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Episode #105: Dishes to try in Piedmont

dishes from piedmont

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Piedmont, tucked up in the northwest of Italy on the border of France and Switzerland, has a royal heritage, gorgeous rolling hills, and is covered in vineyards. With a reputation for some of the finest food and wine in Europe and less than an hour away from Milan, it is somehow not on many visitors’ itineraries but the dishes shared here are sure to tempt you to visit!  

Show notes

Joining us is Australian and Piedmont (Piemonte) resident Olivia Windsor who will be leading Untold Italy’s tours in Piedmont and who has a boundless passion for the food and wine of the region. Olivia dedicates her days to sniffing out the very best cheese, intimate wine experiences, and tastiest dishes. Italian food is very regional and varies from town to town, district to district, and Olivia shares some of Piedmont’s must-try dishes, including truffles, rich pasta dishes, and some of the most delicious antipasti or appetizers in the land! 

What you’ll learn in this episode

  1. The Piedmont region is situated far up in the North of Italy, on the border with France. It’s landlocked but Liguria, its neighboring region is on the coast. Milan is also not far, at just over an hour train ride away on the fast train
  2. Rice is really big in parts of Piedmont –  Vercelli and Novara and 50% of Italy’s rice is produced in Piedmont. So obviously, with that rice, risotto and similar dishes are popular there
  3. The hazelnuts from Piedmont are famous for being the best in the world – from the Langhe region, this specific type of hazelnut is called the tonda gentile variety. This is because of the soil in Le Langhe. They have tried to grow the same hazel in the US, but it didn’t work well. They just couldn’t produce the same flavor. The region’s famous wine, Barolo is also down to the qualities in the soil there
  4. Piedmont is also home to the world-renowned white truffles from Alba. Black truffles can be taken to other countries and farmed, but white truffles, you can’t. There are various places in Italy that have white truffles, but Piedmont has this very special, highly valued variety (with the matching price tag)
  5. Olivia had the most incredible introduction to Piedmont dishes. Her partner, Andrea’s nonna, was a great cook and although Olivia never got to meet her, when they were cleaning out her over 100-year-old house, they came across the incredible discovery of all of her recipes. Folders and folders of handwritten recipes in the most beautiful handwriting. Half Piemontese, half Ligurian, it was a treasure trove of recipes that nonna had made and learned over the years. Olivia is making her way through all these recipes – learning to cook and enjoying the eating
  6. The courses of an Italian meal are Antipasti, Primi, Secondi and Dolci (dessert). Piedmont is really big on the antipasti but beware filling up too much on it with more courses to come
  7. It can be a good idea to have a big lunch because this makes it easier to manage all those courses, with time to digest going into the dinner. So Italians tend to have a bigger lunch, certainly on a weekend and then your dinner is a little lighter. You can, of course, do both if you’re visiting and have the stamina!  
  8. Vitello tonnato is a Piedmont classic antipasti dish of cold, sliced veal covered with a creamy, mayonnaise sauce flavored with tuna. It may not sound that tempting to everyone but it comes highly recommended by Olivia so a must-try on a visit to Piedmont
  9. Shared plates don’t really exist as a concept in Piedmont. Everyone likes to have their own plate, so for antipasti, you’d tend to have your own small plate as it’s not a meal – so you can maybe go for Vitello tonnato and one other antipasto if it’s lunchtime and you’ve got the whole day to sort of digest.
  10. Another recommendation is Carne Cruda a raw meat dish made from the high-quality fassona beef of the local hay and grain-fed cows. It is known to be not just tender and juicy but also lower in cholesterol. Rather than minced it is very thinly sliced (al coltello) and served with a sprinkle of salt, some oil, some lemon (though no lemon for the purists). If you’re visiting in truffle time you can have it with shaved truffle over the top which is out of this world delicious (joining the Untold Italy Piedmont Fall tour will definitely mean enjoying that special extra). Typically served with bread on the side to spread over
  11. Despite being landlocked, anchovies are a big thing in Piedmont, and they’re in a lot of dishes. Acciughe al verde is anchovies in a salsa verde (garlic and parsley) – really delicious and light
  12. The story of the popularity of anchovies here dates back to ancient trade routes into France and Liguria. Salt was very expensive and so to avoid paying taxes on salt, traders used to fill these big barrels of salt up with anchovies to hide how much salt they were carrying and over time, the anchovies themselves actually became like a really hot commodity and really popular with the locals
