Discover the Rich Flavors of Piedmont with These 15 Iconic Dishes
What are the influences of Piedmontese cuisine?
Piedmont is a borderland, marginal in some respects to the rest of Italy, which for centuries has had cultural connections from beyond the Alps and which, in the last century, was hit by massive internal migratory flows.
Indeed, those of Piedmont do not seem to be favourable conditions for the development and maintenance of a strong culinary identity. Yet, Piedmontese cuisine enjoys universal prestige.
What is the cuisine of Piedmont?
Its worldwide fame is linked first and foremost to the excellence of its red wines and precious products such as the white truffle. There is also much more. From the plains on the border with Lombardy comes, above all, rice; from the lakes come precious fish; from the Alpine region comes a wide variety of cheeses; from the hilly areas, fine beef, other cheeses, truffles, fruit and vegetables (peppers and hazelnuts above all).
Wines are widely used in cooking (especially in risottos and braised dishes). What is common to all these areas is a preponderance of starters which are unknown in other Italian regions; the habit of eating some foods raw (meat and vegetables); the prevalence, among first courses, of fresh pasta dishes, both filled (agnolotti) and not (tajarin); the use of animal fats as seasoning; a considerable variety of speciality desserts (bonet, panna cotta) and small pastries.
What are the best dishes of Piedmontese cuisine?
Chicken giblets, pieces of veal, beef, rooster, are cooked together with porcini mushrooms according to an ancient and refined recipe. So-called ‘poor ingredients’ for an aristocratic dish, which takes its name from the men of high finance in Turin, who in past centuries used to favour this dish for working lunches to keep the stomach light and the mind clear.
In reality, it is a very rich and composite kind of sauce, and it is delicious.
Acciughe al verde (Anchovies in green sauce)
A classic appetiser, one of the simplest and most appetising in Piedmontese cuisine. The green 'bagnetto' sauce involves an anchovy taken from anchovies pickled in oil, garlic and parsley. Everything is chopped together, or else one ingredient at a time is chopped with a knife and then mixed - in either case, no mechanical devices should be used.
The mixture is then added to fine breadcrumbs (using the soft inside part of the bread), adding as much extra virgin olive oil as the mixture can absorb and adding salt to taste.
Bonèt literally means cap, alluding to the mould which is similar to an eighteenth-century form of male headgear. It is a kind of pudding made of eggs, sugar, milk, cocoa, macaroons and rum. Together with panna cotta, it is certainly the best-known dessert in Piedmontese cuisine.
Many Piedmontese restaurants have their own recipe - some add hazelnuts, some flavour it with coffee, some soften it with cream.
► Read the recipe
Bollito misto (Mixed boiled meats)
This dish is both simple and monumental, one of the emblems of Piedmontese cuisine, although without having really ancient roots. There can be up to 14 cuts, according to the rule of perfect numbers: seven noble cuts (brisket, flank, fat and lean rib, thigh, shoulder, nut or leg muscle, ‘scaramella’) together with as many minor cuts and offal ( head, trotter, tail, tongue, hen, cotechino, meat roll enclosing cooked salami).
And again, there should be seven accompanying vegetables, all boiled in broth except for barbecued peppers and pickles. One other perfect number for the sauces: a triad formed by the green bagnetto (made with parsley, anchovies and garlic), the red bagnetto (tomato-based) and mostarda (mustard-based)
Vitello tonnato (Veal in sauce)
Some Piedmontese also call it 'veal rump in salt', but it remains an emblematic dish that unfailingly opens the procession of Piedmontese starters.
The recipe starts with braised rump (which must be soft and pink inside) and covered with a sauce of capers and anchovies, known as vitel tonné, later translated as tonnato, probably meaning 'preserved’ or ‘dressed'.
Battuta al Coltello (Knife-braised beef)
The glory of Piedmontese hors d'oeuvres, the 'salad' of raw meat appears on the tables of families, trattorias, and restaurant banquets.
The basic rules are: thigh meat (sometimes even shoulder) beaten with a knife and not passed through the mincer or mixer; crushed garlic (for those who wish); lemon juice added at the last moment to prevent the meat 'cooking' with an unpleasant whitish appearance (but only if necessary). If in season, truffles, ovuli , or finely sliced porcini mushrooms can be added.
