For one day only, Piedmontese traders exchanged the Alpine foothills for Borough Market, bringing with them a gastronomic showcase of the region. Clare Finney drops by
Words: Clare Finney
As far as the weather’s concerned, we could not have been further removed from the spring flower-strewn Alpine foothills the Piedmont traders had left the day before to showcase their wares at Borough Market. The difference in temperature between there and the icy winds of the Market Hall was at least 10 degrees. They shivered as they smiled, spoke to customers intrigued by the colourful collection of rustic-looking pastas, jams, wine and cheeses, and shared samples with all and sundry; keeping the Piedmontese reputation for being ‘feeders’ alive and well.
Beside them, Ursula Ferrigno ran a cookery demo using their produce, drawing spectators in as much from the heat of the cooker as by the rich, simmering aromas. “This is a wonderful region” she enthused, as she held aloft her array of Piedmontese goodies.
First up was pasta: strozzapreti made with spelt flour by a cooperative helping to rehabilitate the victims of drug or alcohol abuse and ex-convicts. “The idea is that they need to do something with their hands, that they can feel proud of, to feel better,” a representative of the cooperative, Terramia, explained. “It’s a community of communities.”
They make everything by hand: the biscuits, the thin breads, and the many varieties of pastas which are made using traditional bronze dies (the tool the pasta dough is forced through), giving the pasta a rough texture to which sauce can cling.
Sweet, smoky pasta
Ursula was cooking with it as he spoke, adding the bay leaves and tomatoes to the sauce whose smells had already lured a sizeable crowd. “I’m using strozzapreti, bacon and the fresh peas of the season, too. Delicious!” she beamed, putting out a bowl of fresh parmesan. The parmesan went well with the sweet, smoky pasta—but, being from Reggio Emilia, it was not the main event at the Piedmont showcase as far as dairy goes. That honour went to gorgonzola.
“It is of course a very well-known cheese, but our producer makes it the traditional way, small scale,” explained Stefano of Bianca e Mora, who had set up a stall at the event for PDO Piedmont cheeses. He is from Piedmont himself, and explained how regional variations are such that even from one town to the next they will “have different dishes, different names for things”. He calls ravioli agnolotti, for example—“and for me it is different, but it is still very much the same.”
Pasta done and dished out to a dozen hungry mouths, Ursula was onto the gnocchi, served with a creamy gorgonzola sauce. “This recipe is the reason my husband married me,” she joked. “Please make sure they are old potatoes. They have more starch and that helps with the making of gnocchi.” Beside her sat a bottle of barolo wine: one of the most well-known products of the Piedmont region, hence its revered DOCG status.
“The land is very good for a variety of grapes,” one of the traders of barolo, Cantina Clavesana, remarked, “but the barolo is our most popular to export.” There were plenty to choose from here at the Market, however, including Castelnuovo Don Bosco DOC, a red, sweet sparkling wine which can only be grown on the hills of the province of Asti, and even organic, unpasteurised, artisan beer.
Craft beer revolution
“The craft beer revolution is not as big in Italy as in the UK,” smiled Mario of Birra Laval. “In Italy, we still think the British are the best producers when it comes to beer, but we are young and growing. A lot of people are starting to make beer, and to experiment.”
At that point, it was gnocchi and barolo time at the demo kitchen—but with such fresh, citrusy-smooth flavours as Birra Laval’s pale ale promised, it seemed highly likely it would be a taste of things to come. Cheers to next year’s Piedmont showcase.