Eating Every Day

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Verona, 2: da carello

Villafranca di Verona, October 30, 2014—
THREE CARTS came to our table tonight, but no menu. It's that kind of restaurant. You wouldn't have known it from the dining room: very big, seating perhaps two hundred, very high ceilings, ornate hangings. But this is one of those Italian answers to the Argentine churrasceria, very much a carnivore's paradise.

You see our waiter here, a pleasant, capable, well-informed boy who introduced us to the two sides of his carello di carne: bollito, boiled, includin chicken, tongue, beef, ham, and a cotechino sausage; arrosto, with veal, another ham, and pork. I had the latter.

With the meat, a tray of garnishes: green sauce made of parsley, garlic, and olive oil; mostardas (those savory Italian chutneys) of pickled melon or citrus rind; horseradish, red pepper sauce, minced shallot.

The vegetable cart offered spinach, onions, celery root, mashed potatoes, zucchini, and something else — I forget at the moment. I had spinach, of course, and onions — delicious braised cipollini. All these vegetables seemed to lack any added flavors — salt, sugar, herbs — they simply tasted of themselves, innocent, good.

Dessert cart: Tiramisù, apple cake, chocolates, hazelnut biscuits, crema di zabaglione, custards, almonds in syrup, and several bowls of cooked fruit: prunes, pears in red wine, sliced oranges, macedonia… I know that again I'm forgetting several. I had a biscuit and several prunes, nicely flavored with clove and red wine.

It was a long and pleasant dinner — not the sort you'd want every day; perhaps not even every week; but certainly once a month or so. I'd come back here any time. Not tomorrow.

Corvino, Masi, Brolio Campofiorin "oro", 2010: deep, fruity, sober

•Ristorante Cavour, Via Cavour, 40; Dossobuono (VR); +39 045 513038

Verona: Fegato venetiano

Villafranca di Verona, October 29, 2014—

NOT MANY THINGS do I like more (to eat) than calf's liver, and no way of preparing it do I prefer to what I always think of as fegato venexiano, liver cooked gently in butter with a little wine and vinegar and served with sliced onions cooked in the same mixture. The polenta is obligatory.

Meeting old friends in their home city, Verona, we were taken to a simple neighborhood trattoria for dinner, and what should be on the blackboard among the night's specialties but Fegato Venetiano! On the side, indistinct in my photo, a few leaves of mâche. The liver was cooked perfectly, still pink and moist; the polenta was a little salty to my taste, but made a very nice counterpoint. 

Afterward, an insalata mista, mâche again figuring amongst the lettuces. Called valeriana here, lamb's quarters in English, it's a favorite green of ours, and we've met it more than once in the last week.

La Grola, 2010 (deep and sincere, perfect with the liver)

•Il Cappero, via G. Giardino 2/1, Verona;   +39 045 8343300

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Monferrato, 2: The truffle

Moncalvo, Monferrato, October 28, 2014—

I could write a book about the pleasures of Monferrato: above all the land, which is rich and varied; next the inhabitants, who are intelligent and open; then the history, which is rich and complex. And, of course, the cuisine.

Monferrato is perhaps the heart of Piemonte. Asti is the big city on the southern edge; Casale Monferrato on the eastern; Torino on the western. We haven't yet explored the northern confines — after all these years!

Piemontese cuisine is of course like the rest of the Piemontese character: rich, reserved, a little old-fashioned, aged in the best sense; perfected and refined. It stands, I would say, exactly among three neighboring cuisines: French (not Provençal); Lombard; the Veneto. Now and then it nods toward the sea, but apart from anchovies and the marvelous tonnato fish is not really part of the Piemontese genius.

But truffles are. This is the heart of white truffle country. If you're here in October you'll see men in plaid wool jackets standing around apparently doing nothing: I think they're waiting for a dog, and pretending they know nothing about where the elusive fungus grows. 

So today we drove the three or four miles to the neighboring city — provincial city — of Moncalvo, a hilltop city I always enjoy walking about. There we had our second caffe of the day, and asked where we might find a good meal (since the Slow Food recommendation is closed Tuesdays, wouldn't you know it), and we were directed right across the street.

