The joke amongst the locals about Piedmont cuisine is “you don’t eat anywhere better in the world, but you always eat the same thing.” And, it’s pretty accurate. Menus rarely deviate from the traditional antipasti, primi, and secondi fare rooted in the many facets of the region’s history and culture.
Piedmont cuisine is rich and savory, matching its powerful, tannin-heavy Nebbiolo wines. In addition to its famed Barolo, Barbaresco, and Barbera wines, the region is also home to world renowned beef, the Slow Food movement and the famous Alba white truffle, Tartufo Bianco d’Alba.
Piedmont Cuisine: 7 Regional Dishes
1. Bagna Cauda
Bagna Cauda is a staple of the region. Once upon a time this romantic delicacy kicked off Piemontese meals. The olive oil-based anchovy and garlic fondue is served over an open flame to keep it warm throughout the meal. In Piemontese bagna cauda means “hot bath”.
Traditionally the dish took center stage on the table, flanked by food and wine. According to Piedmont’s Wine Pass Italy, harvest workers ate heartily from the terra-cotta bowls by dipping roughly cut veggies in the smooth sauce. Its richness and the array of seasonal vegetables for dipping make it a popular autumn to winter dish. Locals like to enjoy it with the tannic Dolcetto or an acidic and fruity Barbera.
Celebrate Bagna Cauda
If you really want to experience Bagna Cauda, plan a trip to the region in November for the three day event that celebrates it. For details on Bagna Cauda Day visit BagnaCaudaDay.it.
2. Carne Cruda
A lot of westerners wrinkle their nose at the idea of carne cruda. It’s not that difficult to see why. It’s means raw meat, which is exactly what you get. In many parts of the world raw meat is a no-no due to the quality of uncooked beef. But, that is not the case with carne cruda in Piedmont.
The local cattle, called “Razza bovine piemontese” is known for its high standard of breeding as well as its low cholesterol content. In the 1870s the cattle started showing a unique “double muscling” characteristic that resulted in beef with extra muscle mass and very little fat. Despite the lack of fatty marbling this lean beef remains tender and juicy.
Carne cruda is served either thinly sliced as a beef carpaccio or ground, mixed with olive oil, fresh garlic, lemon juice, and salt and pepper. Black or white truffle shavings make it an extra special treat. The popular dish is served as an antipasto, the course before primo and after aperitivo. Enjoy it with Dolcetto or Barbera.
Every region of Italy has its own type of pasta. In Piedmont one of the most traditional is tajarin, a long, thin ribbon-like pasta that is similar to tagliatelle. Tajarin is a golden yellow color from the rich farmhouse eggs that resemble an orange hue. An early recipe is said to require 30 egg yolks and over two pounds (just under a kilo) of flour.
The pasta is cut into 1/8 to 1/4-inches wide strands. It is traditionally served with a tomato- and meat-based ragu or with a butter and sage mixture – a classic of Piedmont cuisine. During the late autumn and winter the butter and sage version is perfect with fresh Alba white truffle shavings.
The Alba White Truffle
The Alba white truffle is a subterranean fungus, famously found in the Piedmont countryside around Asti and Alba. These fungi fruit in autumn and show best in colder winter months. These woodland delicacies have pungent aromas and strong, earthy tastes. They are shaved over pasta, fried eggs, risotto, burgers, pizza, and more. White truffles reach up to $3,600 a pound. To-date the most expensive white truffle weighed in at 2 lbs and sold for $330,000 at an auction.
Alba White Truffle Fair
For five weekends starting in mid-October truffle lovers from all over the world descend upon Alba to taste and buy the prized Alba white truffle. For information on the 2015 event visit FieraDelTartufo.org.
4. Agnolotti del Plin
Agnolotti is like a very small ravioli. Traditionally it was stuffed with veal but today you can find plin with pork, beef, and rabbit or vegetables. In Piemontese plin literally means ‘pinch’ because the pasta is pinched together during assembly. The filling is placed between dough layers, then cut and pinched together. It is served with a meat-based ragu or butter and sage.
5. Brasato al Barolo / Brasato al Barbaresco
This traditional main is another ode to the exquisite beef in the region. Veal is marinated overnight in Nebbiolo, be it Langhe Nebbiolo, Nebbiolo d’Alba, Barolo or Barbaresco. It’s then braised till tender in herbs and vegetables and served with Barolo, or Barbaresco.
Finanziera is a traditional dish that is slowly making a comeback around the region. It translates to, “food for great financiers” and is a great cold weather warmer. The stew consists of sweetbreads as well as less appealing ingredients, such as veal spinal cords, brains, bull testicles, chicken feet, and cockscombs (rooster crests).
The sauce was once made with Arneis, but today can be found with a Nebbiolo-base. Varied reports exist on the origin of the dish, but the consistent theme seems to be that it was peasant food utilizing less valuable animal parts.
7. Torta di Nocciola
In addition to wine and the Alba white truffle, Piedmont is also home to an abundance of hazelnuts – it is the birthplace of Nutella! Torta di Nocciola is a traditional hazelnut cake made of the roasted nuts. The story goes that Italian nonne (grandmothers) prepared the sweet cake for their grandchildren. It was enjoyed so much that bakers started producing it. Enjoy with the regional sweet frizzante white wine of Moscato d’Asti.
Piedmont cuisine offers a glimpse into the culture of the land with a focus on slow food and rich, savory ingredients. While the regional wines get most of the tourist attention the food is something that simply cannot be missed.
Author’s Bio: Valerie Quintanilla is an American travel and wine writer living in the Northern Italy’s Langhe region. Follow her expat chronicles on her blog, www.GirlsGottaDrink.com,Twitter, and Instagram. While marketing is her official trade, she is also a travel planner and wine tour guide.