Amy Riolo and Luigi Diotaiuti. Party in Piemonte
At first glance, the foundations of traditional Piemontese cooking seem to contradict one another. The roots of its cuisine combine the simplicity of home cooking with elegant and sophisticated flavor profiles and pairings. Those heightened gastronomic values were born in the royal court of Savoy in the 1700s. Nowadays, the region’s noteworthy cuisine is not only found in the courts, but plays a fundamental role in the daily lives and homes of the Piemontese people.
May 25 is National Wine Day in the United States.
I recently asked award-winning chefs Amy Riolo and Luigi Diotaiuti, who often create Piemontese cooking classes and wine dinners in the United States to share some of their favorite Piemontese dishes and pairings with me. Amy and Luigi are known for telling the whole story behind food and reclaiming culinary traditions on the brink of
extinction and were recently named “the next big thing” in the culinary world by Elle Spain, Together, they enjoy sharing the secrets of regional Italian cuisine and culture.
Luigi, who is a Certified Italian Sommelier and proudly features Piementese wines on his wine list at Al Tiramisu says:
“The pairing of wines on our menu celebrates the great culture and diversity available in the Piedmont region. Barolo, the iconic red wine from Piedmont, is appreciated all around the world as one of Italy’s greatest wines. The lesser known Timorasso is an astonishing and ancient white wine, rediscovered just few decades ago, and is rare and hard to come by. I enjoy serving it at Al Tiramisu and have chosen an aged 10-year old bottle to compliment the polenta recipe. There are several options for pairing desserts with Piemontese wines. We have chosen the Brachetto d’Acqui, because it is a classic combination whose slightly sweet flavor and effervescence marries well with the chocolate notes in the Bonet and ends the meal on a celebratory note.”
Amy, an author, food historian, and culinary instructor teaches Piemontese cooking classes and features Piemontese recipes in her books. She says:
“With these recipes and wine suggestions on hand, you can create a Party in Piemonte anytime! Cin Cin!”
Polenta with Asparagus and Fontina Cheese.
Cornmeal is a staple all around Italy. Even though it wasn’t introduced until after Columbus by the Spaniards, and originally used as animal feed, it became popular with the Jewish community in Venice and afterwards throughout Italy. Many people assume that polenta is strictly a “Northern Italian” dish – but it is not. In Southern Italy it is very popular as well, and was once even a breakfast item eaten by farmers.
- Serves: 2
- 1/2 cup polenta
- 6 asparagus stalks, trimmed, sliced into 2-inch pieces and blanched
- 2 tablespoons butter, divided
- 1 tablespoon grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
- 1/4 cup shredded fontina cheese
- Salt, and freshly ground pepper to taste.
To make polenta, combine polenta with 2 cups of water in a medium saucepan and bring to a boil over high heat. Slowly pour in polenta by the handful in a gentle stream, stirring and whisking simultaneously with a whisk or wooden spoon to avoid lumps, until mixture starts to thicken, about 3 minutes.
Lower heat to medium low (or a temperature that allows a very low simmer) and cook for at least 20 to 25 minutes, stirring about every 5 minutes. Prepare a baking dish with butter…
Be sure to crush any lumps that may form against the side of the pan. If the polenta is too thick, add ½ cup water to soften it. Polenta is done when it easily comes away from the sides of the pan. Add 1/4 teaspoon unrefined sea salt and pepper to taste. Remove pan from heat and cool, allowing polenta to solidify. Add 1 tablespoon butter, and most of the Parmigiano-Reggiano and fontina and stir until the cheeses melts and stir in the asparagus. Pour the polenta into the prepared baking dish and smooth the top. Garnish with reserved cheese. Transfer to the oven and bake just until the polenta begins to set, about 15 minutes.
Piemontese Wine Pairing: Timorasso.
Lamb Shanks with Potatoes and Mustard Sauce
Due to the proximity of Northern Italy and France, commonalities can be found in the cuisine and local dialect. Just as France is known for its mustard, Piemonte is known for a special kind of fruit mustard called mostarda d’uva. It has a sweet taste which comes from cooked grape must and is often enriched with figs, apples, pears, peaches, nuts, cinnamon, cloves, and lemon zest. Mostarda can be imported, or you can make your own at home for a unique spin to this recipe and for a delicious condiment to cheese platters.
- 2 lamb shanks
- 2 tablespoons butter, divided
- 1 teaspoon mustard seeds
- 1 carrot, peeled and diced
- 1 onion, roughly chopped
- 1 celery stalk, diced
- 1 tablespoon unbleached all-purpose flour
- 2 tablespoons Mostarda d’uva or Dijon mustard
- 1/2 cup white wine
- 1 cup chicken stock
- Salt and pepper
- 2 Yukon gold potatoes, quartered
With the oven rack in the middle position, preheat the oven to 425F.Melt 1 tablespoon butter in a large pan over medium high heat and brown the shanks. Season with salt and pepper. Add the mustard seeds and cook for about 2 minutes. Set aside on a plate.
In the same pan, cook the vegetables in the remaining butter. Season with salt and pepper. Sprinkle with the flour and add the Dijon mustard. Stir to combine. Deglaze with the wine and bring to a boil, stirring constantly. Add the broth and return the meat to the pan. Bring to a boil.
Cover and bake for 2 1/2 hours, turning the shanks occasionally. Uncover carefully, add potatoes, stir, and for about 1/2 hour or until the meat falls easily from the bone, and potatoes are cooked. Serve with polenta and salad.
Piemontese Wine Pairing: Barolo.
Bonet is a Piemontese preparation that was served at noble banquets in the 13th century. Made the same way you would make a pudding or crème caramel, bonet originally did not contain chocolate. Chocolate was added to the recipe after the discovery of America and when cacao became available in Europe. The original version is hard to find today and is referred to as bonet alla monferrina.
In Piemontese dialect, the word bonet means hat and there are two theories explaining why: some linguists believe that bonèt ëd cusin-a (chef’s hat) was the name of the hat-shaped copper mold used to make the dish. Many people in Piedmont, however, will tell you that the name comes from the fact it “caps off” a meal……
- Serves 2
- FOR CARAMEL
- 1 tablespoon water
- 1/3 cup sugar
- FOR CREAM:
- 1 egg
- 1/4 cup granulated sugar
- 2 tablespoons cocoa powder
- 2 ounces (1/3 cup) crushed amaretti cookies or macaroons
- 1 teaspoon vanilla
- 1/2 cup whole milk
Preheat oven to 325F degrees. Place the sugar into a small sauce pan and add the water, then put it onto the heat, and stir.
Once it melts, increase the heat to medium high, stirring occasionally with a wooden spoon until the sugar turns amber colored and begins to foam and raise up in pan, approximately 5-10 minutes. Remove from heat and stir well as caramel continues to darken in color. (Be very careful not to touch or splatter caramel at this point, as it can cause serious burns. Pour the caramel into the appropriate moulds for Bônet and leave to cool.
Put the whole egg into a bowl and beat them together with the sugar. Blend in the cocoa powder and mix thoroughly, and then add the crushed Amaretti biscuits and the vanilla. Heat the milk separately and then add it to the mixture, mixing continuously with a whisk. Pour the mixture into the caramel-coated molds or ramekins.
Put the molds into a baking tray containing hot water and cook bain-marie style in the oven for 40’-50’, until the dessert has completely coagulated. Allow to cool. Transfer to the refrigerator and cool completely. Serve cold.
Piemontese Wine Pairing: Brachetto d’Acqui.