Like every one of the Italy’s 20 regions, Piemonte has its unique agricultural products, recipes and traditions. The current fame of Piemonte’s cuisine is in large part tied to the excellence of its wines, in particular the Barolo, and to its rare and revered products like the white truffles of Alba. Piemonte is also the home to Nutella, the origins of the Slow Food Movement, and the beloved grissini. Because Piemonte shares a border with France, more butter is used in this region than other parts of Italy.
Among the famous dishes of Piemonte is la bagna calda, a hot bath of olive oil and butter, garlic and anchovies into which you dip vegetables and bread. It is an Italian fondue. The pasta of the region is called tajarin, which is similar to tagliatelle. Only egg yolks are used in these thin, saffron-colored ribbons. Another golden pasta of the region is agnolotti al plin, which are delicate, petite ravioli filled with meat, vegetable or cheese. One of the most famous recipes is agnolotti dal plin al burro e salvia, which are little pasta pockets with butter and sage.
Piemonte is also famous for many lovely desserts, like bonet, panna cotta, and zabaione, a rich custard made with Marsala wine and a decadent number of egg yolks. Pesche ripiene are baked peaches filled with chocolate and amaretti. But perhaps the desserts most representative of the region are those made with hazelnuts. It all started with the idea after World War II of incorporating chocolate into pulverized hazelnuts to make the gianduja paste, a forerunner of Nutella.
Today hazelnuts are used in many local Piemontese sweets, from baci di dama (hazelnut cookies) to nougat to the torta di nocciole (hazelnut cake). The nuts from Langhe have received the European Igp designation (protected geographic indication), which means that only products from that region can be identified as such in commerce. These hazelnuts have been cultivated since ancient times in an area within the provinces of Cuneo, Alessandria and Asti.
150 grams (about 5.3 oz) whole hazelnuts
100 grams (about 3.5 oz) softened butter
200 grams (about 7 oz) sugar
1 T. olive oil
60 ml (about 2 oz) milk
200 grams (about 7 oz) flour
1 t. baking powder
Preparation: Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Lay hazelnuts in a single layer on a baking tray and toast in the oven for 5 minutes. Remove and transfer the warm hazelnuts to a tea towel. Rub the nuts together in the towel to remove some of the skins. Transfer them to a food processor and pulverize just until they are fine like breadcrumbs. Beat the butter and sugar together in a mixing bowl. Add the eggs one by one, beating to incorporate well, then add the olive oil and milk. Fold in the hazelnuts, flour and baking powder. Place the mixture into a greased baking tin lined with parchment paper or dusted lightly with flour. Bake for 35-40 minutes or until the top is springy and a skewer inserted comes out clean.
Variations: There are flourless versions that use only hazelnuts and versions that add cocoa. There are also versions that add 200 grams of crumbled amaretti and a little glass of dry Marsala. Or you can add a splash of rum or espresso to the mixture. Whichever version you make, it’s wonderful as it is, but you can dust it with powdered sugar or serve it with a warm zabaione or some softly whipped cream…and a glass of Moscato.