  13. Although Piedmont is more famous for red wine, there is a great white wine to drink with antipasti, the Arneis – light, citrusy and fresh. Or for an easy red accompaniment go for Barbera or Grignolino
  14. If you’re going out to a restaurant, you don’t have to do a Primi and Secondi. You can choose. Primi generally means pasta so a good choice for pasta lovers. A wonderful local pasta is Tajarin egg ribbon pasta. Tajarin is the local dialect – it is Tagliolini in Italian. This can come with a variety of sauces – meat ragu, simply butter, and again, if you come during white truffle season, you can have it with the freshly shaved white truffles on top and some egg yolk mixed through (as they will be enjoying on the Untold Italy Piedmont Fall tour)
  15. Agnolotti is a stuffed pasta with a pinched edge. Generally, it’s filled with a roast meat filling, such as beef and perhaps some vegetables, like spinach. The delicious meat sauce that the meat has been simmering away in is then used for the sauce to coat the pasta. During white truffle season, you get decadent once again and have that with butter and shaved truffles over the top
  16. Don’t panic about having a huge serving of these rich pasta dishes alongside all the other courses. These aren’t the big bowls of pasta you might be used to at home. They are very small servings – maybe the size of a fist but packed full of flavor. Another difference you might find in Italian pastas, compared to your home country, is there is a bigger emphasis on the pasta itself, rather than the sauce
  17. You might think there only really one way to make pasta, but if you go down to South to say, Puglia, they don’t really even use eggs – it’s more of a water and flour-based pasta, but as you head north, the cuisine gets richer and denser with eggs and butter
  18. If you wanted to try a different wine for your Primi course then Dolcetto is a great choice – a slightly more sophisticated red 
  19. For Secondi,  it’s definitely worth trying the Brasato al Barolo – a Piemontese classic dish of veal braised in Barolo wine. The meat is slow-cooked in an entire bottle of Barolo making it an extremely decadent dish. This is generally found in the cooler seasons
  20. A great Fall/wintertime treat is Bagna Cauda. In the local dialect, this means ‘hot bath’ and this is a sauce made of garlic and anchovies (really heavy on the garlic) in which you dip bread and vegetables like carrot sticks or roasted peppers (peperone). It may be listed as a Secondi but because it’s so filling you might want to skip the Primi if you’re planning on ordering this.
  21. Many of these dishes, like Bagna Cauda and Brasato al Barolo, are very specific to Piedmont and you will not find them in any other region in Italy
  22. Although here we’ve mentioned a few famous meat dishes if you’re vegetarian there are also tons of vegetable dishes in the region. In the antipasti area, for instance, there’s a big tradition of marinated and pickled vegetables and Bagna Cauda is a great example of a non-meat dish and it’s Piedmont’s most famous food!
  23. For Secondi – this is where the most famous red wine in Piemonte and possibly all of Italy comes out – the Barolo. Barolo comes from the Nebbiolo grape. It’s a full-bodied wine, there’s high tannin, it’s structured, really sophisticated and it has to be aged for a number of years before it’s able to be sold
  24. In the heart of the region where Barolo comes from there are some beautiful towns (which will definitely be visited on any Untold Italy Piedmont tour). These towns and villages are fairytale-like with stone walls, vines, spires, cobbled streets, and ancient alleyways
  25. For a Piemontese dessert, there is Zabaglione. It is made with egg yolks, sugar, and sweet wine (great if you’re lactose intolerant). It is very light and you can have it like custard and pour it over things – like hazelnut cake or have it served on its own to dip little biscuits into
  26. Another dessert treat to try is Bunet which is a rich chocolate flan of sorts. Great for chocolate fans in a region that is so famous for chocolate with a caramel sauce. It’s a cold dish so good in any season
  27. Dolci will pair beautifully with Moscato di Asti – from the town of Asti, famous for producing this sweet sparkling wine.  An OCG Moscato di Asti is way superior to the mass-produced Moscato you may have had in the past and works beautifully with the sweet end of a meal
  28. There are some amazing restaurants in which to try these dishes – try to avoid places that are touristy and are serving non-regional dishes like carbonara. Turin has a variety of great restaurants from somewhere specializing in Vitello tonnato to somewhere that puts a modern twist on the dishes. You can then go out into the charming old towns for country-style eating with rustic settings and incredible views

