The cuisine of Piemonte is sumptuous and zesty, much like the renowned wines of the region, Barolo, Barbaresco and Barbera.

The local cuisine has evolved from the culture of the land, where Alba white truffles grow in abundance and their beef is celebrated. Piemontese beef is lauded for the high breeding standards and surprising low cholesterol. It’s been discovered that this breed exhibits “double muscling” and limited fat. I can tell you from first hand experience it’s wonderfully juicy and tender.

Piemonte is the land of my heritage and the foods of this region are the ones I grew up on.

My “Let’s Go Cook Italian” adventures over these past 11 years have kept me mostly in Tuscany and I admit that it’s been a few years since I headed North into Piemonte, where I still have a plethora of cousins. This September I am planning to remedy this situation. At the end of this Fall’s “Let’s Go Cook Italian” experience I am hopping on the train to Torino.

One of the things I love about the Piemontese people is their adoration of antipasto. The vast assortment of these hearty dishes would be called “heavy appetizers” here at home. In other parts of Italy, they would be main dishes.

The word antipasti may be more familiar. Is there a difference between antipasti and antipasto?

If you’re in Italy and ordering, either word will be understood. Technically, in this region, antipasti would be a simpler platter of cured meats, cheeses and vegetables. Antipasto means a wider variety of starters. Bagna cauda , carne crudo, fritto misto, vitello tonnato and grissini top the list. Fritto misto always calls me. Small morsels of meat, seafood, fruits or vegetables coated with a light batter and deep fried in olive oil all served together on a large platter. It’s a finger food grab bag.

Pace yourself in Piemonte, because these will be followed by a pasta course, entree with side dishes and then desserts with some fruit and cheese thrown in for good measure.

On my first trip to visit family in Piemonte I grazed generously through the antipasto, thinking this was the meal. As the other courses continued to arrive my eyes just got wider and wider.

Each Italian region has it’s own style of pasta. Piemontese pasta favorite is tajarin. This long skinny ribbon is similar to tagliatelle. Traditionally served with a meat-based ragu, except for in the fall when it’s dressed with butter, sage and white

Alba truffle shavings.

Agnolotti Piemontesi, another popular pasta is similar to a mini ravioli. Meat and herb filled and served with fresh sage fried in butter and topped with Parmigiano Reggiano.

If it’s not fresh pasta, it’s gnocchi alla bava, potato dumplings garnished with either Fontina or Grana Padano cheese and melted butter.

The local beef leads the entree list, either grilled or roasted. Veal marinated in Nebbiolo, Barolo or Barbaresco overnight is always popular.

Hazelnuts abound in Piemonte, the home of Nutella. Torta di Nocciola, a traditional hazelnut cake, has been enjoyed for generations and is served with a sweet frizzante white wine, Moscato d’Asti.

My favorite desserts of this region? Panna cotta, a simple silky custardy pudding, and Zabaione, a lighter than air custard made with Marsala that’s served warm.

It’s impossible not to mangia bene in Piemonte.

Now, before you read these recipes and wrinkle your nose, I promise you that if you didn’t know there were anchovies involved you wouldn’t guess they were in these dishes. Another promise, the tuna sauce does not taste like tuna. It’s food chemistry, and you will just have to trust me.

Bagna Cauda

Serves 4

1/4 cup butter

3/4 cup extra virgin olive oil (I would use Grove 45)

6 cloves garlic, finely chopped

8 flat imported anchovy fillets from Italy or Spain, chopped

Slices of a variety of fresh vegetables for dipping (Bell peppers are perfect for this hot dip.)

Hunks of your favorite unseasoned Italian bread for dipping.

Salt and pepper are not required

Melt butter with oil in small pot. When butter foams add garlic. Saute over medium heat. When garlic begins to turn pale yellow add anchovies. Reduce heat to low and stir until anchovies have dissolved.

Keep did very warm at table using a fondue pot, mini crock or warming tray.

Everyone dips into the same pot. The best part is the bottom of the pot where the rue from the ingredients awaits you. Italians fight for the bottom of the pot.

Vitello Tonnato

Make a day ahead

Serves 6—8

3 lb. veal roast (top round or shoulder) tied with kitchen string

1 medium carrot, chopped

1 rib celery, chopped

1 yellow onion, sliced thinly

2 cups dry white wine

Tuna Sauce

1 7 oz. jar imported tuna fillet from Italy or Spain

4 flat anchovy fillets

3 Tbsp. capers

Juice of one lemon

3/4 cup extra virgin olive oil (I would use Grove 45)

1 1/2 cups mayonnaise

Garnish:

Sliced lemon

3 Tbsp. capers

Chopped parsley

Trim fat from veal. Fill large sauce pan 2/3 with water. Bring water to boil. Add veal, vegetables and wine. Cover, reduce heat and simmer 2 1/2 hours. Place meat and broth in large bowl. Cover and refrigerate for 3 hours.

Prepare tuna sauce by placing tuna, anchovies, capers, lemon juice and oil in food processor. Process to a fine paste. If it’s too thick, add a few tablespoons veal broth. Combine tuna mixture and mayonnaise in a small bowl. Mix well. Refrigerate until ready to use.

When ready to serve, cut veal into thin slices. Discard vegetables.

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On a large platter spread layer of tuna sauce. Arrange veal slices on top of sauce. Cover veal with remaining sauce.

Cover platter and refrigerate overnight.

When ready to serve, garnish with lemon slices, capers and parsley.

Panna Cotta

Serves 5

1/3 cup cold water

2 tsp. unflavored gelatin (1 packet)

2 + 2/3 cups heavy whipping cream

1/8 tsp. salt

2 1/2 tsp. vanilla

1/4 cup sugar

In a small cup put cold water, add gelatin and mix well. Let stand in refrigerator for 10 minutes, until firm.

In medium sauce pan mix cream, salt and sugar together. Cook over medium heat, stirring often. Heat mixture until tiny bubbles appear around edges. This process only take a few minutes, so keep an eye on the mixture to prevent burning. When steam begins to rise, remove pan from heat. Do not boil. Immediately add gelatin mixture and vanilla. Stir gently until gelatin is dissolved.

Pour into custard or dessert cups. Approx. 2/3 cups liquid into each cup. Allow mixture to cool completely. Cover each with circle of plastic wrap or waxed paper to prevent skin from forming. Place the wrap directly on top of the ingredients.

Refrigerate 6 hours. Will keep nicely in refrigerator for 2 or 3 days. Enjoy directly from dessert cup or invert onto dessert plate. Traditional panna cotta is served plain. At most, drizzle dessert plate every so slightly with a dark berry coulis and invert panna cotta on top. Keep it simple.

Traditional Zabaglione

Serves 6

8 egg yolks

½ cup Sugar

3/4 Marsala Wine

In large metal bowl, or top section of a double boiler, beat egg yolks and sugar until your mixture is pale and thickened. Set bowl over simmering water. Do not allow water to boil. Zabaglione needs to be cooked gently so that it stays smooth or your result is scrambled eggs.

Add Marsala slowly, beating consistently.

Zabaglione is ready when mixture has tripled in volume, has a soft, fluffy consistency that will stick to the back of a spoon. Takes 6 to 10 minutes.

Spoon Zabaglione into individual small bowls, custard cups, or for a special presentation, in a champagne flute. Serve warm immediately

Diane De Filipi lives in the Napa Valley and leads cooking tours to Italy and Burgundy, France. Visit letsgocookitalian.com or ila-chateau.com/cook-italian for more information.

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