Sunday, November 23, 2014

Piedmontese Dinner at Home

It's stressful enough to have friends coming over for dinner, let alone friends who really *know* food and won't miss a heartbeat telling people what they like/dislike. I came back from Piedmont eager to share some of the goodies we acquired during our holiday, so I asked a few friends - who shall remain nameless - to come over to our place at the first Saturday evening since we returned. That's the beginning of a stressful (yet fun) weekend.

Many people brought out their best dishes to entertain guests, ones they are most confident in making using tried and true recipes, but I often (shamelessly) use our friends as guinea pigs and experimented with new creations, some of them made out of the blue. And travel does give me a bunch of new ideas of things I could try making at home. Perfect.

We started with a charcuterie platter with ham and lardo from Emilia-Romagna that I picked up from Salone del Gusto in Turin, along with some Barolo-marinated Salumi from Alba's White Truffle Fair. I had some spare time that morning so I made a batch of sea salt-rosemary foccacia to go along with it (using a recipe that I blogged about last year).

The idea of the amuse bouche came from an appetizer dish Charlotte had during the trip. The original version was a mille-feuille of grilled peppers, salted cod puree and aubergines served hot. I decided to modify it a little bit, substituting aubergines with slices of grilled zucchini, and made the fish more like a brandade with a coarse texture.

I was a bit sloppy in making the egg cocotte (or fonduta as it's locally known in Piedmont) which came next, thinking I could manipulate the texture of the egg by just controlling the time and oven temperature without use of special equipment (i.e. my sous vide machine). So it turned out a bit overcooked. Oops - if I were at a restaurant I would have sent it back, but thanks to our tolerating friends no one asked for a re-make. I picked up a tiny piece of white truffles from Alba and I used that on the dish. After one week of storing in the refrigerator it obviously didn't have same aroma as when it was fresh, but I think it's still (barely) okay.

The main course probably saw the least of imitation while keeping the spirit of Piedmontese cuisine (I hope). It's pork belly with sauteed apples and leek, pumpkin puree and deep-fried polenta. I had the sauteed apple and leek at the 2 Michelin-starred Antica Corona Reale as the side dish to escargots. But I thought it should work as well for pork dishes, and that's why I want to try the combination out when I get home. I think they matched fine, but there were probably a few things I need to work on. To start, I messed up with the crackling by accident - it ended up sticking to the pan after the belly was cooked sous vide for 36 hours. It's the first time I attempted to do a deep-fried polenta, and I think that went okay and turned out quite easy to make. At least from now on I have something different to serve as side dish other than mashed potatoes.

We served an assortment of Piedmontese cheeses before dessert, most of which were bought from a wonderful cheese shop in Bra. They included Rascherra, Castelmagno, two different types of Bra (the softer, creamier Bra Tenero with 8 months aging, and the more intense Bra Duro Stravecchio aged for 24 months), Robiola Tartufo (a soft cheese mixed with black truffles). We also had 2 types from the famous Beppino Occelli dairy, both a combination of cow and goat milk, with one marinated in malt and whisky and one wrapped in chestnut leaves giving them very unique flavors. 

Dessert of the evening was a chocolate ganache tart with toasted hazelnut, served with hokkaido milk icecream and a slice of dried orange. The idea came from a similar dish we had in Acqui Terme, except in that version hazelnut puree was used instead of chocolate ganache. Inspired by what I saw at Salone del Gusto, I was trying to experiment with adding soy sauce to the ganache to see what happened, but I probably didn't add enough to make it noticeable. At least it didn't taste bad - maybe I will try again next time.

Wines that spanned over 30 years - (from left to right) Albino Rocca Barbaresco Vigneto Brich Ronchi 2000, Gaja Barbaresco 1970, Marchesi di Barolo Barolo 1970
Our friends were so gracious to bring stuff that we could all enjoy at the table, starting with a pair of vintage wines - from Piedmont too - then the homemade jams and candied kumquats from possibly the best jam-maker in town and home-baked brownies which ended up as part of the dessert providing the double chocolate bomb. It's all good.

It's always great to have friends who love food over, amid the stressful preparation - it's guaranteed to be a fun night sharing the common passion and lots of gossips too. 

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