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  1. In the recent issue of Town and Country Travel, there's an article about a Tuscan pasta which were hand rolled, pretty much like Japanese udon noodles, called Pici. Supposedly, it can be served a number of ways: with a sauce that contained duck, tossed with cherry tomatoes and fava beans, or with a simple tomato sauce. Obviously, the average Town and Country readers would never dream of making it themselves, so the entire article does not contain one recipe. Anyone have any idea of how to make the stuff?
  2. I'm trying to plan my limited time around Modena. I would very much like to visit an aceitaia di balsamico for a tour, tasting and purchase. I'll be staying at the Villa Gaidello east of Modena. They suggest an aceitaia nearby called Catani, but I cannot find any additional info on them. Other suggestions have been Malpighi, for which I have the information with which to set up an appointment and Pedroni at Osteria di Rubbiara. I'm interested in 12y/o balsamicos for gifts as well as more aged vinegars and reserves. The balsamic candies and chocolates are also items on my list. Any other thoughts or suggestions?
  3. This has been bothering me for a long time. I dwell in the Piemonte, the land of grissini (breadsticks), so I have always assumed that bread was just not that important in my neck of the woods. While there is occasionally good bread to be had, most local bakeries serve up 18 different shapes of the same, sorry 60% crust, 40% air bread that stales up within 5 minutes of exiting the oven. I have had Italian friends serve me that wretched bread TWO DAYS OLD, presumably solely for the purpose of sopping. And as I travel around Italy, I have come to realize that lame bread is not unique to my area. By the same token, I have traveled to the French border in Savoie with Piemontese friends, and watched them rave about (and eat prodigious quantities of) what seemed to me to be mediocre baguettes, so it clearly is not the case that they do not appreciate better bread than they generally eat at home. Now, none of this is to say that there is not unbelievably fine bread to be had in Italy. I can still recall the wonderful focaccia with a sprinkling of sea salt fresh out of the oven from the Giusti bakery in Lucca, not to mention that found many places in Liguria. And there are all of those wonderful crusty, dark peasant loaves in the south. And pizza in Napoli. And a large quantity of excellent quality bread for panini comes from somewhere. It is just that there is so seldom found great EVERYDAY breads, the Italian equivalent of the baguette (although there have been quality problems in France, too). I recently bought The Italian Baker by Carol Field, which contains, among other great stuff, a brief history lesson. For one thing, I never realized that bread more or less as we know it today is only a couple of centuries old in the western world. She claims that, in Italy, the bread-producing technology spawned in the 1950s caused much of the artisanal bread to be replaced with a product not unlike Wonder Bread in much of Italy. She also makes the case that artisanal breadmaking is on its way back in Italy, and the pendulum is about to swing the other way with vigor. It cannot happen soon enough for me! Anyone else have any theories, or better yet, facts, on this national crisis?
  4. Here are the restaurants that recieved the "Tre Forchette" awards from Gambero Rosso in their 2004 Restaurant guide: 1)Gambero Rosso - San Vincenzo (LI) 96 pts 2)Vissani - Baschi (TR) 94 pts 3)Ambasciata - Quisitello (MN) 93 pts 4)La Pergola de l'Hotel Rome Cavalieri Hilton - Roma 93 pts 5)Dal Pescatore - Canneto sull'Oglio (MN) 92 pts 6)Da Caino - Manciano (GR) 91 pts 7)Don Alfonso 1890- Massa Lubrense (NA) 91 pts 8)Antica Osteria del Teatro - Piacenza 90 pts 9)Le Calandre - Rubano (PD) 90 pts 10)Il Desco - Verona 90 pts 11)Enoteca Pinchiorri - Firenze 90 pts 12)La Madonnina del Pescatore - Senigallia (AN) 90 pts 13)La Siriola de l'Hotel Ciasa Salares - Badia (BZ) 90 pts 14)St. Hubertus de l'Hotel Rosa Alpina - Badia (BZ) 90 pts 15)La Torre del Saracino - Vico Equense (NA) 90 pts 16)Villa Crespi - Orta San Giulio (NO) 90 pts Combal.O falls short at 88 pts together with a few palces that have a very high reputation in Italy such as Miramonti l’Altro, La Tenda Rossa, Uliassi, Arnolfo, Al Sorriso. Anyone wishing to comment? Any places you feel left wrongly out? On a more personal level: I'll be visiting my parents in Naples for Christmas and was thinking (already some months ago) of trying La Torre del Saracino. Has anyone been there? Alberto
  5. For years I followed the the culinary wisdom dished out by endless cooks on TV and in books, I slavishly timed my dry pasta cooked at home to the dictates of the package instructions. Strangely I was never happy with with the results. The pasta was too firm. I used big pots and a huge overabundance of water. So about a year ago I decided to add 30 to 50% to the recommended cooking times and ended up with tender but not mushy pasta. So I'm culinarily incorrect. The pasta is undoubtedly not "al dente"; too soft to be called that. Rice and risotto next!
