1950s Archive

A Gastronomic Tour of Italy


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Among the contributions that Piedmont has made to the felicity of hungry mankind, the divine grissini, or bread sticks, proby should assume top rank. Turin is the home of this farinaceous fantasy which delights diners everywhere. They were invented in 1679 in the ovens of a Torinese baker named Antònio Brunero. Long, thin, crisp, and crunchy, they are a constant temptation in the interval before a leisurely waiter brings your first course. Napoleon loved them and always asked for “ les petits bâtons de Turin” during his Italian expedition.

Piedmont is also the land of the white and the lavender truffles, and genuine curiosities they are. They arc found in the hills around Mondnvi and Alba, the latter town being the heart of the wine and trunk trade. Piedmont tartufi in the grocer's basket are a toasty gray-buff. When fully ripe they can be sliced paper-thin and still retain their subtle, persistent aroma. These fragrant wafers are sprinkled over many dishes that require a final browning in the oven, and the result is little short of seraphic. They are unbelievy good in an omelette. Cut in subtle slices, they arc served us a wafery topping to a green salad. The dressing consists of oil, vinegar, finely chopped hard-cooked egg, French mustard, and anchovy filets cut in small squares. King Umberto was fond of this salad with a few green nasturtium seeds added. The ultimate, of course, is a salad of sliced truffles all alone, bathed in the same dressing, but it is so expensive that it remains a seldom-realized curiosity.

The tartufi of Piedmont have never been tinned, shipped, or picized as much as theack truffles of Périgord or Umbria, nor are they as versatile or quite as saturated with flavor. But they are exquisite, nevertheless, and somewhat daintier.

An all-star team of regional dishes in Piedmont would certainly include these four: agnellotti, bagna cauda, bollito, and fonduta.

Agnellotti are northern cousins of Genoa's famous ravioli, and are inclined to be a bit larger. The mosr common stuffing for these savory little pillows is composed of rice, beef, cooked cabbage, egg, and Parmesan, but there are others—chicken, sausage, onions, brains, and so on. This is a favorite Christmas dish and Piedmont's outstanding contribution to the great family of Italian pasta preparations.

Bagna Cauda is a hot, garlic-scented dip, a Piedmont specialty which might spread to your own tray of cocktail delicacies if you have robust friends. In Turin they scoop it up with leaves of cardo, Cardo is hard to come by, but leaves of endive make a good substitute. Slices of green pepper, small leaves of Chinese cabbage, celery, and artichokes are other vehicles to transport this uninhibited mixture to the consumer. It makes a lasting impression! Here is the recipe:

Bagna Cauda

Heat 4 teaspoons each of butter and olive oil in a small saucepan and sauté briefly in this 4 cloves of garlic, finely chopped. Add 8 chopped and pounded filets of anchovy and stir until they melt into the fat. Add a little pepper and a few basil leaves, and allow all to steep together. (In Piedmont they would add a finely sliced white truffle.) Serve this in a small pan or earthen dish over hear.

Il bollito is the classic Italian boiled dinner, the Torinese version of which is a heroic dish. Built around a king-size portion of beef, it often contains sausage, chicken, turkey, and calf's liver, plus pig's head and feet and a veal knuckle and shinbone for flavor. It is surrounded by boiled cabbage, potatoes, and onions, and served with either a piquant green sauce or a well-seasoned tomato sauce. This magnificent spectacle appears in many a country inn in Piedmont, and in some Turin restaurants, so scan the menu closely for it.

Cheese fondues prosper mightily in Switzerland and France, of course, but the Piedmontcsc fonduta is different, largely because of the lovely Fontina cheese from which it is made. It comes from the Valley of Aosta. Rich yet delicate in flavor, the cheese is amalgamated with butter, yolk of egg, and a little milk. When properly molten, the mixture is covered with a sprinkling of wafered truffles. It is a privilege to join a circle of congenial friends and to dip one's crust of good Italian bread into this creamy concoction, especially if there is a good flagon of old Barolo in the offing.

If you aren't trying to gallop through Italy in a fortnight, we feel that Piedmont deserves a portion of your time and that it will reward you far beyond expectations. Its capital, and topmost epicurean attraction, is

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