The menu was short and exclusively Piemontese — nay, even Monferrata. We looked at the menu, at each other, and agreed on plates of tagliarini with sliced white truffles.

The pasta was beautiful, a rich yellow thanks to the marvelous eggs in this country, dressed with nothing but that good Piemontese butter (the best there is, say I), and topped, as you see, with lots of sliced white truffle.

To tell the truth the truffle seems a little mild this year: too much water, Gabriella says. But there's nothing like them. Their flavor goes through everything. We tossed our pasta with knife and fork, mixing in the truffles to warm them — you don't cook these things! — and delicately wolfed down the pasta, then sopped up every bit of butter with the good bread we were given.

Afterward, green salad, of course; and for me a bounet, as it was spelled on this menu — yet another version, tricked up with irrelevant pomegranate seeds and a ground-cherry. It looked like a palm tree on a chocolate desert island: but the pudding itself was beautifully balanced between chocolate and hazelnut, had a fine texture neither mousse nor cake, and stood its ground after the truffles. What a lunch.

Barbera del Monferrato, "Goj," Cascina Castlet, 2013, half bottle: Frizzante! Almost a disturbing wine on the first taste, but it settled down nicely.

•Il Centrale, Piazza Romita, 10, Moncalvo (AS); +39 0141 91.71.26

Monferrato, 1: I Mandorli

Cardona di Alfiero Natta, October 27, 2014—

ONE OF THE NUISANCES of maintaining this blog is the problem of dining at the homes of friends — particularly friends who are likely to be reading the blog. Sometimes I take the easy way out and skip the event altogether, but that goes against the weird ethical streak I inherited from the Scottish, presumably Calvinist side of the family. 

Mostly it isn't a problem, because most of our friends turn out to be good cooks. Some, of course, are even professional cooks; and some of them are even great cooks. Others are simply (and I'm worried about that word, but will let it stand) good domestic cooks, who have good palates and a sense of what I call programming and are aware of the simple (that word again) requirements of nutrition, sanitation, and all that.

All this by way of introducing our friend Gabriella, who (with her husband Franco) runs the agriturismo hosting us for two nights. We first came here fourteen years ago — it hardly seems possible — and have got to know one another enough to be invited into their home for dinner, not every night that we're here of course, but just about every time we light in this tranquil, fascinating corner of the world.

Tonight was no exception. We had tried, we thought, to explain that we didn't want her going to any trouble. Perhaps she didn't; perhaps she and Franco always dine like this. In any case, here is what she served:

Fried cheese with radicchio and onion
Sautéed cauliflower with carrots and peppers
Vegetable purée
Roast lamb, beets with onions
Green salad of lettuces and radicchio

and the whole of it was homey, comfortable, copious, and delicious; and we are truly grateful.
For photographs, you'll have to make do with this view from the terrace here — I hate taking photographs of food prepared by friends; it seems intrusive…

Ruchè di Castagnole Monferrato, Caresana, 2013: a new grape to me, very old and a specialty of Monferrato — red, light but deep, attractive, distinctive

•I Mandorli, via Troglia 1/3, Cardona di Alfiero Natta, Italy

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Torino, 5: km 0

Via Principe Tommaso, Torino, October 26, 2014—

WE FELL ON THIS PLACE per caso, at random, while on a walking tour of °our° neighborhood, San Salvario, having taken a day off from the Salone del Gusto. I was intrigued by the name, and by the promiise that the menu was authentically Piemontese.

Yes, it's the kind of place where three generations meet at a table, and one of them is nursing for lunch. Why not? Everything here is so serene, discreet…

I started with an amazing dish: Pan fritto con lardo d'Arnad e miele. This was nothing more than fried bread covered with lardo and drizzled with honey. Sweet, salt, fat, and bread: the complete diet. 