  6. The discussion of the origin of the names of some pasta dishes in the guanciale thread has me thinking once again about the difference between anecdotal information and primary source material. While folk history is a vital part of culture, and offers much useful information, the egghead in me is always wondering about primary sources. For example, much opinion and secondary source material is offered concerning earlier development of many important techniques in Italy before the same techniques were adopted in France. My question is this: where would a serious researcher look for primary material on the subject of Italian cuisine? Has any compelling academic work been done on the history of Italian cuisine that is footnoted with references to primary sources? This question is asked not to give short shrift to observation and tradition, but to ask whether sources exist to support these, and, if so, to what degree have they been studied and published with footnotes?
  7. At the store the other day I saw a bunch of italian cooking plums. I was instantly intrigued... does any one know what to do with these?
  8. WINE HARVEST BROUGHT FORWARD IN NORTH EAST, FEWER BUT FINE GRAPES (AGI) - Venice, Aug 14 - The grape harvest in the North East has begun much earlier than usual. The extremely high temperatures well over the seasonal average and the long drought have obliged growers to begin the harvest already, in particular the harvest of soft-skinned varieties such as Pinot and Chardonnay. From a quantity viewpoint, there is likely to be an average drop in production estimated at around 10 percent compared to last year's harvest (already down by a good 20 percent compared to 2001), however the quality of the grapes is judged to be excellent, even though a lot depends on the weather over the next few days. A meeting has been organised by Veneto Agricoltura - Carrefour del Veneto, in collaboration with Avepa and the Regional Councils of Veneto, Friuli-Venezia Giulia and Trentino-Alto Adige, to be held on August 25 beginning at three pm at the Corte Bendettina in Legnaro (PD). The initial figures regarding the grape harvest in the North East will be presented at that meeting. The main problem this year has been the drought. In vineyards not equipped with irrigation plants, the grapes have recently begun to show signs of suffering, with well-formed bunches but the grapes themselves very small. In vineyards with irrigation, both quality and quantity are excellent, however production will be down compared to recent years. Weather conditions this year have had a positive effect on the health of the vines. Almost everywhere there has been a massive reduction in the development of major pathogenic fungi such as peronospora, oidio and botrite. Thanks to the high level of sunshine and the lack of water, the grape gradation is good everywhere with low acidity and a high PH level. Provided there are no major changes in the next few weeks, the grapes should reach the wine cellars in perfect condition and this year's wine should be very alcoholic, well structured, although not excessively perfumed (the whites) and full-bodied, well-coloured and suitable for aging (the reds). The first production estimates divided according to province and type of grape will be released at the Legnaro meeting and there too the Anti-Fraud Commission in Conegliano will update wine growers and producers on relative legislation and the Veneto Agricoltura will illustrate a project underway in certain Veneto DOC areas as well as their research and experimental wine growing activities. (AGI) 141713 AGO 03 COPYRIGHTS 2002-2003 AGI S.p.A.
