Thursday, September 29, 2016

Jim and Julia's agnolotti

Here's a second guest post by Jim Dunlop our proud Scottish friend and guest to Turin Epicurean Capital 2016 with his lovely wife Julia - proud Lancastrian.
You can read Jim's first guest post about how to pair Lake Orta with Piedmontese wines here. In fact, When they participated to the third edition of Turin Epicurean Capital, they both said that what really makes our regional food and wines unique is the landscape: our secret ingredient ;)
Take careful notes of the places they went for Julia's birthday, the specialties they enjoyed and the wines they savored!!
Interact with them on Twitter about their many interests, especially: Italy, art, books, Toro (soccer), wine and food!!
Jim: jimofayr
Julia: juliadarwen

Remember it’s Agnolotti not Ravioli
in the City of Il Toro

It had been many years since I had set foot in Turin and as our TGV from Paris came to a graceful halt at Porta Susa station I knew that changes to this fine historic city had occurred. From the depths of a light and airy underground train station, via the moving escalators to a sun filled station square the buildings no were longer dark and grey but resplendent in their bright reflective glory of the late afternoon sunshine. Fifteen years was a long time to not have been in the first capital of Italy and the once industrial powerhouse that drove Italy forward. As we sat in the taxi for our almost “sempre dritto” drive to our hotel in Piazza Carlo Emanuele II. Everything seemed so much brighter and cleaner than the days when I came here for business meetings in dark grey buildings wearing a dark grey suit. It was energizing to see the change in the city, I guess the wonders of a winter Olympics can have that effect. This was a special “Travels with Julia” (my wife for her birthday) and we had decided to explore the city and search out its cultural and gastronomic delights, of course not forgetting the wines of Piemonte. Julia’s birthday coincided with Turin Epicurean’s annual get together so that was also on the agenda. It was also the first time we had taken the train all the way from Lancashire to Italy. This is an excellent and relaxing way to travel and also on the way south catch an evening in Paris. On the return leg connections are good and the journey can be done in just over twelve hours. Enough said now to think about Torinese culture and food.

Everywhere we took lunch or dinner was excellent from a small side street café to a historic restaurant and there are too many to mention in this short report. So I will concentrate on four particular but widely different venues that are worth some extra words.

A Sense of History in the Making of Italy and wonderful food

First was actually our last place to visit and we found it quite by chance as we strolled towards the Carignano in the early evening sunshine, thinking that we would eat outside we noticed a restaurant called La Smarrita on the other side of this historic square. Lucky for us the insects were bighting and we decided to eat inside. As we were taken upstairs we realized that we were entering the history of Italy’s coming together, for we were in Count Cavour’s stables and maybe actually about to sit where the Count gathered his friends to discuss unification of the country. Actually on the morrow we discovered our own country as we sat down to eat was voting for leaving the EU and a sadness engulfed us when we found that out. Anyway to the dinner and the surroundings but first the wine list and being Piemonte the glorious wines of the Tanaro River took pride of place but this evening these were not for us and we decided on a Nebbiolo from Gattinara by Travaglini. Its presentation in a unique shaped bottle not unlike the uniqueness of the city we were in. The contents of which can only be described as a juice from the Gods! With the upper room window open a view of the Carignano across the square eased the digestive juices as the food just kept coming. Of course Vitello Tonnato is a must as a starter for visitors to the city and it was by then noticeable that all restaurants try to present this dish a little different with a variation on the sauce and where it was positioned on the dish. Julia took this dish while I took a dish of split, lightly grilled langoustines. The taste and delicacy, however always remains top quality. 

La Smarrita langoustines
For main course what else could we take but agnolotti and where else but Turin can you get a pasta dish like this? (maybe Alba and the Tajarin to be found there!) It is a far cry from the pasta dishes served up in England, the two can never be compared. The dish was simple but bursting with flavours that were just hints to tickle the palate. All the time the Gattinara was soothing our taste buds. What could we finish with of course it had to be fruit, freshly picked. The real finish of course was the espresso with a soft grappa. This was a truly wonderful gastronomic experience set in wonderful historic surroundings. That evening in the twilight our slow stroll back to our hotel everything appeared in order in our world, we only wish it had been!