I have no idea how the bread was dealt with; perhaps it was a slightly sweet bread dough that was boiled in oil rather than baked — the pieces of bread were cylindrical, a little thicker than bmy two thumbs together, no more than three or four inches long. The lardo was particularly fine-textured; the honey not overpoweringly sweet, not heavily scented — a millefoglie honey, I would guess.

From there to Arrosto di fassone alla favoirta con puré della casa, a couple of slices of roast veal with the house purée. Again, no idea what was in the purée. Potatoes for sure, but something else: white beans? Rice, even, as Lindsey suggested? 

Don't know. It's nice to have some mysteries in life. The veal was a little dry but nicely textured and beautifully scented — with rosemary, of course.

Dessert: another bonet, my third this week — I work so hard to keep you informed, gentle reader! It occurs to me that bonet is the Russian salad of desserts, comfortable and old-fashioned as the wool overcoat I inherited from a great-uncle when I was fourteen and the family was poor. 

Also, it has a strict identity, though its attitude, its demeanor if you like, can vary. Yesterday's was definitely a pudding, reminding me, as bonet often does, of Royal Pudding, or was it My-T-Fine. Today's was more like a cake, and the requisite crushed hazelnut macaroons that usually serve as flour in bonet were instead scattered on top and on the plate; the cake itself was mostly hard chocolate custard. In any case, tasty and rewarding. We liked this place.

White and red house wines. Arneis, I'm pretty sure; Dolcetto, certainly.

• Causin Locanda a Km 0, via Gaita 9 (angolo via Galliari), Torino; +39 011 66 93 933


WHAT, YOU HAVEN'T been to Eataly? She was incredulous. Well, I had been in truth, sort of; we saw an Eataly pavilion at Slow Food a number of years ago, and I assumed from that that it was mostly an Internet-based supplier of Italian food products.


I won't write further here about the scope and extent of this amazing emporium; this is a dining blog, no more. I'll just write notes on our supper, after another intense day at Il Salone del Gusto.

We started off wsharing an Insalata Russa, that "Russian salad" I mentioned the other day. Peas, carrots, and diced potatoes in a thick mayannaise; in this case arriving in a little sealable glass jar. As I've said, it's comfort food, very old-fashioned; and we like it, very much.

Then the pasta course that we've otherwise been ignoring lately. We had tagiatelle with rosemary-flavored meat sauce — how else can I translate al sugo di carne profumato al rosmarino? The pasta was cooked to the perfect al dente. For dining in a supermarket, this was quite satisfactory.

If I lived here I'd be by once a week. There are several restaurants, specializing in various areas — meat, fish, an oyster bar — each with menus featuring a number of items. You could eat here every night, I think, and it would take a few months to get through tall the permutations…

ArneisFontanafredda, 2013 (true varietal, crisp); Dolcetto d'Alba, Mirafiore, 2012 (ditto)

•Eataly, via Nizza 230/14 (at Lingotto), Torino;  +39 011 19506801

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Torino, 3: Not quite the best

Via Principe Tommasso, Torino, October 24, 2014—

IN TRUTH WE DINED not quite as well tonight: this is a good neighborhood restaurant, no more than that — but that's often enough. It's clearly popular, and most of the tables seated at least six, often with three generations present.

And we had great conversation with friends old and new from home, here, like us, to attend the Salone del Gusto. And it was fun introducing them to the cuisine of Piemonte, so different from what we usually think of as Italian cooking…

Russian salad, for example: You won't find that on a Tuscan menu! I told Nathanael, sitting at my left, that it was basically cold cooked vegetables in a thick mayonnaise — peas and carrots, Lindsey added, momentarily forgetting the obligatory dice potatoes. It's a dish that makes you an old man in an overcoat, who votes Republican, I explained; and then I ordered it as my first course, out of nostalgia.

I followed it, naturally, with battuto — chopped raw Piemontese beef,dressed with olive oil and salt, with mache and little tomato quarters on the side.  Not up to Scannabue, where we dined night before last, not by a long shot; but good enough. 

•Osteria Le Putrelle di Giovanni Foresto, Via Valperga Caluso, 11, Torino; 01165 99630