  9. helenas

    Fun with pasta

    Remember we had a thread on pasta risotto by Ducasse? There i mentioned that Patricia Wells had a similar recipe in her provence book (great minds think alike...). When i finally checked the book, actually it's the same recipe, where she mentioned her visit to Ducasse restaurant and how she was watching the chef in the kitchen (i think it was not Ducasse) preparing pasta using risotto technique. What's more interesting, in the same book she has a recipe for fried noodles (spanish?), where you just toast fideo-like pasta coated in olive oil in the oven, and then boil it in chicken stock. So i tried it yesterday and it came very tasty. So what other interesting techniques can be applied to pasta beyond usual boiling?
  10. Zingerman's describes Wild Italian fennel pollen. Our find of the year: fairy dust for food lovers. This stuff sound interesting. But I still have six small bottles of fish sauce brought home from Bangok eight years ago that I don't know what to do with. Has anyone actually used fennel pollen? I'd love to be able to serve something and casually toss off that ingredient.
  11. after reading Robin Rinaldi's article over on the Media board, i got to thinking about the pasta dish with olive oil, red pepper flakes, and that's about it. what is it called anyway? i'm thinking i want to whip up some tonite or tomorrow. any suggestions? i'm guessing: olive oil garlic red pepper flakes grated cheese some bread crumbs maybe mint or parsley any info would, as always, be appreciated,
  12. I have been searching for a spaghetti sauce recipe for 30 years! Maybe someone knows what i will describe. : when i was a teen I babysat for an Italian lady. she would make this This thick red tomato sauce and there was always a layer of oil floating on the top. there were no "chunks" of tomato or anything else in it. She would make meatballs separately and at some point they would end up in the sauce. She would never give me the recipe and I never saw her make it from start to finish.. I do remember "tons" of cans of tomato paste sitting around and once she told me she NEVER used tomatoes(in chunks)- She made it one FOR me to serve to my boyfriend at the time but NEVER would she reveal how to make it. --that was 30 years ago, in another state. I have searched and bought many italian cookbooks and sampled lots of restaurants-- and have "experimented" many times --can't quite make it ...It was the very best I have ever eaten and haven't known anyone to make it since....any thoughts on this? I am obsessed with this I know!! Thanks--Paula
  13. These questions have probably been raised and answered a thousand times, but I remain in the dark. Why isn't there salt in pasta? It clearly benefits from it, as we acknowledge with the generous fistfuls we put in our boiling water. Why isn't the salt directly in the dough? Does salt have a negative impact on the texture or chew? Is it suspected of being too granular? (If so, surely it could be dissolved in water first, at least in flour/water pasta and probably in flour/egg pasta too.) Is it simply customary? If so, would the history be something like this: pasta was a peasant food and salt was precious so excluded, to be added later according to a cook's means? But salt is now cheap. Is it left out just because of tradition? And what is believed to happen with the salt in the salty water we boil our noodles in? Does the dry noodle absorb the salinity somehow as it cooks? Or is the real purpose of salt in the water simply the creation of salty water? And if it's a clinging flavored water we want, why is the flavor or the clinging water almost always salt? Why not garlicky clinging water? Why don't we throw pepperoncini, a bouquet garni, or cheese rinds into our pots?
