Have you ever eaten stuffed onions baked in their skin? Me either. I would never have thought to bake it this way – covered in a salt crust, then emptied out and filled with a mixture of ground beef, chopped onion and oozing raschera, a local cheese from Italy’s Piedmont region. I ate this, along with other truly memorable dishes, at a restaurant called Osteria Battaglino, a small family owned place in Le Langhe, an area in Piedmont south of Torino. Le Langhe is noted for its big Barolo wines, wonderful cheeses and renowned truffles, all of which I consumed whenever I could on my trip this fall.
The rolling hills and vine-covered landscape of Le Langhe makes driving a real stop and go experience. It was hard to resist the temptation to halt and take photos at every bend in the road. On the way to Dogliani, the town where the restaurant is located, this is the kind of scenery I drove by.
Dogliani itself is not on the typical tourist itinerary, but its streets do hold some charm.
I’m drawn to colorfully painted houses.
Back here in New Jersey, salmon or mustard-colored exterior walls would look decidedly out of place, but in Italy, they’re ubiquitous and they’re beautiful.
I had one purpose in stopping in Dogliani — and that was to have lunch at Osteria Battaglino, owned by Marco Battaglino and Flavia Bergamo. I had read about the restaurant in National Geographic Traveler, and the writer mentioned that the food was so good, that if this restaurant were in a city like New York, people would be waiting for weeks to get a reservation. She wasn’t kidding. Everything was exquisite and the service was friendly and fabulous.
At one point when I was tasting the wine, Flavia said “If you don’t like it, you can complain to the owner of the vineyard,” who was sitting at a nearby table. No complaints were necessary.
There were no complaints about any of the food either, including the baked onion in the first photo and the little amuse bouche of roasted yellow peppers and anchovies presented in a tiny jar.
Here’s one of the primi piatti I tried: tajarin – a specialty of Le Langhe – a rich dough made with flour and egg yolks and similar to tagliatelle, only thinner. Since it was the season for fresh porcini mushrooms, they were ubiquitous on the menu and plentiful in this plate.
I don’t know what I loved more – the tajarin or this delicate and ethereal dish of porcini mushrooms and squash gnocchi that practically melted in your mouth:
I ordered roast veal as a main course. It was so well braised and tender, I didn’t even need a knife.
I shouldn’t have, but I did. Order dessert, that is. Hey, it was fruit, so calories don’t count, right? This perfectly poached pear teamed well with the warm zabaglione puddled beneath it and the drizzle of sauce made from a wine reduction.
Maybe you can’t get to Osteria Battaglino in Le Langhe, but you can certainly make the onion dish I ate. Chef Marco generously sent me the recipe, printed below in both English and Italian.
If you still needed some encouragement to travel to Le Langhe, here are a few more photos of the beautiful countryside and the fabulous food I ate there:
gnocchi with raschera cheese in the town of Bra, where the Slow Food movement began:
meat-filled plin, another specialty of the region, (similar to ravioli) at Leon D’Oro in Canale:
Risotto with white truffles:
The terra cotta roofs of La Morra:
And the hand colored etching I bought from the artist Pierflavio Gallina, with the beautiful words of Piedmont writer Cesare Pavese written in Italian at the bottom of the artwork.
The words are from “La Luna E I Falo,” a book I read decades ago, and they have stayed with me since:
“Un paese vuol dire non essere soli, sapere che nella gente, nelle piante, nella terra c’è qualcosa di tuo e che anche quando non ci sei, resta ad aspettarti.”
“A home town means never having to feel alone, knowing that in the people, in the plants, in the earth, there is always something of you, and that even when you’re not there, it’s there waiting for you.”
Stuffed onions is a simple dish, although it takes a bit of work.
Use a white or yellow onion and place it in a oven-safe pan. Cover it completely with large grain salt (like Kosher salt, but it’s also very good with a pinkish salt). Let it cook at about 400 degrees fahrenheit for about an hour and a half. Break the salt crust and extract the onions, then slide off a quarter of the onion at the top, horizontally. Use a spoon to partially scoop out the interior.
At this point, mince the onion that you have extracted from the interior, a small amount of ground beef (or sausage) that has been sautéed in a pan with garlic, rosemary and thyme. If you like, you can also add a touch of curry powder.
Fill the onion at least half way with this mixture and add some cubes of a good melting cheese. If you can find raschera cheese, that’s what was used at the restaurant. If not, something like Muenster cheese would be a good substitute. Put it back in the oven for about 10 to 12 minutes at 400 degrees until the cheese is melted and slightly browned on top.
