THE BEST STARTERS IN PIEDMONT

At work making gnocchi
At work making gnocchi
Gnocchi lined up for drying
Gnocchi lined up for drying
A  fresh row of agnolotti
A fresh row of agnolotti
making sure that we are doing things right
making sure that we are doing things right
Choosing the right wine for the starters with Claudio, the wine maker
Choosing the right wine for the starters with Claudio, the wine maker
Ready to pour in boiling water
Ready to pour in boiling water
Draining the agnolotti
Draining the agnolotti

I SUGHI PER I PRIMI PIATTI (SAUCES FOR STARTERS)

If there is one starter with the word Italian written on it, it is “spaghetti”: especially when served with meat sauce. This is so much so that the most known Italian brands of “spaghetti” are now found almost anywhere in the world.

But why are “spaghetti” so popular all over, why do they taste so much better when in Italy, and, most important , are spaghetti, really, the most popular starters in Italy?

The answer to the first question is easy: spaghetti are cooked and served in minutes, especially when dressed with ready made sauces, of which there is an abundance to choose from. Spaghetti can be served daily and still taste very different each time because of the different dressing we use.

The answer to the second question lies possibly with the way spaghetti are cooked and with what they are dressed with, whereas the answer to the third question is a resounding NO!: there are a few other starters in Italy, and certainly in Piedmont, that way outclass the traditional spaghetti.

We will learn how to cook tree favored Piedmont starters: the “Tajarin”, the “Gnocchi” and the “Agnolotti”. Any Piedmont restaurant worth its name has at least one of these tree starters on the menu every single day of the week. Most will have the tree of them available at all times.

Tajarin is the pasta most often eaten in Piedmont; Tajarin are shaped like small tagliatelle: a string of flat pasta, about 20-25 cm long, 1,5 mm large, and 1,5mm thick. Nowhere else in Italy will you eat pasta shaped this way, nor a pasta as thin as Tajarin. The second main difference is to be found in the type of flour used: whereas “durum wheat” is used everywhere else in Italy to make pasta with, in Piedmont we use the more common “soft” type of flour, the one type used to make bread. The resulting Tajarin are more delicate to the palate, but require a bit more care and attention to cook. Tajarin is pronounced Ta .. Ja .. Rin

The Gnocchi, small potato dumplings, made of mashed potatoes, with the addition of a small quantity of wheat flour and eggs, is a very delicate dish. In Piedmont they come “twisted”: this additional step in the preparation of the gnocchi, will increase the surface of the dumpling in contact with the boiling water: The result is a different culinary experience.

The “Agnolotti”, which elsewhere in Italy are called “Ravioli”, are made only in Piedmont. They come in two varieties, shapes, really, more than varieties, since they are prepared, cooked and served exactly the same way: the traditional agnolotti, a strictly hunchbacked small square of pasta filled with meat and vegetables, and the “agnolotti al plin” where “plin” stands for pinched: the thing is still hunchbacked, but it is somewhat smaller than the more traditional variety. Gnocchi are pronounced ňo .. kki

If the type of pasta distinguishes the quality, taste and flavor of Piedmont’s starters, the “Sugo”, ( click here to know how to make sugo) or sauce, is what makes the real difference. Fortunately, the sauce will be the same for the three types of starters.

The Sugo di Carne is a sauce with minced meat, only ground veal, or only “salsiccia”, or a blend of the two. Ideal with the tree types of starters but absolutely a must, for most Roerini, as far as Gnocchi are concerned.

The Sugo di Pomodoro is a sauce made with tomato paste or ripe tomatoes, or both.

The Sugo al Burro e Salvia is made of lightly fried butter and a few leafs of sage. Ideal with the Agnolotti or Ravioli..

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