  14. Guest

    Italian Gratin

    Italian Gratin Serves 6 as Main Dish. This is a lazyman's lasagna with more taste but less formality and eggplant. Quick and simple to make a large amount of decent food. This is a Moosewood receipe, I've really only altered some of the ingredient amounts compared to their original. 1 handful fresh basil 3 onions 3 c Tomatoes, or a 28 oz can 4 cloves garlic 3 c spinach leaves 4 c mushrooms 1 tsp salt 1 T olive oil 1 c bread crumbs 1 c dried pasta, some type of small shell 2 c freshly grated parmesan cheese Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. I used a 13" by 9" glass lasagna type dish that my mom left at my place to make this dish. Oil the dish. Mix together the onions, basil, salt, and tomatoes. Heat the oil in a small frypan over medium heat. I might try some butter next time instead of the oil. Throw in the garlic and the bread crumbs and cook for about 3 minutes, until the bread crumbs are lightly browned. Remove from the hot pan and set aside. Spread out half of your tomato mixture in the bottom of the oiled dish. Sprinkle the pasta for the next layer. Then a layer of spinach, then mushrooms, and then half of your cheese. Top it off with the rest of the tomato mixture then the browned bread crumbs. Cover with foil and and bake for about 25 minutes. Remove the foil and bake for another 20 minutes. Serve it up with a green salad following behind. Keywords: Main Dish, Dinner, Vegetarian, Italian ( RG770 )
  15. My own recipe, though influenced by many sources. Santucci's Practical Torrone (Christmas Nougat) 180g honey (½ cup) 100g egg whites (2 eggs) 350g sugar (1 ½ cups) 50g water (2 tablespoons) 450g (1 pound) roasted nuts 5-10 drops orange oil 2 sheets (8 ½” x 11”) Ostia (aka wafer, edible paper) Combine honey, water, and sugar in a small saucepan. Bring to the boil over medium heat, stirring constantly. Skim foam (if any is seen) off the honey when it reaches the boil. In a stand mixer, whisk the egg whites until stiff peaks form. Cook the honey mixture to 280° F (137° C). Remove from the heat. With the mixer on high speed, slowly pour the mixture into the egg whites. Continue to whisk until volume has increased by about half and the mixture just starts to lose gloss – only about 5 minutes. Reduce the mixer speed and add the orange oil and nuts. When they are thoroughly mixed in, spread the resulting nougat over a sheet of Ostia. Try to cover the sheet as evenly as possible- the nougat is sticky and will make things difficult. When it is evenly covered, top with the other sheet of Ostia. Leave to cool and crystallize completely in the open air before cutting, preferably overnight. Note: I call this 'practical' Torrone because the recipe is made for home confectioners of reasonable skill to be able to easily understand what and how much to buy and what to do with it. The ingredient portions are biased for my country, the USA, but I saw no point in using English ounces for the weight-based version – those of us who prefer weight generally prefer it in grams. Tips and tricks: 1.Keep nuts in a warm oven ( about 150° F / 65° C ) until you add them. Adding room temperature or colder nuts will reduce working time. 2.Getting the nougat spread between sheets of Ostia is the trickiest part of the process. I use buttered caramel rulers on the outside edges of the bottom sheet, pour and press nougat in place, and then press the top layer on with an offset spatula. If you don't have caramel rulers, try spreading the nougat with an offset spatula, topping with the other sheet, and rolling with a pin to smooth. I advise against trying to cast the slab in any kind of fixed side pan, as the stickiness will make it very difficult to remove. 3.Score the top layer of Ostia before cutting through. Once scored, a straight down cut with a Chef's knife works well. Cut into six 8 1/2” long bars and wrap in parchment or waxed paper to store, then cut into smaller rectangles to serve. 4.There are many possible alternate flavorings. 1-10 Lemon oil or 1 t. (5 ml) vanilla or almond extract work well and are traditional flavors. Candied orange peel and/or orange zest can also be added. 5.I use half pistachio and half almonds as the nuts. Hazelnuts (filberts) are also traditional. Any common nut should work. 6.Ostia is available from confectionery suppliers. I get 8-1/2” x 11” sheets from www.sugarcraft.com under the name 'wafer paper'. This recipe is copyright 2009 by Patrick J. Santucci. Contact the author on eGullet under the username psantucc.
  16. As a brief tangent to the "Foods you would like to see Americans eat/be exposed to", of the other regional cuisines in Italy, which ones do you think are more accessible to the typical American (by "typical", I mean someone who has already been exposed to authentic Italian techniques or at least foods common to Tuscany -- parmagianno reggiano and prosciutto di Parma to name two). Is there some sort of phenomenon, do you think, that's partially or wholly responsible for the (over)emphasis on Tuscan regional cuisine in the United States over the past decade? I would like to see more exploration into other regional cuisines, such as Apulian, Venetian and Sicilian. Thank you for your time.
