Piedmont-Piemonte; home to Barolo wines, Alba white truffles, Ferrero chocolate and Juventus F.C.
Piedmont (Piemonte in Italian) is the most north western Italian region. It borders both France and Switzerland and is surrounded by the Alps on three sides. Piedmont is actually Italy’s second biggest region, after Sicily. So, although much of the region is mountainous, there is also quite a large area of plains, where Italian risotto rice has been grown since the 15th century and hilly regions where most of Piedmont’s famous wines are produced.
Piedmont has much to offer.
Piedmont-Piemonte has much to offer visitors. It’s rich in history, beautiful landscapes and architectural treasures. One of the most famous places is, of course, the capital Torino (Turin) with its stunning piazzas, palaces and museums, and the Juventus football stadium! This region is also where Lake Orta and part of Lake Maggiore are located. Both lakes attract many visitors because of their stunning private villas, botanical gardens and beautiful islands. Another must-see in Piedmont is historic Alba, the capital of the beautiful UNESCO World Heritage hilly area of Langhe. Langhe is also home to the Ferrero chocolate company and famous for its white truffles, hazelnuts and Barolo wines.
When it comes to culinary delights, Piedmont- Piemonte has a lot of tasty regional foods and dishes to try. Here the cuisine is quite different to other Italian regions. Olives don't grow well in this region’s climate and so the local dishes are cooked more with butter and lard, making them somewhat richer. Hunting and fishing are popular pastimes and this is also reflected in the cuisine which includes many dishes for game and fresh water fish such as trout and tench And since Piedmont is home to the famous Alba white truffle, truffles are obviously featured in the local cuisine, although not in the daily kitchen because they are not only seasonal but also very expensive!
The Piemontese cuisine.
Instead of the pizzas and tomato-based pasta sauces popular elsewhere in Italy, in Piedmont risotto, polenta and even cheese fondue are more popular. This is not surprising as about 60 different kinds of cheese including most Italian Gorgonzola are produced here as is half of Italy’s risotto rice, mostly concentrated in the Novarra and Vercelli provinces which are blanketed in rice paddies!
An interesting culinary tradition that grew out of rice growing in Piedmont-Piemonte and other rice producing regions is eating frogs! Frogs used to be caught in the rice fields and were an important source of protein for the farmers. Today, frogs are still eaten in the Novara and Vercelli areas but, most of the frog farms are in Cuneo and Turin provinces.
Pasta in Piedmont.
The fact that the Piemontese eat a lot of rice and polenta, doesn’t mean that they don’t eat pasta, even though it’s not as traditional as in the South. In addition, the pasta eaten in Piedmont is mostly fresh egg pasta, rather than dried, and filled pasta shapes like ravioli are very popular. Agnolotti is one such filled pasta, normally made with a braised meat filling and often served with fresh sage sautéed in butter (al burro e salvia) or the sauce from the braised meat.
Ravioli or Agnolotti al plin is another version of Piedmontese stuffed pasta. It is also usually filled with braised slow cooked meat and seasoned with the sauce from the braising, or a meat ragu. The word ‘plin’ means ‘pinch’ and refers to the way in which this pasta is pinched to give it its characteristic shape. Both types of Agnolotti are also served in broth.
Another egg pasta eaten in Piedmont is tagliolini or taglierini, also known as tajarin in the local dialect. This is an egg-yolk rich long pasta, traditionally made with fresh farm eggs with almost orange yolks which give it a rich golden colour. Tagliolini is basically thin ribbons somewhere between capelli d’angelo (angel hair) pasta and tagliatelle. This pasta is typically served simply with butter and freshly grated Parmesan cheese to which shavings of white truffles are added during truffle season or as tagliolini albesi, made with white truffle, butter, Parmesan and a little broth. Other typical ways of serving tagliolini include ‘alla Langarola’; a ragu made with chicken liver, sausage meat and porcini mushrooms or just with a porcini mushroom sauce.
Stuffed gnocchi, yum!
One type of pasta from this region I’m dying to try is stuffed gnocchi!! Gnocchi are made all over Italy, but stuffed gnocchi are made mainly in Piedmont! These gnocchi are made from a potato dough that has meat, cheese or vegetables inside. I’m really hoping to make these really soon. Another gnocchi recipe made in this region is a gnocchi gratin. Potato gnocchi are topped with a Fontina cheese sauce and breadcrumbs and baked until golden brown and bubbly!
Although the number of pasta recipes in Piemonte are fewer in number than in many of the other Italian regions, they are no less delicious. I have already posted some Piemontese recipes and plan to do more, especially the stuffed gnocchi and the agnolottis like this cheese agnolotti. So do come back and visit again to get those recipes.