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Food and Drink

Olympics may be over but you can keep that Turin feeling flowing

More than a few bagged but happy, fumble-headed people are making their way back home this week as the Olympic party folds up its tents – for now.

Never mind the gluttony of medals and adrenaline Canada got to enjoy, from all reports everyone, win or lose, enjoyed the typical Turinese gluttony of food and drink as well.

So for fans on and off the official Olympic site now going through withdrawal, here’s what you need to keep the party going.

1. A bottle of fine Piedmontese red… Put your feet up and enjoy a glass of Barbaresco or Barolo. The Piedmont region, which is home to Turin, produces a number of fine wines, but these two big reds top the list. Both are from the nebiollo grape and both come from grape-growing areas, or DOCGs (Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita – isn’t that a mouthful?), near Alba, south of Turin. Both not only go with just about anything, they’re capable of transforming even a slice of pizza or a salami sandwich into a feast. Either choice is a gold medal contender, but many would crown the slightly more elegant Barolo king of Italian wines.

You also can’t go wrong with the region’s other big red "B" – Barbera. It’s another fine pick that goes with just about anything, especially anything cooked in a tomato sauce.

If sparkling wines are more your cup of, well, wine, go for a bottle of Asti Spumante, Italy’s best and best known sparkling wine. It comes from the DOCG around the town of Asti, in the southeastern part of Piedmont. Simply living at Whistler at the foot of Whistler-Blackcomb (after all, Piedmont means "foot of the mountain") offers plenty of verisimilitude to celebrate anytime.

Whatever your choice, make sure you have on hand…

2. A platter of great appetizers… Never mind king of big reds, a few factors have coalesced to make Turin the big king of appetizers. Masters of pursuing life’s little pleasures and among the first in Italy to embrace the concept of a "café society", the Turinese, in fact all of the folks in the Piedmont region, know a good thing when they see it – a prolonged "cocktail hour."

Although the evening apertivi is officially not supposed to get underway until six o’clock, just about any bar, trattoria or restaurant serves up tasty little appetizers with drinks in the afternoon (wouldn’t that be a nice custom to start in Whistler?). Then there’s the merenda , a snack served between lunch and dinner – or perhaps the snacking and apertivizing run smack into each other in one long and pleasant indulgence. Either way, it all has a good purpose, given you can’t get dinner in any restaurant before the very continental hour of 7 p.m.

To add to the mix, or perhaps stemming from it, a Turinese by the name of Antonio Benedetto Carpan infused herbs into white wine to come up with vermouth in the late 1700s. What more could one hope for in terms of aperitifs?

Oh, maybe one or two of the 160-some cheeses the region is known for – like the spicy Robiole d’alba or yellow Fontina – maybe drizzled in olive oil and showered with slivers of white truffle, also a local specialty. And possibly some sliced sausages, the gorgeous local pork salamis and some good bread.

If you’re really adventuresome, try a big bowl of cialli – sliced raw beef drizzled with olive oil that was served up to our wine scribe, Anthony Gismondi, as an accompaniment to wine-tasting at a Barbaresco estate.

Those of a tamer or more vegetarian nature may wish to try…

3. A dipper’s delight, bagna caôda … You can’t have a true Piedmontese celebration without dipping veggies and slices of polenta in bagna caôda – literally "warm bath". It’s considered one of the region’s definitive dishes, kind of ironic given that it originated in Provence. The "bath", made from anchovies, butter, olive oil and garlic, and sometimes other ingredients like cream, is kept warm with a low flame, fondue-style. You dip just about any kind of veggie you can name – asparagus, red peppers, Jerusalem artichokes, cabbage, white hearts of escarole, fresh leeks, white turnips, roast beetroot, boiled cauliflower, roast onions, white potatoes boiled in their skins, apples, slices of roast or fried pumpkin, slices of hot roast or fried polenta, and cardoons, if you can get your hands on them.

For real handy dippers, and to keep the party going, grab a bunch of…

4. Breadsticks or grissini … I don’t know about you, but whatever the time or mood, breadsticks always pick me up. This ultimate fun food is said to have been invented by a Turinese baker trying to tempt the flagging appetite of an ailing young prince.

They will certainly be cheaper and easier to find than…

5. A taste of white truffles… If there’s a real "king" of regional gastronomy in the Piedmont region, it’s the white truffle. This little fungus, worth more than its weight in gold, is found in the hills around Alba. Given a 50-gram jar of whole white truffles will set you back more than $100, you might want to try white truffle oil, which you can usually find at Italian markets and specialty food stores. Since the oil's flavor dissipates with heat, add it just before serving. If you do get your hands on a whole one, or even the processed bits, a sprinkling of tiny truffle slivers over pasta or even fried eggs will turn it into a celebration.

If you’re still hungry, try moving on to…

6. Risotto, agnolotti and more… In Piedmont, pasta is big, but rice is even bigger, and risotto is queen of them all. Spaniards introduced rice into the area in the 1400s; Piedmont soon became a big rice-growing centre. The paddies also produce carp, frogs and other fish from the water-filled trenches.

So whip up a batch of risotto (be sure to use lots of mushrooms and fresh herbs) or put on a pot of tajarin, a thin tagliatelle pasta as yellow as the eggs it’s made with. If you’re up for something more filling, try agnolotti, the small, square, stuffed regional pasta.

For dessert whip up zabaglione, that lovely custard of Marsala wine and whipped eggs. Or if you’re tired of all the prep, just grab a spoonful of Nutella, and you’ll have kept the party from Turin alive and well right in your own backyard.

Glenda Bartosh is an award-winning freelance writer who has never trifled with a truffle.




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