Food Culture of Piemonte
Having been fortunate enough to visit Turin on a number of occasions now, I am starting to get a feel for the more traditional Piemontese dishes, the unique specialities of Turin, and the dishes that I have to make sure to enjoy again on every visit. Here, in no particular order, are just a selection of some of the unmissable food experiences you can have in the region at the foot of the mountains in Northern Italy.
Each region of Italy has its own pastas, with specific sauces and ingredients designed to suit the shape of the pasta. In Piemonte, some of the most common pastas you will find include Tajarin and Agnolotti.
Tajarin is a long thin pasta cut in narrow flat lengths which you will often find served with a ragu bianco di coniglio – that is a rich rabbit ragu sauce. This is one of my favourites as the sauce is so rich and full of flavour, which complements the dark yellow egg pasta. Rabbit is a common meat in the region, and always prepared very well.
Another pasta which you will see on most menus are Agnolotti. This is a small filled pasta, usually stuffed with a meat filling and often again served with a ragu type sauce. The example I had during this visit was served with butter and sage as a simple but delicious sauce. The Boy managed to find one that was rather bigger than the Agnolotti that we have been used to, but had a meat filling and a meat sauce – the double whammy. There is no shortage of meat on offer in this region as you can tell!
You really can’t go to Turin without visiting Al Bicerin, although somehow we’ve managed it twice. So this year we dutifully tripped along with Jan Egan, The Watchful Cook, to take in this slice of food culture. So much history is the Caffe steeped in that I even managed to sit myself in Cavour’s favourite seat. One of the key figures in the unification of Italy his favourite seat is highlighted by his portrait and a small brass plaque in the midst of the cafe’s faded ballroom glamour.
The Bicerin is a decadent layering of hot chocolate, coffee and frothed milk. It is served in a glass and must not be stirred, so that the various layers are drank almost ‘through’ one another. It is one for the sweet-toothed – the traditional serve in Al Bicerin (the only place to have the drink if you’re going to have it!) is rather on the large side! However, it’s not hard to see why it has already enjoyed well over a century of popularity.
The Bicerin is not the only delight for the sugar addict. Turin has long had a reputation for chocolate, sweets and patisserie. We were extremely fortunate to be treated to a private tour by one of Turin’s most knowledgeable and passionate residents, the Turin Epicurean, which ended with coffee and some particularly delicious tiny pastries.
We worked up an appetite with a walking tour of Cit Turin, a small neighbourhood not far from the large Porta Susa train station. Lucia had asked what we wanted to do when we met and I asked her to surprise us with something that we would otherwise miss. The incredible Art Nouveau buildings, and other richly decorated baroque and gothic inspired architectural styles on the quiet streets were certainly an unexpected wonder!
You cannot beat pounding the pavements of a place with someone who is so clearly in love with their town! Lucia’s knowledge of the history, architecture and of course food culture of Turin is unsurpassed in my experience. This helps to animate the wonderful stories even more.
So once our walk was complete, we headed to Pasticceria Dezzutto. Yep, it’s another Torinese place where too much gilt and marble is never enough, which tinges much of the city with something of a sense of faded beauty (although that is not to say that it does not still retain it’s beauty and charm). Here the display cabinets on the counter groan under the weight of literally thousands of tiny pastries. The Piemontese style is to make them in miniature, bite size form. Perfect for the lady what lunches from what I am given to understand. We tried a whole range – the neat Turin cannolo, coffee filled delicate pastries, rich chocolate ‘mushrooms’ and light-as-air cream puffs.
I could probably continue writing this post for about three weeks more with the number of photos and fantastic recommendations I could make. So I will satisfy myself by giving you the best restaurant recommendation I possibly can, if you want to enjoy fantastic locally sourced Piemontese food prepared thoughtfully and carefully.
La Piazzetta is in Ivrea and is a family run, small restaurant that could so easily not hit your radar if you didn’t know to look for it. Being in Ivrea, they naturally specialise in the food of the Canavese area.
The presentation is absolutely beautiful, and service is always friendly and warm. Pictured above is the carpaccio of Carne Cruda, which is another unmissable dish of the area. More usually, Carne Cruda is served as a hand diced mince of beef more akin to an Italian steak tartare. This carpaccio version with the delicate shavings of Parmesan made for a much lighter dish. The Piemontese cattle are particularly suited to being served rare or raw due to their high muscle and low fat ratio, and low cholesterol content – making it the perfect meat for tenderness and melt in the mouth quality when rare.
The final dish we tried on this visit was a board of cold piglet leg, sliced and served with some pickles and chutneys. They were accompanied by fresh Gnoccho Fritto. This was a new taste for me – little savoury pillows of fried dough. As hopefully you can see from the picture, this restaurant really is a treat. They have a very reasonably priced wine list with excellent selection of local vintages on offer. That’s my top tip. Don’t wear it out.
NB. For anyone wondering just how much more I could possibly have to say, take a look at my Piemontese wine tasting post. And bear in mind that I haven’t even mentioned truffles in this post… Oh and everything mentioned in this post was paid for in full. No venues were pre-warned that we were visiting or anything daft like that.