About our guest – Olivia Windsor

Olivia is an Italophile who moved to Italy in May 2019 to indulge in her love for the land of la dolce vita, cooking, food & wine. What was meant to be just 12 months has quickly turned into a year and a half… and counting! She has explored the country south to north, working in agriturismi and organic wineries before settling in Turin, Piedmont for the last year after meeting a local Piemontese man. Olivia writes a blog called Livguine, named after her love for pasta and her nickname Liv and has just started offering virtual & in-person food, wine & travel experiences in Northern Italy.

Olivia is hosting Untold Italy Tours in both Piedmont and Puglia.

You can find Olivia on these channels:

Places mentioned in the show

  • Torino/Turin. – the capital of Piedmont
  • Cascina Luli – winery in the Monferrato region, in a stunning setting
  • Le Langhe –  a hilly area in the province of Asti in Piedmont, northern Italy
  • Alba – town famous for truffles in the northern Piedmont region
  • Vercelli and Novara – famous for their rice
  • Bra – little town near Turin that holds the cheese festival and has a famous raw sausage
  • Neive – a Borghi più belli d’italia village with buildings covered in ivy that goes red in the autumn/fall
  • Asti –  a town in the Tanaro River valley of Piedmont

Food & Drink

Our menu of Piemontese dishes to try

Antipasti:

  • Vitello tonnato – a dish of cold, sliced veal covered with a creamy, mayonnaise-like sauce that has been flavored with tuna
  • Acciughe al verde  – anchovies in green sauce/salsa verdi
  • Carne Cruda (la battuta) – raw meat dish made from the high quality fassona beef of the Piedmontese cow
  • Salsiccia di bra –  a specialty raw sausage from the town of Bra. They serve it on bread with a little olive oil and perhaps a little extra salt
    Pair Antipasti with either an Arneis for white wine drinkers or a light, easy red like a Grignolino or Barbera

Primi:

  • Agnolotti / agnolotti al plin – a stuffed pasta usually with a beef filling with pinched edges and often served with the sauce of the meat cooked for the filling great in brodo or with truffles
  • Tajarin pasta (Tagliolini in Italian) – a ribbon pasta, halfway between spaghetti and tagliatelle (great with a ragu)
    Pair Primi with a Barbera, or Dolcetto wine

Secondi:

  • Brasato al barolo – braised veal cooked in a bottle of Barolo wine – a decadent treat
  • Bagna Cauda – is a hot sauce made of garlic and anchovies (really heavy on the garlic) in which you dip bread and vegetables like carrot sticks
    Pair Secondi with Nebbiolo or a Barolo

Dolci:

  • bunet  – a cold chocolate flan
  • zabaglione sauce – best served with hazelnut cake or on it’s own with amaretti biscuits
    Pair Dolci with Moscato di Asti 

Other Food & Drink:

  • hazelnuts – the famous Piedmont variety is tonda gentile
  • pesche ripiene (stuffed baked peaches) –  a special treat when peaches are really juicy and ripe in the summer, they’re filled with amaretti biscuits – maybe you can have a scoop of gelato with them after they baked in the oven
  • chocolate (Cunesi al Rhum, giandiuotti)
  • cheeses – Piemonte has some of the best soft cow cheeses in all of Italy (Toma, Gorgonzola, Fontina)
  • crostata – tart/pie
  • grissini breadsticks – ‘grissini’ are the iconic Italian crispy breadsticks which date back their origin around 1670
  • peperone – Italian for capsicum/peppers
  • nebbiolo – grape variety
  • insalata russa – Russian Salad

Resources

  • agriturismian agriturismo is a farm stay – working farms that are set up to receive guests for meals and/or overnight stays
  • vendemmia – the wine harvest
  • al coltello – means cut by the knife – so for meat that isn’t minced but cut by hand
  • Borghi più belli d’italia – an association of small Italian towns of historical interest

Resources from Untold Italy

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