Postcard from Saluzzo, Italy: Meals from last summer

My apologies to the restaurants of Saluzzo. Although they delivered a rich sampling of the foods of the Piedmont region of Italy, the “postcards” are so slow to be delivered everything is now a jumble.

Le Quattro Stagioni d’Italia is a surprisingly large restaurant with a spacious patio always packed with locals. We found ourselves drawn to both food and patio several times. Taverna San Martino is small, cozy and intimate and regarded by many as the best in town. Osteria Nuovi Mondagli is completely unpretentious, with its magnetic draw a shaded patio perched above one of Saluzzo’s picturesque petit plazas.

Obviously, the town kept us well-fed.

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.

Postcard from Marfil, Guanajuato, Mexico: Wait, are you sure we are not in Italy?

The creamy rich black rice risotto above was one of the best risotti we had in Italy. Wait. We were not in Italy any longer. We were in Guanajuato.

But Peccato di Gola is so good, I dare plop a post about it right here in the middle of “postcards” from Italy. We went to Marfil on the edge of Guanajuato to visit the Casa Museo Gene Byron (more to come about it after delayed Italian posts are delivered). People rave about the food at the museum’s restaurant, but it was closed on a Monday – often an issue when traveling.

So we walked past the ancient dam to the other side of Marfil, not a major hike, to an at-first unappealing strip of restaurants right on the side of the roadway. But stepping inside the comfortably furnished Peccato di Gola quickly altered that first impression.

We were considering opting for pizza, but the owner/chef (who we think is from Rome) piped up that Monday was our lucky day. On Mondays the restaurant offers a 300-peso (about $15) fixed-price lunch. This is not your normal fixed-price offering; no, it is one inviting you to fully understand the restaurant’s name. For our 300-peso per person investment, we could order anything on the menu, except steaks, until we wanted nothing more. Peccato di Gola translates as the sin of gluttony. And we fully consented to commit it.

With a large selection on the menu, we sat back and let him pick our starters while we tried not to fill up on the freshly baked olive bread. The chef definitely had my attention when he bypassed the wood-fired stove to a smoldering grill and placed something over the coals for us. Oh my, grilled octopi. He followed that with fried zucchini blossoms filled with gorgonzola and topped with shrimp. And then a plate layered with rounds of salmon carpaccio and a board bearing caprese salad.

Did we stop there? No, not I said the glutton. We sampled lobster ravioli, again topped with shrimp. And perfectly cooked salmon. Then he brought out a dessert board for us.

I do promise, though, that these photos are from more than one meal. We sinned twice, and then went back one more time to try the pizza.

Although the pizza topped with vegetables popped out from the wood-burning oven looking perfect, it actually was our least favorite dish there. The crust had good texture but had the issue we generally find true in Mexico. Pizza crusts in Mexico often have too much of a white-flour taste compared to what we are accustomed. While not up to Italian standards, this still was the best pizza we found in Guanajuato.

But no matter what day you decide to head to Marfil – a short and inexpensive cab ride from downtown – let Peccato di Gola transport you to Italy. Aside from the pizza, everything we sampled on the menu comes highly recommended.

Oh, to have the opportunity to sin like that again.