Potato gnocchi with Piedmontese cheeses (Castelmagno)
There are many Italian regions competing for the paternity of gnocchi. Certainly the American tuber only spread to Italy at the end of the 18th century, and we have to wait until the beginning of the 19th century for gnocchi to arrive in Italian kitchens.
Piedmontese potato gnocchi come in the form of small cylinders as small as acorns and are shaped with the thumb on the tines of a fork or the back of a grater. The dough is simple: white flour, yellow or white potatoes (the important thing is that they are a floury variety) and eggs, in different proportions but always calculated to obtain a soft and delicate mixture.
Insalata Russa (Russian Salad)
A classic and widespread dish that has nothing to do with Russia. Its origin is French and dates back to the Belle Époque.
Indeed, it is France that had something to do with Russia and perhaps their Parisian acquaintances loved elaborate and expensive dishes, like this salad, whose ingredients included truffle, lobster, and caviar. From France, the salad arrived in Piedmont. Today's version is much lighter, including boiled garden vegetables dressed with a little mayonnaise.
Agnolotti del Plin
A masterpiece of flavour and balance, this is a traditional dish executed with painstaking care and raw materials of the highest quality. The plin technique, the "pizzicotto" or ‘pinch’, gives the typical irregular shape and guarantees that the plin are homemade.
The classic is a filling of three types of meat (pork, rabbit, veal) and a pastry rich in egg yolks, which is very thin, and deep yellow in colour.
Fritto misto alla piemontese (Piedmontese Style Mixed fry)
The birth of this dish is linked to the ritual of pork butchering and the need to not waste anything. Originally, fritto misto included black pudding, lung, liver, batsoà (pig's feet), slices of loin and chunks of sausage. Over time, it was enriched with new ingredients. Extraordinarily rich in savoury and robust flavours, it is an appetising dish thanks to the the balance and harmony between the different flavours.
Also typical are pumpkin flowers, macaroons and sweet semolina. Three golden rules for frying: each piece must be cooked in iron frying pans, with extra vergine olive oil which is frequently changed, and served immediately, very hot.
Brasato al Barolo (Braised beef with Barolo)
For this classic cooking combination of beef and the 'king of wines', a cut of rump, or even shoulder, is fine; the important thing is that it is Piedmontese beef. The recipe is completed with rosemary, garlic, bay leaves, carrots, onions, celery and cloves and of course rather slow cooking.
Peperoni con bagna caoda (Peppers with bagna caoda)
Bagna caoda is a hot, or rather, boiling sauce: a poor, simple and robust food, for those who do not turn their nose up at the smell of garlic and the saltiness of anchovy. Its recipe dates back to medieval times: it is a garlic puree crushed in a mortar and cooked, which in Liguria gave rise to pesto and in Piedmont is combined with anchovies.
Extra virgin olive oil, anchovies and garlic are therefore the ingredients of the authentic recipe. Ingredients that tell the story of the salt route, which from the sea climbs inland and up the Alps, to reach the valleys of Cuneo, the Langhe and Monferrato. This sauce is often laid on peppers in Piedmont, but there can also be cardoons, Jerusalem artichokes, cabbage and spring onions.
Tajarin al sugo di carne (Tajarin with meat sauce)
This is a must of Langhe cuisine: 40 egg yolks, a pinch of salt and 1 kg of wheat flour to make a nice firm pastry and make it into really thin tagliatelline.
The main condiment is a sauce whose principle ingredients are chicken livers and Bra sausage, accompanied, in turn, by some fresh or peeled tomatoes.
Panissa or Paniscia
A classic from the Vercelli and Novara area made mainly of rice, beans borlotti beans, cabbage, onions, pork rind and salami. The name is said to derive from the fact that paniscia rice was originally used instead of panìco, a poor cereal similar to millet. The specific feature of the recipe is the fried onion, pork rind and salami, in which the rice is toasted, then blended with red wine.
The rice is then cooked together with the salami in the bean broth and whipped at the end with grated cheese
Traditional Piedmontese dessert made with milk, cream and sugar and, of course, 'a bit of coagulation'. The name ( meaning ‘cooked cream’) is curious and misleading, almost a joke: in reality, the cream not only does not cook, but must not even reach boiling point.
An important detail is the isinglass or gelatine, normally an indispensable ingredient, which here is sometimes replaced by whipped egg whites: a trick that makes the panna cotta softer.
► Read the recipe
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