Sunday, October 24, 2010

Torino, 3: Tuscany, Sardinia, Piemonte

OH, BASTA COLLA TOSCANA! Enough with Tuscany, the woman said, with very strong emotion. I was in Sardinia — more accurately, at a booth in the half-aisle devoted to that island in one of the three vast pavilions at Slow Food, where artisinal food products from all around the world are shown.

Pavilion Two and much of Three are dedicated to Italian products — olive oil, wine, pastries, jams and jellies, liqueurs, meats, and dozens of other products. Many regions spill over into two aisles: among them, Sicily, which gets an aisle and a half. Sardinia, in all its complexity and rich tradition, has perhaps the smallest presence. I don't know why that should be.

I had made the mistake of saying, on tasting a particularly intesely spiced cookie, that it made me think of Siena. Oh, basta colla Toscana, the woman retorted. Tuscany has only two or three specialties, she said, and mostly even they aren't made very authentically. They use California almonds, inferior butter, eggs from God knows where. (I thought of our Dutch friend Hans, who runs a factory egg-farm in Bulgaria.) We use lard, only a tiny bit, never butter; we use our own almonds, never California almonds.

I explained to her that the problem wasn't California, it was the scale of global commercialism. Even in California, I said, we have our Sardinia and our Tuscany. We have very good almonds, though perhaps not exactly like yours in Sardinia, and perhaps not quite that good. But the ones we export, in such huge quantity, are not the best.

They're too thin, she objected, and don't have any oil. They last longer that way, I pointed out; they don't go rancid. Exactly, she responded, all you think of is shelf life; we want our amaretti to be eaten, not left on a shelf.
Ironically, after nibbling all day, lunching on lardo and sliced onions, sitting with a cold wheat-beer and a plate of salumi and cheese at tea-time, we dined back in Chivasso at a restaurant featuring as its daily menu food from Tuscany.

Oh well: we're here for Piemontese cuisine, but we take what comes. What came was
Tortino di carciofi
Crostini alla Toscana
Fettuccine con ragù di cinghiale
Totani all'inzimino
Torta pattone

The appetizers were fine: a rich, dense artichoke omelet in the form of a rissole, a crostini with sun-dried tomato on a bed of liver paté. The ragù was rich and deep, the fettucini apparently house-made, square-cut, eggy. Totani turned out to be little squid in a piquant tomato sauce, full of flavor. Only the chestnut torte seemed to let us down: it was too cold, too dense. But I like chestnuts, and was happy enough with it.

Chardonnay di Piemonte in carafe

L'Antichissimo, Via Portis, 4, Chivasso; tel. 011.917.2000

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