  17. My mother was visiting a friend in Venice, and they were making risotto. The friend asked my mother to stir for a minute, and my mother took over. The woman stopped her immediately, and told her to only stir in ONE direction, as stirring in different directions will ruin it. I've never heard of this before, and neither has anyone I've asked. Any idea where this has come from?
  18. Has anyone used a prosciutto bone in a "knock your socks off" recipe? Thanks for any recommendations.
  19. I started looking for a good recipe for bolognese, and was surprised to find recipes that do not call for milk or wine, each of which I thought was a requirement to turn an ordinary meat sauce into a bolognese. Oh well. I'd love some recipe recommendations.
  20. Incredible: Italian agriculture ministry infiltrated by PeterPumpkino I couldn't believe this when I read it. Will Restaurants be fined if they don't come up to scratch? So what if an Italian restaurant serves dishes from different regions of Italy, why should this disqualify it from being 'authentic'. I realise that parts of Italy may have fantastic cooking but I hope they ensure that every restaurant in Italy is up to scratch before they start working on London! My only Visit to Italy was about 3 years ago (Rome) and it was probably the most disappointing place I have ever been to for food. Over cooked, underseasoned pasta/meat, bland saucing etc. Even more frightening was the fact that (in despair) we went to Planet Hollywood one night and had some of the best food we ate in Rome (not a dificult feat to achieve).
  21. I made raviolis by my own hands for the first time in a home. Friends had invited me for dinner and I helped prepare and then stuff the raviolis. It was easy to make, stuff and cook. I want to go buy a Pasta Maker... What is the best kind? My friends had a steel one that clasps on a surface... It seemed to do the tick... But I am sure if you all think it is worth wasting space on... Any advice?
  22. Having spent many vacations in Italy, I long for the simple plesures of a restaurant in Italy. The food is simple, not a lot of ingredients, no designer displays, but you leave the meal with a wonderful, satiated feeling. I have sworn off Italian restaurants in NJ for the time being. The choice seems to be either glorified pizza parlor food at high prices, e.g. Lasagne, Veal Parm, (Sometimes it can be BETTER at a pizza place) or the the "sophisticated" places where they try to give Italian dishes that "designer" touch that they really don't lend themselves to. There is a restaurant in Tenafly that bills itself as "authentic Tuscan cooking", but they do not even know what Ribbolita is!! (A ubiquitous Tuscan soup!). It Italy, these skinny people have bottomless stomachs. They have 5-6 courses, an appetizer, a pasta, a secondi, a salad, a vegetable, and then dessert!! I usually just have two courses, and I am stuffed. But the food is so good, so simple. Perhaps a sabbatical from these Americanized places will do me good. If anyone has any good ideas to snap me out of my reverie, please let me know.
  23. Any thoughts on making risotto without any actual stock, butter, cream, or cheese? I figure stock can be replaced with all wine, or perhaps one of those powdered stock products. Making a vegetable stock seems a bit much, though I'd do it if told it made a big difference. Olive oil should be able to pinch hit for most of the dairy fats, but is there some other product that should be added to lend lusciousness to the finished product? Ditto for the cheese.
