Welcome to my tales of cookery school, food and travel

The first 30+ posts of this blog describe my experiences as I complete a nine month cooking course - the City and Guilds Diploma in Food Preparation and Culinary Art. I did this after I moved out of full time employment and it was purely selfish - I love food, cooking, eating and drinking. Subsequent posts are about, food, travel and adventures.

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Thursday, 7 June 2012

Piedmont - slow food, good wine

We have been in Italy for three weeks.  We now fully embrace the culture of the long lunch, particularly as we are in Piedmont, the area in which the Slow Food Movement has its origins.   For example,  today we are in the picturesque hilltop village of Barbaresco. It is 20 degrees, the air hot and still, but not heavy.  It is bright and clear - not always the case in an area where the predominate grape variety is Nebbiolo,  also the word denoting the local weather pattern of misty fog that can sit around the mountain fringed valleys. We can see multiple hilltop towns with elegant towers dotting the landscape, vineyards running up and down hills in every which direction - not laid out in neat north-south rows as in New Zealand - sprawling red roses full stop the ends of rows, and wildflowers are rampant.  

acciughe fritti
After some arduous wine tasting in an enoteca, a blackboard calls out to us - Piatto del giorno! acciughe fritti - fried anchovies and a glass of wine.  Yes! more anchovies.  But first, antipasto!  While we are still unable to work our way through all courses: antipasto, usually something cold or a selection of cheeses or preserved meats; primi piatti, generally pasta or rice; secondi, meat or fish, contorni, side vegetables; dolci, desserts, we generally manage two, often sharing an antipasto. Today is no different and we have the chef's mixed antipasto: vitello tonnata, Russian salad, a wedge of herb frittata, and carne cruda - literally uncooked meat. In Piedmont we have had this a few times - raw minced veal. It is unbelievably delicious with a little squeeze of lemon - tender and almost melt in the mouth. 

yet another antipasto - salami, veal, and carne cruda - raw veal
Veal features quite a lot.  Yesterday, when we have lunch with a local winemaker and a couple of ex-pat Americans who now live in Piedmont and run wine tours, there was some discussion about what constitutes veal in Italy versus the US.  My friend Wiki lists five different kinds of veal depending on feed and the age at which the calf is killed. The consensus is Italian veal isn't milk fed (obvious from the pink rather than white meat). It is inevitably tender and delicious no matter what form it comes.

Oh how I wish we were here in Autumn - two words - TARTUFO BIANCO or two more words - WHITE TRUFFLES. We have to settle for buying up white truffle oil and a pasta particular to the region - tajarin - which we will take to have with our friends in Axat in a couple of weeks - and truffle flavoured salt, which we will bring home.

Nebbiolo vines

It is interesting to look at vineyards here as everything is SO different.  As you can see in the photo, Nebbiolo grows very tall and is pruned to only one cane. The plants are much closer together than we see in New Zealand, and the rules around status of wines and vineyard are as strict as those in France. DOC and DOCG status mean specific growing, pruning and wine making conditions that growers and winemakers *here generally one and the same) flaunt at their peril. The wines are a bit tannic but tend to age well, and even rushing things a bit we find a bottle opened one day and drunk the next is very  satisfying.  

Now, I must reserve some space for the glories of pizza. 

The place we stay has a terrific pizza restaurant attached. The fact that dozens of locals turn up every night is testament to the quality.  In our endless pursuit of the perfect pizza base we do a little more research, paying close attention to the guys in the kitchen.  Their technique is practised and flawless. The oven is set at 370 C and the pizzas take less than 10 minutes in the oven.   Crusts thin and crisp, toppings light and fresh. 

Some, including my favourite, the Pizza Cruda, have the ingredients added after the base is cooked.  This one is  more or less a Caprese salad on a pizza  - the  buffalo mozzarella, tomato and rocket version.  Delicious!  So many varieties - so little time.

Pizza cruda

We would be reluctant to leave Piedmont if we weren't heading for the south of France.

Spending a few days in this beautiful province I wonder why people continue to favour that tired old chestnut, Tuscany.  Piedmont is equally, if not more beautiful with the Alps surrounding it, the little terracotta villages sprawling across hills and excellent food and wine.

A final word for dessert.  We haven't been eating many but a Piedmont specialty deserves mention. Bounet (in Piedmontese or Budino in Italian).  Generally made with hazelnuts, which grow prolifically in Piedmont, it is a sort of set chocolate custard.  Here's a recipe given to me by our wine tour host- the one we ate didn't have the caramelized sugar.  I haven't tested it, but please, you go ahead!

1/2 liter fresh milk
6 eggs
8 T. caster sugar
50 grams amaretti cookies
6 T cocoa powder
1 cup hazelnuts
sugar for carmelizing

1. Toast hazelnuts and chop or grind.
2. In a bowl, put the milk, powdered sugar, amaretti, eggs and hazelnuts and whisk until combined.
3. Caramelize ¾ cup of  sugar and pour into the mold or molds.
4. Pour milk mixture into the mold and cook in the oven with a water bath at 180C  for about 45 minutes.
5. It is done when you insert a knife and it comes out clean.
6. Unmold to serve

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