Postcard from Piedmont
Though perhaps best-known as the home of luxuries such as Barolo, Alba truffles and performance cars, the foothills of the Alps, in north-western Italy offers plenty of choice to us lesser mortals. The chic restaurants and impeccable tailoring of Turin front a deep bond with the land, and a long tradition of growing, cultivating, salting, preserving and, of course, vinifying. Though well served by chic restaurants, the region's most enjoyable food tends to be simple and traditional. Dairy produce is important here too, so butter, cream and unctuous mountain cheeses such as fontina, are much in evidence. Unfashionable bits of pig end up in delicious boiling sausages, served with sharp sauces and chunky, chutney-like fruit mostarda.
As often happens in Italy, there is always a wine on hand to match this bounty and Piedmont is no exception. Try a cortese-based white like Gavi with the fondue and for the bollito, a barbera or dolcetto. The first recipe is quite quick, the second a labour of love, for which you'll need a friendly butcher.
Rub a clove of garlic around the sides and base or a fondue pot, or large cast-iron saucepan and set it on its burner, or a low hob. Add all but a splash of half a bottle of dry white wine and heat gently, but don't boil. Grate or finely slice 500g cheese –half Fontina, half Gruyère works well – and stir in bit by bit, stirring gently as though describing a figure of eight. The melting should be gradual or lumps will form. Once wine and cheese are integrated, add a teaspoon of cornflour or arrowroot to the remaining wine. Mix thoroughly and add to the fondue to stop the cheese separating. When thick and gooey, season well with black pepper and nutmeg and finish with an optional dash of kirsch Bring to the table with a selection of crudités, little boiled potatoes and grissini (Italian breadsticks) for crunch and dunk away. This quantity serves two very greedy Piedmontphiles, or four supermodels.
Bollito Misto alla Piedmont
A good three hours of effort, but a fine supper for 8-10 people. In a large stockpot, place 5 litres of water, along with two onions, peeled and chopped, a sliced carrot, a head of celery with leaves, roughly chopped, a bulb of garlic, unpeeled, and a couple of torn bay leaves. Cover and bring to the boil, then turn down to a gentle simmer. Now begin to add a selection of meats. Enthusiasts would start with a whole, fresh ox tongue* and cook for an hour before adding a kilo each of beef brisket and veal silverside, in one piece (or use two 1kg pieces of beef). Continue cooking for an hour then add a whole chicken, trussed and giblets removed, and a pig's trotter if possible. Continue cooking for another hour and a half or until the chicken juices run clear. Meanwhile, cook a whole cotechino, (a large Italian boiling sausage) according to the packet instructions and keep warm. Carefully lift all the meat out of the stock, which should be saved for a memorable soup. Take the chicken off the bone, and carve the beef, veal and tongue into slices. Arrange on a large platter with the cotechino, sliced thickly. Serve with salsa verde (parsley, garlic, capers and anchovies pulsed together with a little red wine vinegar and olive oil) , and a jar of mostarda di Cremona, available from Italian delis.
* If the ox-tongue comes in brine, as is often the case, drain it well and precook it for a couple of hours to desalinate it. Rinse well and add to the stock along with the beef.