its internationally powerful base in Bra, 45 minutes from the capital,
Here's a dream meal made up of the most typical dishes--each utterly different from the other, from rustic to refined, from delicate to powerful--and each an irreplaceable piece of Piedmont.
Start with bagna caoda, a first course that can easily become a meal. The name is for a "hot bath" for raw vegetables, a communal dip, a condiment, a way to come together over a fragrant, exhilarating sauce. The vegetables are simple but fresh, and bright-flavored: carrots and celery; lightly licorice-scented fresh fennel; and two symbols of Piedmont--cardoons, which look like long, elegantly ribbed, light green ribs of celery and taste like crunchy, gently flavored artichokes (a close relative); and peperoni "quadretti," square red bell peppers admired for their full figure and full flavor. Everyone dips these spears, a la fondue, into the bath of olive oil, garlic, and anchovies, which slowly infuse over a low flame until all the flavors meld into a savory and strong dressing that the Piedmontese want on everything. That is, they make a meal of it, putting it on boiled potatoes and the starch that kept the region alive for centuries--polenta, made with the golden cornmeal ground between rough round stones from ears of corn that still dry every fall in picturesque triangular wire cribs on every Piedmont farm.
truffles, precious beige nuggets that look cocoa-dusted, are the subject of an
annual international food frenzy, and so rare that they would seem far removed
from the earthy power of bagna
caoda. If you've ever eaten a
musky wild mushroom, or had wild garlic in springtime, or licked a few grains of
the finest sea salt, you have the beginnings of an idea of the flavor of white
truffles. The scent is delicate but
pungent, pervasive, and powerfully attractive--many compare the first taste of
white truffle to falling in love. From late October through early January the
world beats a path to the glorious wine country of the Langhe, south of
The forests produce great wild mushrooms, too, like ovoli and porcini, which some gourmets value almost as highly as truffles--or the classic butter and sage, sauce that shows the Piedmontese love of butter (yes, there's a lot of butter and egg in Piedmont cuisine; leave your cholesterol count at home). Mushrooms or butter and sage are classic with risotto and tajarin. Or, to enjoy that satiny pasta, you can have the Sunday lunch par excellence: plin, tiny, thumbnail-sized "folded" agnolotti filled with veal, beef, and pork, so exquisitely made that the usual dressing is nothing more than butter.
The main course is monumental, and usually eaten only in restaurants, because it takes time and expertise to make: bollito misto, all sorts of cuts of beef, veal, and pork served from a steaming silver cart sliced with care for each diner and accompanied by Piedmont's special "bathing" sauces, or bagnetti. These are named for their colors, which happen to match those of the Italian flag green, pungent with parsley, anchovies, and garlic; red, with tomato and piquant spices; and sometimes a Piedmont specialty, cogna--a sweet, lightly spiced chunky marmalade with quince and pears cooked in red wine that is the local chutney.
choice for dessert. You have to
have hazelnuts and chocolate--the pairing that
with flowing, silken chocolate, hazelnuts gave birth to Nutella, the addictive spread born in
could be. These mini-ingots,
individually wrapped in gilded paper, are the true consummation of the
not-too-sweet chocolate mixed with a paste of toasted ground hazelnuts to
make impossibly mouth-filling chocolates whose flavor lasts and lasts. Spectacular Art Nouveau cafes and
gorgeously detailed artisan chocolate shops throughout Piedmont and especially
in the capital,