Postcard from Turin, Italy: Home to many a food “invention”

Some of the members of the House of Savoy you were introduced to in the prior post get credit for additions to Turin’s distinctive flavors. Grissini, thin crispy Italian breadsticks, were invented to meet special dietary needs of Vittorio Amadeo II (1666-1732). Perhaps most significant to Italians, Emanuele Filiberto (1553-1580) brought the first chocolate to Italy.

As in Spain, the earliest ways to consume chocolate imported from the New World were in a liquid form. This has survived through the centuries in Turin in the form of bicerin, a rich triple-layered beverage (more like a dessert to me) consisting of thick hot chocolate, espresso and foamy cream. Numerous major chocolate factories are found in the city. With hazelnuts the most popular nut, it is not surprising Nutella was created there. Vermouth and Campari originated in Turin; the city is home to the Slow Food movement; and the first Eataly opened there.

The region’s lean grass-fed beef, fassone, seems most popular when consumed ground and raw. Locals eat huge patties of the meat tartare. I was happy my sampling of it was restricted to a petite amuse bouche. Which is partially why I expected the area cuisine to be dominated by head-to-tail meat offerings.

Much to my pleasant surprise, Turin residents prize their locally grown vegetables. There were a remarkable number of vegetarian restaurants, such as the highly regarded somewhat pricey Soul Kitchen. But even our humble homey neighborhood restaurant, Trattoria Alla Locandina, offered several vegetable dishes, including grilled eggplant and fried zucchini blossoms filled with cheese.

Our go-to lunch spot in Turin, E Cucina Torino, was like a reunion with an old friend. We first encountered Chef Cesare Marretti’s concept of providing limited-menu fixed-price meals in Bologna three years ago. Expect locals to be lined up here for the 10-euro special: a starter; a choice of a meat, seafood or vegetarian entrée; a small dessert; a glass of wine; and an espresso. I found myself always falling for the vegetable platter which included a side salad, a mountain of fresh vegetables hiding a vegetable flan underneath and a ball of fresh mozzarella too massive for me to ever conquer. The Mister was more apt to explore the other options.

Then there is the featured photo above, perhaps my favorite dish in Turin: a layered vegetable tian with a gorgonzola and almond sauce at Ristrot Guviol. We encountered wonderful creations emerging from this kitchen. An impressive crab shell arrived atop a dish of spaghetto with crab and grape tomatoes. A ribbon of raw salmon made a bright stripe across a rich risotto, and there was a tagiolini with squid and a crown of mullet roe.

The food of the Piedmont region is without a doubt among the best in Italy.

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