Five yummy things I learned in Italy
-Francine Segan, Betty Food Editor
I had the pleasure of spending a month in Italy, and I just returned with lots of recipes, advice and tips on food and home that I’ll be sharing with Bettys over the next few weeks. Mangia!
In this installment, I want to share some recipes, tips and fun facts I picked up in Alessandria, a city that really charmed me. It gets only a line or two in most travel guides, which is a real a shame because I found it to be really worth a visit. In Italy’s northern region of Piedmont, Alessandria is ideally situated less than an hour from Milan, Turin and Genoa, and near the world-famous Asti and Barolo wine makers.
1. There is Such a Thing as a Delicious, No-Cook Pasta Sauce with Only 3 Ingredients
Made with just walnuts, butter and a pinch of sea salt, this sauce recipe from award-winning pasta shop-Pastificio Piemontese delivers lots of flavor.
Here’s how to make it:
For 1 pound of pasta: Grind 1/2 cup walnuts in a food processor until fine. Then mix with 4 to 6 tablespoons of butter and a pinch of sea salt. Toss with the hot cooked pasta or cheese ravioli, what they call agnolotti in the north of Italy, and enjoy a taste of fast-food Italian-style.
2. Wine Makes Simple Rice Exceptional
I had this simple-to-make but absolutely must-try dish—Risotto Barolo– in Alessandria at Restaurant Spinacorolla, a lovely family-run spot. Mom and Dad cook, and their two sons serve and manage the front of the restaurant. The rice is cooked in Barolo wine, a red wine from the town of Barolo in the region of Piedmont.
Use a good-quality Barolo to cook the rice, and then drink the same wine while you eat the finished dish! At Restaurant Spinacorolla, they like to focus on the Barolo’s taste, so they add just a hint of onion that they remove before adding the rice.
To make: –For 4 servings, begin with 3 tablespoons olive oil and 1 tablespoon butter heated in a saucepan with 1/2 an onion. As soon as the onion begins to release its fragrance and turn golden at the edges, remove and discard it.
–Add 1 1/2 cups of arborio rice to the onion-scented oil and stir for 2 to 3 minutes to toast the rice. Add 1/2 cup Barolo wine and simmer until the wine evaporates.
–Add warm chicken or vegetable stock in 1/4 cup portions until the rice is tender, about 20 minutes. Finish with a splash of Barolo and serve immediately.
3. It Takes a Village to Make a Wine
Every single bottle of sparkling wine made by Contratto is touched 90 times! This award-winning wine maker creates only about 300,000 bottles of fine wine per year and prides itself on doing things the old-fashioned way. They use only locally grown grapes that farmers bring to them at harvest time. Once the grapes are pressed, Contratto keeps the bottles in a cellar, which is lit only by candles to prevent bright lights from harming the precious wine. And most amazing of all, to ensure that the flavor of the wine is uniformly developed, they meticulously turn each bottle a quarter turn every 2 days for 3 months!
4. Drink that Special Wine Tonight!
According to Giovanni Bosca, President of Tosti wines, “sparkling wines are best drunk within 2 to 3 years.” So stop hoarding that special bottle of wine and drink it! If you don’t already have a bottle of Italian sparkling wine in the fridge, then run out and buy one of Tosti’s wines (they are the ones that have a bottle with a cute little belly button-like dimple in the middle). Their wines are very affordable and yummy. Try Tosti’s Prosecco, a light, fruity sparkling wine, great with pre-dinner nibbles or with fish, chicken or veggies; or try Tosti’s Asti-Spumante, which is a sweet wine, perfect to pair with dessert or to serve instead of dessert.
5. Princess, Here’s Your Castle This area of Italy has more private castles than in all of the rest of Italy. Brides note: The castles are all available to rent for weddings!
Photos courtesy of Studio-Due, Giuseppe Perrone