  24. While it appears that food capitals such as New York, London, Paris and Northern California are resting on their laurels or at best moving sideways, gastronomic life in Piemonte just keeps getting better. This, at least, was how it appeared to me just having spent another four nights in the region. The cornerstone of my expedition was the recently opened hotel-restaurant Relais San Maurizio/Ristorante Guido da Castigliole in the town of Santo Stefano Belbo. Located about 20 miles due east of Alba, the town is in the heart of the Moscato producing area while the hotel is set on top of one of the many hills covered in vineyards. Formerly a monastery and then a private residence that dates from the 17th century, the Relais San Maurizio is the first tasteful, high-luxury place to stay at in all of Piemonte wine country. The sprawling property has been completely restored in restrained Rococo with period furniture, decorated ceilings, vitrines filled with small antiques, seven spacious and gorgeous public rooms, an extremely spacious subterranean dining room with a vaulted brick ceiling and 51 guest rooms, six suites of which are in an outbuilding and two next to a consecrated chapel in the main building. The junior suites we and our traveling companions booked were spacious, beautifully decorated, again with period furniture, and with awe-inspiring views over the vineyards and the amphitheatre hills that are a trademark of the Langhe. At 210 euros a night with breakfast, our four-night stay was value for money in the extreme. Nonetheless, we all had a few complaints: The hotel does not contain noise well (except between our two adjoining rooms) as we could hear a few late-night revelers banging on a piano below and laughing loudly. The beds were firm and comfortable, but the pillows rather unyielding and felt like they were made of straw. . Breakfast was served buffet-style in a large room with elaborately-painted ceilings; it was too bad that it was put together with so many commercial products, with one notable exception being home-made yogurt that we were served on our last morning. Although open since late July of this year, the Relais San Maurizio still has not finished building its spa, which will have an indoor swimming pool, gym, sauna, and massage rooms. Piemonte’s First Family of Food, the Alciati’s, have divided themselves in two while remaining a single economic entity. Momma chef Lidia, at age 72, is joining in a few months her youngest son Andrea, and her disciple Lorenzo Secondo, at the Relais San Maurizio where Andrea has been running the dining room and Lorenzo the kitchen since the hotel-restaurant opened. If our dinner at the San Maurizio Guido was any indication, one must hope that Lidia will bring the standards up those of the old Guido in Costigliole d’Asti. Admittedly we had had a large lunch elsewhere the same day, which may have diminished slightly our opinion, but only slightly. While the menu offered mostly dishes from the original Guido, the execution seemed uninspired. As for Ugo Alciati, the chef son, and his brother, Piero the Eldest, who is unrivalled as a maitre d’hotel in terms of looks, smoothness and cordiality, they are off to Pollenzo, 12 miles west of Alba where the second new Guido will open this spring as part of a complex that will include a luxury hotel (ready in the fall of 2004) and the Slow Food’s “University of Taste”. When I asked Piero at the end of our dinner five days before the Costigliole Guido’s would close for good what was going to become of the legendary restaurant, he told me that the family was keeping the premises as a laboratory (I guess even quasi-traditional Piemonte cooks are now into laboratories), private dinners and an on-going wine cellar. Nonetheless it was with a bit of sadness that we downed our last dinner, and a good one (but not the best one of our excursion) it was. The vitello tonnato, which has certainly been offered every night for decades, was extraordinary as always with its pink veal from the nearby mountains around Cuneo. It is veal you see for the first time and never forget. The two other appetizers that we all received in small portions were the seemingly-ubiquitous fall classic, cardoons with melted Fontina (aka “fonduta”) with white truffles and mousse of duck liver with white truffles and tiny cubes of Marsala aspic. Guido’s tagliatelle with truffles is one of the more revered pasta dishes of Piemonte as are the spinach agnolotti filled with potato. Both of these were delicious even though we had them last year at this time. One way to avoid repetition is to ask for something special, which I did a few weeks before. I phoned Piero Alciati from New York and asked him if it were possible to have game birds. I specifically mentioned the forbidden ortolan, and while he was unable to locate any, he