Piemonte is known as one of the gastronomic capitals of Italy. Turin itself is especially famous for its chocolate, coffee, and bi-annual Salone del Gusto event hosted by Slow Food, the natural food movement that had its start in nearby Bra. The Langhe is known for its great wines, cheeses, hazelnuts, and of course truffles. Piemonte has hundreds of regional cheeses, and is where household names such as Lavazza, Nutella, Ferrero all have their origins. While many individual Piemontese products have become famous around the world, what about Piemontese cuisine?
Piemontese cuisine is not at all what you would expect from Italian food. Of course, we have a pasta dish or two, when in season truffles are the star of the show, but much of the cuisine is more based on meat. Piemontese cuisine reflects not only its geographic location but also its cultural history, intertwined more closely with French roots.
Geographically Piemonte doesn’t do so well with olives, so they use more butter and animal fats rather than the classic olive oil of Southern Italy. Given the region has harsh cold winters, local cuisine includes many creative conserves. These include many vegetables “sott’olio”, cured salami, and dried fruit.
The real highlight- Antipasti
You cannot have a meal in Piemonte without ordering a mix of antipasti, these are by far the best dishes in Piemontese cuisine. Be sure to order at least 3 or 4 to share around the table. Some of these include:
- Insalata Russa: a classic mix of mayo and veggies, sometimes with tuna;
- “Antipasto Piemontese”: usually a mix of vegetables including small onions that have all been conserved in olive oil, mixed with tuna and tomato sauce;
- Acchiuge or Lingua in Bagnet Vert or Ross: either anchovies or cow’s tongue covered in a green sauce based on parsley or a red sauce made from tomatoes and sometimes peppers
- Plenty of cheeses and salumi: depending on what part of the region you are in, you will enjoy the local cheese and salumi, usually a type of toma. Often you might have fresh tomini, little cheeses, covered in Bagnet Vert;
- Battuta al Coltello or Salsiccia di Bra: Raw Piemontese beef, a beef prized for its tenderness and protein content, usually treated just lightly with salt, pepper, sometimes a drop of lemon juice.
- Vitello Tonnato- roast veal meat, sliced thin and served over “salsa tonnato” a mix of mayo, tuna, and capers.
Bagna Cauda- The Smelliest Element of Piemontese Cuisine.
Bagna Cauda fits right here between antipasti and our primi, it can easily be enjoyed as a sauce over bell peppers, or in small amounts as an appetizer, or it is heavy enough to take the whole meal. Bagna Cauda is a type of “fondue”, boiled down anchovies, garlic, and butter to create a thick sauce in which veggies or bread are dipped in.
Anchovies became so popular in Piemonte as it was one of the main ways for locals to get salt from Liguria, it was actually a way of sneaking salt through borders. According to Tenuta Carretta, this is how anchovies made their way into Piemontese cuisine:
During the brutal winter, farmers from the Alpine valley needed to find other sources of incomes and so they would travel to the neighboring maritime region of Liguria where they could obtain salt-cured anchovies to sell back home.
The anchovies served a number of purposes because they provided not only easily stored sustenance but they also were a form of salt-delivery and thus seasoning (Artusi’s recipe is an example of this). Although no one knows for certain, some even believe that the anchovy was a way of disguising heavily taxed salt and avoiding tax collectors.
Bagna Cauda is definitely not to be missed, but just keep in mind, this dish is quite smelly they say you can smell it on your breath for days, and if you get a drop on your clothes, it’s a mess. Bagna Cauda is actually also really easy to make at home if you can’t find a local option. Here is a great recipe to try out!
Onto the Primi
Main course dishes in Piemonte cuisine could be either pasta, risotto, or polenta, depending on where you are in the region. If you are heading up to Biella and closer to the mountains, you will most likely see a cheesy polenta on the menu. In the east of Piemonte, the Padana Plain is home to miles of rice paddies, producing the perfect rice for risotto. Pasta such as Agnolotti and Tajarin will be found more around central Piemonte, towards Turin.
Tajarin is the most traditional pasta shape of Piemonte.
Every region of Italy has its own type of pasta. It is a long, thin pasta, somewhat like tagliatelle, though much thinner. Tajarin has a beautiful golden yellow color from the many eggs in the recipe. Supposedly a “traditional” is said to use 30 egg yolks. Usually, we eat this pasta with a tomato and meat-based ragu sauce, a light butter and sage, or a mix of vegetables with ricotta salata. This is also a perfect pasta to top with truffle shavings
Agnolotti is the stuffed pasta of Piemonte, very similar to ravioli. Different recipes call for different meats, either veal, beef, pork, rabbit, or just veggies. Historically there was even a recipe that included 5 different meats inside. We usually top this with a ragu sauce, butter and sage, or the best “sugo d’arrosto” essentially the juicy drippings after making roast meat. You may find this pasta called Agnolotti del Plin in the Langhe, this comes from the way it is made. In Piemontese, plin means ‘pinch”, which is exactly how you close the pasta when making it.
On the menu in Piemonte, you are sure to find a long list of different meats in secondi, pork, or beef, many options are also made with the famous wines of the region. You might also ocassionally find Fritto Piemontese. Fritto Piemontese will change everywhere you eat it, its tradition comes from not letting anything go to waste, the leftovers and meat extras were fried to make them a little better. While many ingredients may include vegetables, less appetizing bits include brain and frog legs (so I have heard, though never tried it myself!)
The best part- sweets
Just as you may presume, most sweets in Piemonte include a taste of hazelnuts. One is Torta di Nocciola, a chocolate cake made from hazlenut flour. Bunet is another popular sweet, it is flavored with rum, cocoa, and amaretti cookies. It’s a rich dessert that is most popular in the winter. Then one of my seasonal favorites includes Fritte di Mele, apple rings that have been deep-fried, often topped with confectioners sugar.
And of course- The Wine
You can’t let any meal go by without an excellent glass of Piemontese wine. Learn more about the wine’s of the region here.