Piedmont Has Hills… Part 2

Savory asparagus flan with a creamy Fontina sauce, Parmesan tuile, and julienned bell peppers. This dish, adapted from a recipe on Epicurious, tries to recapture a little piece of Piedmont.

Savory asparagus flan with a creamy Fontina sauce, Parmesan tuile, and julienned bell peppers. This dish, adapted from a recipe on Epicurious, tries to recapture a little piece of Piedmont.

Biking from Acqui Terme to Monforte d’Alba across the Monferrato and Langhe hills, I experienced subtle shifts in the landscape, the transforming hunks and shades of the vineyards and valleys, which reflected the variations in the Piedmontese wines and cuisine. For instance, how stretching west from Acqui, the soil great for Muscato and Barbera gives way to Barbera and Nebbiolo. How the higher in elevation the hills raised, the more hazelnut groves are passed. I mentioned in my previous post that each place we stopped at had their own salumi and cheese to go with their wines, but there were some constants, each given local and personal flair.

Beyond tajarin, Piedmont is known for its gnocchi, risotto, and agnolotti (or a folded ravioli). As with the tajarin, most preparations of these other pastas were simple but full of flavor. A big takeaway from all of the rustic Piedmontese cuisine I ate was that you shouldn’t mistake complexity with complicated. The dishes were complex in flavor without being unnecessarily complicated. The most involved primo piatto I had was a tajarin with a Bolognese. One of the best dishes I ate was in Turin at a restaurant called Agnolotti & Friends. I tried agnolotti stuffed with potato, mint, and ricotta that melted on the tongue. Seriously. The pasta had almost the same silky texture as the beef Carpaccio I had for an antipasto. The agnolotti was simply prepared with capers, lemon, butter, and Parmesan, and was ridiculously good.  I had to try to recreate it when I got home, and so I did.

Potato, mint, and ricotta agnolotti with capers, lemon, butter, and Parmesan. For the agnolotti, I made pasta dough Piedmontese-style with 4 egg yolks to 3/4 cup of "double zero" flour and a tsp each of kosher salt, water, and olive oil. The filling is three large Yukon Gold potatoes peeled and boiled and mashed, 3/4 cup ricotta, 1.5 tbsp chopped mint, 1 tbsp butter, and enough whole milk to smooth it out. It is seasoned with kosher salt and white pepper. The texture of this dough for the agnolotti is delicate and wonderful.

Potato, mint, and ricotta agnolotti with capers, lemon, butter, and Parmesan. For the agnolotti, I made pasta dough Piedmontese-style with 4 egg yolks to 3/4 cup of “double zero” flour and a tsp each of kosher salt, water, and olive oil. The filling is three large Yukon Gold potatoes peeled and boiled and mashed, 3/4 cup ricotta, 1.5 tbsp chopped mint, 1 tbsp butter, and enough whole milk to smooth it out. It is seasoned with kosher salt and white pepper. The texture of this dough for the agnolotti is delicate and wonderful. For the sauce for one serving, melt 1 tbsp of butter in a pan, add the capers, a tbsp of grated Parmesan or more, a little of the pasta cooking water, a quarter of a lemon squeezed, and kosher salt and cracked black pepper to taste. Toss with the cooked agnolotti, which should be done after 2-3 minutes in salted boiling water.

In addition to the braised meats and salumi, we were served generous amounts of beef Carpaccio and dishes of thinly sliced or pounded cutlets of pork or veal that came topped with a mustard sauce, sometimes loaded with tuna brought over the hills from Genoa. Those dishes looked something like this link here to Gianni and Mina’s restaurant. Those meat and mustard-sauce dishes came as an antipasto. Another antipasto constant was a savory flan with a cheese sauce. We usually had either spinach or asparagus flan with a creamy and rich Fontina sauce.  These savory flans were such a novelty I wanted to see if I could recreate one. I found a recipe at Epicurious that is adapted from a dish served at a hotel in Turin. It turned out great. Since even halving the recipe made more flan than we could consume in one go, I used it as a side for a grilled pork collar with a cherry gastrique.

The flan made a nice side for a grilled pork collar. The cherry gastrique is a 1:1 mixture of granulated sugar and vinegar (half cider and half sherry. It is seasoned with fresh pitted cherries, red pepper flakes, and pink peppercorns.

The flan made a nice side for a grilled pork collar. The cherry gastrique is a 1:1 mixture of granulated sugar and vinegar (half cider and half sherry). It is seasoned with fresh pitted cherries, red pepper flakes, and pink peppercorns.

A typical roadside attraction. Here, it's a view in Santo Stefano Belbo.

A typical roadside attraction. Here, it’s a view in Santo Stefano Belbo.

It never hurts to finish with Barolo.

It never hurts to finish with Barolo.

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