did provide us with partridge, which his mother roasted and served in a red wine sauce with a turnips, carrots, and cheese prepared as a flan. It was a perfectly prepared, solid game dish that was worth ordering more for its relative unavailability rather than something memorable tasting. The cheese course at Guido has always been puzzling: four small piece of various Piemonte cheese fanned out on a plate. I also have found desserts hit and miss at Guido. I had a chocolate and pistachio semifreddo that was somewhat rich and sweet; not really subtle but satisfying. Even more traditional than Guido is Camulin, just down the road from our hotel in the neighboring Cossano Belbo. Like Guido, the menu is short and presented orally. Because Steve Plotnicki wrote about Camulin recently and well, it suffices for me to say that we had a joyful time, but the tasty food ended after the splendid appetizers and pasta dishes with the exception of the classic “bolito misto alla Piemontese” which was an assortment of boiled veal scallopine, calf’s brains, polenta, pumpkin, and other meats and vegetables. My wife liked that some parts of the dish were sweet and others savory Two meals in two towns whose names could have been included in the lyrics of "Let's Call the Whole Thing Off" topped our list of the best of the trip: a lunch at Ristorante San Marco in Canelli and a dinner at the Ristorante Enoteca in Canale. San Marco, a few miles down the road from Santo Stefano Belbo, had more of a middle-class family-run restaurant. Its typical white plaster walls and wood-beam ceiling and displays of wine bottles and framed certificates and small drawings belied the quality of the cuisine that struck a balance between traditional and creative. Although we were past the peak of the white truffle season on December 15, the owner Piercarlo Ferrero, head of the association of truffle hinters (“trifolau”) had placed on the table a 93 gram specimen he had gathered himself, which I was able to smell from across our large table. To begin, we received an assortment of appetizers, some of which were covered generously with our truffle. “Carne cruda di Vitella” with truffles was a light, refreshing start. My cardoons with “fonduta” and white truffle were tasty, but stringy: not the thick pieces of cardoon that came in the Guido version, and orange peppers stuffed with tuna were sublime. As “primi piatti”, the four of us ordered two portions of classic pastas with truffles: the pinched together agnolottini “dal plin”, served without sauce and in a folded napkin, and tagliarini with herbs and aromatic butter. Both were “fatte in casa” as one should expect, and about as delicious as these dishes can be. Remembering how much I have enjoyed the classic Piemonte fall dish “Ciotola del ‘Trifulau’, I ordered it. It is made with polenta, warmed whole egg yolk, the cheese “toma de Roccaverano” and plenty of white truffle shavings that the diner mixes together. For me, the dish was the only serious disappointment of my lunch: Compared to the one at Gener Neuv in Asti, San Marco’s was a heavy, goopy mess. However, a loin of lamb with Barbaresco sauce and black truffle and a roasted pheasant cooked in a sauce (exactly what we forgot to ask) were immensely praised by the two women at our table. The cheese selection at San Marco numbered about 15 varieties of Piemontese cheeses. I was far from disappointed with what I tried, among them an aged Castelmagno, but was disappointed that the restaurant charges by the piece, a practice I abhor. As for dessert, one was unforgettable: a smooth and refreshing zabaglione of Moscado and Marsala that we all agreed that it clearly was the best zabaglione of our lives and about the best meal-finisher we have had in Italy. Future visitors, take note. The feeling of excitement that comes from the strong hunch that one has just eaten at the hands of what the French call a “grand de demain” is a rare occurrence. Yet, this is the sentiment I was overcome with as I contemplated the dinner we had just had at Ristorante Enoteca. Located both in Canale, 8 miles NNW of Alba, and in one of those all-purpose little buildings belonging to Italian small towns (this one had two fellows in uniform standing around at eight o’clock at night) chef Davide Palluda’s restaurant is on the second floor in a space that was formerly a day-care center) and above the Enoteca di Roero Arneis, the sales and tasting arm of the producers of the inexpensive but favorably-regarded wines, particularly the whites. Our arrival got off to a mixed start. Chef Davide’s wife, a fetching, enchanting, and somewhat shy hostess greeted us with good humor mixed with a dash of sardonicism. After showing us to our table, we were, after refusing aperitifs, abandoned and ignored for longer than was desirable. This gave me trepidations about the