From the majesty of Piazza Carlo Alberto to a little side street off Via Pietro Micca 

and Cantina Torino

The difference in the surroundings of La Smarrita and Cantina Torino are maybe light years apart but the same philosophy of how a customer should be treated and how the food is cooked and presented are still the same. The Cantina is a small family run café serving food inside and on a small decked area beside the road. The menu seems to change daily and while we ate it seemed that it was a popular place at lunch time for local office staff. Our light salad was well prepared and presented and here I have to mention the local crisp grissini that was served with it, this we took with a carafe of one of my favourite wines, that is Grignolino of Monferrato and a wine of such interesting tastes. We could have taken a Barolo or Barbaresco from the excellent range of wines this little café carries but I wanted to be like a contadino in the city and Grignolino it was to be. This was a place for locals to eat and to my mind is the true Turin. We found this place by accident as I had been searching for the place where the best football team in Torino was founded. Sad to say that the old brewery that is now Bar Norman has changed since those folk got together to start the legend that became Torino FC!

at Cantina Torino they have over 200 labels of Piedmont wines, Piedmont cheeses and cured meats

From a side street Cantina to being served by a Priest!

As I have mentioned our visit was for Julia’s birthday and on this day we wanted to do something different, Lucia at Turin Epicurean knowing that we were stopping at a hotel in Piazza Carlo Emanuele had suggested La Badessa at the opposite end of the square but gave no clue to the quirkiness of this restaurant. Only saying that Bono of U2 fame had visited and given it a good report about a deep fried lamb burger coated in bread crumbs! On the birthday evening we arrived to find a historic almost Christian Gothic inner with music from what was like monks singing quietly in the background. We were welcomed by what appeared to be a priest (appearances are of course deceptive). 

La Badessa interior
We were shown to our table by a window. We could have sat outside in the sun but as the Piazza was under reconstruction we decided inside. The menu is not a long one in comparison to the wine card but this is the case of most Turin restaurants where quality always wins against quantity. We decided on a Pio Cesare Nebbiolo to accompany the dinner. For starter Julia took what was called strudel which in fact looked like the Austrian dish but instead of fruit inside there were vegetables and cheese. I took, yes you guessed it, the Vitello Tonnato, presented in yet another fashion but both equally full of taste and texture. For main course we could not refuse trying the lamb burgers. These if anything turned out to be not a good as expected but still good in their own way but maybe not for us. To finish a trio of little Dolci, just sublime! Of course espresso and a digestive of grappa followed. An interesting if quirky place to eat!

sublime La Badessa Dolci

Turin is nothing if I don’t mention an Aperitivo at Historic Cafe' San Carlo

Julia studying the Aperitivo list at Cafe' San Carlo
The city that gave the world so many types of aperitifs cannot be visited without sitting in Piazza San Carlo in the late afternoon sun and ordering Aperol Spritz. Having been to Turin in the past I knew that more than the spritz would arrive. The look on Julia’s face as the waitress staggered out of the café with a huge tray of nibbles, both savory and sweet for us to sample as we sipped the Aperol. The list of nibbles is worth mentioning; stuffed olives, variety of nuts, coleslaw, potato chips, puff pastries full of delights and much more. Did I mention the bread sticks?  Even the many inquisitive little birds did not disturb our relaxation in the sun as we watched how the Torinese strolled around us, it was great free street theatre at this famous café.

Aperol Spritz and nibbles at Cafe' San Carlo

I have not mentioned something which Turin is famous for “chocolate” but that is a full story in itself. They call Bologna “The Fat one” but Turin is not far behind in culinary and gastronomic delights.

I could go on but time or space does not allow me but I hope that this short piece gives a flavor of what can be on offer in a city that must be on any tourist travel plans to Italy.

Maybe for another story, time can be spent on the attractions of the wonderful museums of Cinema and Egyptian history, the art galleries, the Lingotto, one wonderful football stadium and one where an old lady plays that is not so wonderful, strolls by the River and in the many parks. Finally, wonderful ice cream that disappears too quickly.

text and pictures 
Jim Dunlop 

Follow Jim and Julia on Twitter:
Jim @jimofayr
Julia @juliadarwen 

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