10.02.11: anniversary dinner (piemonte specials – carpionata piemontese and pappardelle with porcini mushroom and white truffle))

Carpionata Piemontese

Now I am quietly waiting
for the catastrophe of my personality
to seem beautiful again,
and interesting, and modern.
The country is grey and
brown and white in trees,
snows and skies of laughter
always diminishing, less funny
not just darker, not just grey.
It may be the coldest day of
the year, what does he think of
that? I mean, what do I? And if I do,
perhaps I am myself again.

Frank O’Hara, excerpt of “Mayakovsky” from Meditations in an Emergency

This passage kind of perfectly expresses those mean reds I mentioned a week and a half ago that have taken up in casa TMFP. It hasn’t helped that it was a fairly rainy week and therefore the sky grew dark out even sooner than it should, and in one of those rainstorms Michael’s new car was lightly clipped by some jerk near his office. And ugh–as I write this it’s gotten grey and moody outside again. It’s like the weather is gleefully pissing all over my “Operation: Abolish Mean Reds” efforts with every cold, grey, sodden day. It’s why we curled up with the second season premiere episode of Mad Men in all of its angsty glory but at the same time pushed ourselves from a culinary perspective–we may be indulging our grumpiness in some ways, but tasting something new and different could also be the jolt we both need. First up: our anniversary dinner on Sunday and going back to a genuine happy place.

Tartufo bianco season in Italy starts in early October with a huge marketplace in Alba devoted to people selling the spoils of their mushroom quests, and it also means that white truffles start appearing locally, whether in jars or stuffed into fresh ravioli. “Al Tartufo” signs tacked onto restaurant menus and fresh pasta shops become the norm and what seemed to only be a mainstay on a show like Iron Chef  is suddenly accessible and on a plate before you. It’s a marvelous thing to behold.

Our last night in Acqui Terme was a dinner of simplicity: just some fresh raviolis stuffed with white truffles and porcini mushrooms, drizzled with just a little butter. We spent the evening talking with our amazing innkeepers and playing with their dog Max, and all the while I was trying to not focus on the fact that we had to get up before sunrise the next morning in order to make it to Malpensa on time. We ended up waking up before our ancient alarm clock rang, wrote a long diatribe to our innkeepers in their guestbook, and each faced our misgivings about leaving in our own ways. I was devastated about leaving and, uh, wasn’t terribly quiet about it, while Michael was worried about the daily fog (nebbio) that enrobes the area every morning and makes the nebbiolo grapes so spectacular. There was considerable amounts of nebbio to deal with as he drove through the little streets and the little country roads that would lead us to the Autostrade, and to this day he claims that had the fog not lifted we would not have made our plane on time. But we did, and we had some prosciutto di San Daniele to eat on the way there, and the roads were gloriously empty, so it wasn’t all bad in the end. We made our flight in time, of course.

Pappardelle with Porcini Mushrooms and White Truffles

Naturally we’ve tried to revisit Piemonte in  many ways when our anniversary comes around, and thanks to a lovely cookbook gifted by a close friend we have a great source of recipes from the region for this time of year. To be honest, I hadn’t thought much about truffles recently until our inagural shopping trip to Fairway Stamford and a collection of canned goods caught my eye. Because the folks at Fairway are that awesome, they had to go and find these tiny cans from Italy boasting spreads/sauces that contained some combination of porcini mushrooms, white truffles or black truffles and another ingredient like tomatoes or pesto. The can that caught my attention, though, was the porcini-white truffle variety–pointing it out to Michael I made a note in my head to pick up one of these for a special occasion meal, because how amazing would it be to recapture some of that magic of our last night at Baur B&B?

We wanted have something more substantial than just pasta, however, which is how the first dish came about. Autumn in Piemonte does not boast hundreds of recipes, but each one they include is one of quality, and we were intrigued by the carpionata as it was something neither of us had ever seen, much less tasted before. A layer of fried zucchini lines the bottom of a casserole, followed by a layer of meatballs (half beef and half veal), then another layer of fried zucchini, and then topped with a sauce made from Barbera, good red wine vinegar, onions and garlic.

And then it sits for two hours before you eat it.

The results were good…but to be honest, the acidity of the vinegar was a bit overpowering for me. Michael loves anything with a strong brine so he was all over it, but I think to make it again would require either a little more wine or a little less vinegar to make it just right.

As for the pasta? Well, the pasta was fantastic–and I was immediately back at that lovely marble table in Diana’s amazing kitchen drinking Barbera and watching Michael cook.

Carpionata Piemontese

from Autumn in Piemonte

  • 3-4 slices bread, crusts removed
  • Milk
  • 1/2 lb ground beef
  • 1/2 lb ground veal
  • 3 TB Parmigiano-Reggiano, grated
  • 2 TB parsley, chopped
  • 1 egg
  • Flour for dusting
  • 4 oz butter
  • 1 lb, 2oz zucchini, sliced
  • Peanut oil for frying
  • 3 Spanish onions, sliced
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 cup Barbera wine (we used Barbera d’Alba)
  • 5 TB red wine vinegar (use the best you can find, as its flavor is pronounced here)
  • Kosher salt and pepper
To make the meatballs and the sauce: soak the bread in milk for 5-10 minutes and squeeze out the moisture with your hands. In a bowl, combine the meat, cheese, parsley, egg, bread and season with salt and pepper and roll into meatballs to the size of walnuts. Dust with flour, and then using half the butter over medium heat cook on all sides until done or they are about 150 degrees in the center. Remove to a plate. In the same pan, put the rest of the butter in (add olive oil if necessary) and cook onion and garlic until they are softened. Add wine and vinegar and bring sauce to a boil for a few minutes, and then let cool.
To make the zucchini, fill a sturdy pot with enough peanut oil to submerge zucchini slices, then bring to high heat (at least 300 degrees); test by dropping a breadcrumb into the oil to see if it is hot enough. Fry the zucchini in batches, letting them cook to get browned on both sides and then remove to a cooling rack lined with a paper towel to drain. Sprinkle with kosher salt and repeat until all slices have been fried. Let cool to the touch.
To assemble the dish: line bottom of a casserole with zucchini, then with the meatball layer (they may fall apart–this is OK), then with the remaining zucchini, and pour sauce over the whole dish. Let stand for two hours before serving.
  1. *shaking my fist at the Mean Reds* “Begone, you crummy bastards!”

    I think you just need to come visit me, because it’s beautiful here. And make me this pasta, while you’re at it…divine.

    I think Mad Men is a lovely way to chase away the Mean Reds, because really, when you watch that, you think, “Gosh, I’m really not as messed up as I thought…”

  2. Kim said:

    There’s a man down the road who grows grapes on his property. He’s the one who first introduced me to Barbera wine. 🙂

    If it were me, I would have purposefully missed the flight home so you could savour just one more day in Italy.

    A happy belated anniversary to you!!


  3. lovely memories indeed.

    We’ve tried a vast amount of barbera from the region since your visit, honing the wine cellar with under-40,000-bottle artisan producers, and have made amazing discoveries. I absolutely love October for the food and wine here, it’s just a never ending stream of goodness.


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