Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Continued Cooking and Eating in the Piemonte

It has been over a week since we returned to Italy and most of my days have been consumed with planning, cooking and occasionally cleaning-up after nearly a dozen meals. With the exception of one “traditional American fried-chicken lunch” which I cooked for some Piemontese friends (they were very brave and tried everything), all of the meals I have cooked have been versions of traditional Piemontese meals.
Although the Piemontese use garlic, anchovies and tomatoes in their cuisine, it is notably different from the south of Italy; the flavors are more subtle, the garlic clove and the tomato are used rather sparingly. Pasta is often made with only flour and egg yolks. And the tiny ravioli called Plin are often stuffed Castelmagno cheese. Piemontese are great cheese-makers and as in France; a cheese course is a compulsory part of a fine meal.
Olive oil is the one southern ingredient that the Piemonte heartily embraces, excellent olive oil is produced in Liguria, the Piemonte’s neighbor to the south and the typical grocery store in these parts has an entire aisle entirely devoted just to olive oil.
Antipasti in the Piemonte is mostly Salumi. I have yet to be served an olive or a pickled anything as an antipasti. Yesterday we were given some potato chips and a few olives with a Prosecco as an apero but the antipasti course is all about pork. Yesterday, we were fortunate enough to be invited to lunch in the home of a very fine vintner just north of Asti. Being known for his delicious Grignolino, a wine famous for serving with cured meats, he of course had to produce some outstanding salumi to showcase his wine…and he did. There was coppa and salami, tiny cacciatore salami all were excellent but there was one thing that I wasn’t prepared for….sitting in the center of the table was a tight spiral of raw sausage in a casing, just like you might see labeled “Italian sausage” anywhere in the world. “Oh” I thought “ we are going to cook it at the table….perhaps on a hot stone or something“…well, I was wrong…in the Piemonte they eat pork sausage raw! This sausage had not been treated or cured in any way. It was fresh raw pork in a natural intestinal casing.. .at first I was more than a bit hesitant….eating raw pork is contrary to everything I have ever known. “Surely this isn’t safe” I thought… but our host assured us it is produced fresh every day by the butcher in the next village and he is famous for his “Salsiccia”. Reluctantly, I tried a fork-full and I became an immediate convert! Salsiccia is made from very lean, finely ground, tender pork which is then seasoned lightly and stuffed into a casing. The flavor is delicate and delicious…I had four helpings! Later we had some cooked Salsiccia in the potato gnocchi.
It was good, but I prefer my Salsiccia raw thank you!


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