Italy is somewhat worldwide reputed to have exquisite cuisines, which vary depending on season and – perhaps more important – location. Different provinces, or communes, have different traditions and ingredients, making a trip to Italy a whole gastronomic experience.
As expected, the Piedmont region – where Asti is located – has its very own dishes that are considered typical. Unlike the most known Italian cuisine from southerner regions, in the north we’re unlikely to find olives, which flavour most dishes, or light tomato sauces, or even pizzas; the base of dishes here is butter, instead of olive oil, and the dishes are heartier and creamier – polentas, risottos, and even cheese fondue (well, it is quite close to Switzerland). Most of it topped by the local culinary hero, the truffle.
Here are some of the dishes you can find:
It’s one of my pet peeves, so bear with me: antipasti and starters are not the same thing. True, you do eat them before a meal, but antipasti is more like something you nibble on as you wait for the food to arrive, rather than a course in itself. So it will come in smaller portions, and it should be enjoyed with a good drink and good company.
My favourites from the Piedmont region are the grissini, those long-ish bread sticks; the bagnacauda, a hot sauce of melted butter, anchovies, and garlic in which you dip some crudités; fiori di zuccaripieni, squash blossoms filled with cheese and deep-fried; finally, there’s also Salumi (not to be confused with salami: salumi refers to all cured meats, salami is a
particular kind of salumi. In English, salami has become synonym with cured meats, but in Italy Salami refers to a specific cured sausage): prosciutto crudo (cured ham), Coppa, Cotechino, Mortadella… you just got to try them all to figure out your favourite (mine is the prosciutto!)
It’s similar to ravioli, but in case you don’t know that either, agnolotti are little pasta squares filled with meat and herbs that are tossed in melted butter flavoured with sage and then topped with grated parmigiano. And yes, it tastes as good as it sounds. And, for the love of everything you hold sacred, do not cut the squares with a knife!
Pronounced “tayarin”, it’s a close cousin to taglarieni, a narrower version of tagliateili. It’s cooked in broth, rather than water, and it’s covered in
melted butter, grated Padano, nutmeg, and, of course, shaved truffles, which when combined with the hot pasta, becomes a smooth, creamy sauce. Yum!
4. Brasato al Barolo
Braised meat boiled for a long time in Barbera wine along with loads of aromatics. Braised meats and stews are quite common in the Piedmont region, and this dish gives you melt-in-mouth beef seethed in scrumptious gravy, which makes it perfect to be eaten with polenta.
5. Torta di Nocciola
Besides truffles, hazelnuts are also abundant in the region –it comes as no surprise, then, that Nutella was invented here. It’s only natural that the
typical dessert is a hazelnut cake. Not simply a cake, a dense, tender, buttery, nutty cake that’s served with zabaglione – a wine-based custard-like cream.
Okay, I’m well aware that wine is not a dish, but with the Piedmont region producing some excellent wine you can only find here, I thought it would be worth adding it to the list. The most famous wines produced here are: the Asti Spumanti, a sparkling white wine made with white Muscat grapes – it’s a sweet and low in alcohol, which makes it perfect to be served with dessert; the Barberad’Asti, a quite robust red made with Barbera grapes and with a 12% alcoholic strength; and the Alta Langa, a sparkling dry white wine perfect for more special occasions.