Serve, with some of the salt used in cooking sprinkled around the plate. Marco used a black salt.
La cipolla ripiena è un piatto semplice anche se
richiede un po di lavoro…
Prendi alcune cipolle bionde e le metti in una
teglia da forno completamente coperte di sale grosso, qualsiasi tipo di sale,
molto buona con il sale rosa, e le fai cuocere a 200 gradi centigradi per un ora
e mezza circa.
Rompi la crosta di sale e tiri fuori le cipolle, le tagli come
nella foto a tre quarti della loro altezza e le svuoti con un cucchiaino
A questo punto fai un trito con la cipolla che hai
estratto, un pò di carne macinata che hai precedentemente rosolato in padella
con aglio e rosmarino, e del timo di montagna…a piacere può anche andar bene
una punta di curry.
Riempi la cipolla per meno di metà con questo trito
e fino all’orlo con dei cubetti di formaggio dolce e fresco…raschera, bra
tenero o altri simili…a questo punto non ti resta che farle gratinare in forno
a 200 gradi per una decina di minuti e mangiarle…
È importante che nel piatto
assieme alle cipolle ci sia anche un po del sale di cottura.
Enough with the macarons, the tarte tatin and the tapenade. It’s time for me to get back to Italy, and I did just that in late October and early November. Immediately following my trip to France, I took a train to Torino (Turin) to revisit one of my favorite Italian cities and spend some time in the exquisitely beautiful countryside of Piedmont, where this picture was taken. I have plenty of posts and enticing recipes for you from the region, but I’ll start with a very brief intro to Piedmont’s largest city, Torino – and finish with some photos from the Salone Del Gusto, a humongous food event held every two years.
The photo below is the Mole Antonelliana, an iconic symbol of this city in Northwest Italy that’s often overlooked by tourists. Too bad, because Torino, the capital of Italy for the first four years of its unification in 1861, holds many delights for the tourist, including elegant palaces, a myriad of museums, and some of the best food and wine in all of Italy. The mole Antonelliana was originally conceived as a synagogue, but today it houses an engaging museum of cinema.
The royal palace, below, was used as a residence for Italy’s rulers from the 1500s until the 19th century, including King Victor Emanuele II, leader of the House of Savoy.
The huge piazza was the site of nightly concerts and awards ceremonies for the 2006 winter olympics. During the games, I worked for the city’s daily newspaper La Stampa, and would occasionally leave my job early enough to hear performers like Ennio Morricone here in Piazza Castello. For those of you who aren’t Italian, you would certainly recognize Morricone from the many film scores he composed, including The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly, and Cinema Paradiso. He’s considered a national treasure in Italy.
The building in the next photo is called the Palazzo Madama, and is so named because in the 17th century, it was chosen as the favorite residence by Maria Cristina of France, the widow of Victor Amedeus I. It was closed to the public for many years, but it’s now a museum where you can see beautiful works of art, from mosaics to ceramics to exquisite paintings.
Just in case those two palaces didn’t suit them, the Savoy family had Stupinigi built in the 18th century, a “hunting lodge” about 15 minutes by car from the city.
Back in Torino, you can feel like a royal at one of the many elegant cafes in town, including this one — Baratti & Milano, where the waiters are spiffily dressed.
But even if you’re not a king or even a duke, the warmth exuded by people in the city can make you feel like royalty, including this couple — Maurizio Tassinari and Iva Battistello, who own a wonderful food shop called Sapori. They invited me into their kitchen to watch fresh pasta being made, then served me plateful after plateful, even opening a bottle of wine for me to wash it down with.
Aside from the memorable meals I ate in restaurants in the city, I had my fill of wonderful food and wines at the biennial Salone del Gusto. This year, the Salone was held in conjunction with Terra Madre, another food extravaganza that brings in food producers from other parts of the world. The combined event, with more than 1,000 exhibitors from 100 countries, was held for five days in the Lingotto, the former Fiat factory, and you could easily take that long to see it all. Imagine the Jacob Javits Convention Center in New York City multiplied by four.
Here’s a little slide show to give you a taste of what I saw, ate and drank during the 11 hours I spent there:
And since we were walking distance of this place –
the food emporium that started in Torino, my friend Lilli and I had to stroll over, peruse the aisles and finish the day with a pizza or two.
In the days ahead, I’ll be posting more entries from Torino and Le Langhe, including recipes of some of the delicious meals I ate. But the next post will be a detour to Sicily – for the newest menu addition to my traditional “feast of the seven fishes” Christmas eve dinner. Go out buy some Italian pine nuts now – just sayin’.