restaurant which were eventually allayed by a delicious “amuse-guele” of a cream of asparagus soup that was intensely rich in flavor. With service back on track, the two fellows shared a perfectly-executed risotto of Parmesan with shavings of white truffles. My wife ordered an artichoke soup with pieces of bacala and bits of ginger, which she pronounced good, but not great. Her cousin’s wife had delicious raviolis, some of which were filled with red onion ( the first time I ever had this in a pasta; yet this mundane ingredient worked wonderfully) and others that I am unable to recall as they were consumed so quickly we didn’t have a chance to taste them. Two of chef Davide’s main courses were masterful; by far the best we encountered on the trip. I had two large, succulent pieces of venison in a rich sweet and sour sauce that I thought was extraordinary. However, they did not get quite the reception of a simple portion of the center of tenderloin of veal that was otherworldly. It was hard to believe it was veal, as my wife described it as having the buttery texture of Kobe beef that tasted like the best veal one could imagine. As did Peter Rodgers, to whom I owe gratitude for bringing Ristorante Enoteca to my attention in his post below, we had a lengthy chat with Davide Palluda, so engaging that I forgot to ask him for a copy of the menu. One of two desserts, therefore, is a dim memory with the other being a chocolate cake with pistachio sauce, Delicious as it was, it still was not the best dessert of the two we ordered. It suffices to say that this aspect of Palluda’s cuisine is solid. From our conversation, we found out that the chef has worked in some unnamed restaurants in Alsace, the Balzi Rossi on the French-Italian Riviera border, and, if memory serves me correct, Enoteca Pinchiorri in Florence. /again, chef Davide is one to keep on eye on and to put on any “must” list of restaurants in Italy. It is chefs like him that are adding variety and adventurism to Piemonte cuisine. We visited two other restaurants: a simple trattoria, Da Miglia, in the two-horse town of Valdevilla five minutes from the Relais San Maurizio, and an establishment called “Italia” in Quarona, located in Northern Piemonte not far from Lago Maggiore, renown as home to the factory and discount outlet of Loro-Piana (a “do not miss” for anyone coming to Italy for serious clothes shopping). The former served simple local food, the highlights being their salumi. Of course we took them up on the offer to stop by a couple of days later and pick up some home-cured Prosciutto di Parma, lardo, and a chunk of “bresciola di cervo” (venison) to take home. The latter, Ristorante Italia, was a fine example of how you can choose a restaurant to eat in strictly for its location and eat well and for little; in our case a full lunch for $30.00 each. When our excursion reached its end, my wife and I both agreed that this was our most satisfying of eight or so visits we have made to Piemonte. There was something magical, if not mystical, about being there in late fall: the vineyard-covered hills of the Lange in their denuded state, often shrouded in mist or fog; the sense of privilege having a waiter slicing at an up-tempo what seems like an unnecessary quantity of white truffles; the all-consuming preoccupation of eating and drinking that permeates the entire region, and the love of them that almost every artisan---the chefs, restaurateurs, winemakers, shop owners, and farmers---wants to share and use to win you over. Lucky for us that such abstractions can be quantified in our pocketbooks. You eat spectacularly well and amply for half the price, even less, than back home or in neighboring France. We had what rank as some of the best wines in the world for between $65. (a 1996 Bruno Giacosa Barbaresco Santo Stefano at Guido and the 1995 at Ristorante Enoteca for just a little more) and $115 for the rare 1990 Barolo Monfortino of Giacomo Conterno at Camulin. Whether it is people placing large bets that the 2006 Olympic Winter Games will turn Piemonte into a new and permanent tourist area or a belated recognition from wine and food lovers that it is a special place that accounts for its upsurge in hotel and restaurant activity, the fact is that anyone who forsakes going to Piemonte in favor of returning to other gastronomic regions or cities should now think twice. As they now say in Piemonte every fall, “Let the game begin.”
  25. There is a great profusion of high-end Italian places in DC (e.g., Tosca, Galileo, Obelisk, Maestro...) but I have yet to find a reliably good moderately priced Italian restaurant where you can go of a weekday evening when you just cannot bring yourself to cook but want something good (like mamma used to make?). Is there anything that fits this bill?
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