From its capital city, Turin, to its mountainous border nearing France and the Langhe winemaking zone further south, local restaurants in Piedmont are proud to serve all the region’s traditional staples. In this northwestern part of Italy, sweet hazelnuts, prized white truffles, super-lean beef, bold red wines and fresh egg pastas are signature Piedmontese ingredients – discover the best of the region with our round-up of essential local dishes and the ristoranti, osterie and trattorie that serve them.
Delicate carne cruda at Bovio
The razza piemontese – a native Piedmontese cattle breed – makes for sought-after beef; the animals build lots of muscle with little connective tissue, meaning ultra-lean, ultra-tender cuts, which are perfect for raw dishes. Enter the supple carne cruda (literally ‘raw meat’) – considering the region’s proximity to France, this is essentially a local iteration of steak tartare. The Piedmontese take isn’t mixed with capers or crowned with an egg yolk, but uses raw, hand-chopped beef, served with sliced bread plus salt, pepper and olive oil alongside for diners to season. Bovio offers the addition of shaved fresh black or white truffle when in season, with views from the terrace over the Langhe to boot – it’s a great lunch spot after visiting the nearby Capella del Barolo.
Paper-thin vitello tonnato at La Cantinetta
Slivers of finely sliced cold, rosy pink roast veal are served with a generous dollop of tuna-mayonnaise dressing in vitello tonnato. Usually the dish arrives already plated, but at La Cantinetta in Barolo – a winemaking town, home to the famed red vintage of the same name – waitstaff bring a platter to the table during antipasti service and delicately pass each veal slice through an ethereal sauce before laying them on the diner’s plate. Dinner and a show, what's not to like?
Creamy gnocchi al castelmagno at Casa Scaparone
Castelmagno is a semi-hard cow's milk cheese, which is made exclusively in the Piedmontese province of Cuneo and typically turns up as a decadent sauce for potato gnocchi. The sweet dumplings are smothered in the sharp, nutty mixture made from the melted cheese along with a dash of cream. Near to Cuneo and a short drive from Alba, Casa Scaparone is a charming countryside bed and breakfast-come-restaurant, serving this dish using flour produced on the grounds.
Miniature agnolotti al plin at Bistrot dei Sognatori
Plin is Piemontese dialect for a ‘pinch’, here referencing the quick squeeze used to seal these little pasta parcels after stuffing them with a mixture of veal, pork, nutmeg and Parmesan. Sometimes referred to as ravioli al plin, they’re served with melted butter and crispy fried sage (burro e salvia) or a meat-based jus (sugo d’arrosto). In the town of Alba –the local home of the famous white truffle – head for the outdoor benches at Bistrot dei Sognatori for a plate of this Piedmontese pasta stalwart, where the pasta is made fresh each day in the adjoining pastificio.
Classic tajarin al sugo di carne at Antica Torre
Pronounced 'tah-ya-rheen', tajarin is undoubtedly the headline act of Piedmontese primi. These incredibly fine, long strands of egg-rich fresh pasta are served a number of ways - with shaved fresh truffle; tossed through a simple tomato sauce; finished with sautéed chicken livers; or folded through a light ragù to make tajarin al sugo di carne. In the town of Barbaresco (about 15 minutes’ drive from Alba), Antica Torre makes arguably the best rendition in wine country, which they serve right at the table, piping hot from a giant saucepan.
Robust brasato al Barolo at Scannabue
Piedmont is a leader when it comes to notable Italian red wines, its most famous being Barolo – an elegant oak-aged number made entirely from Nebbiolo grapes, which are native to the region. As well as in the glass, try the legendary red on the plate with this slow-braised beef dish, simmered in Barolo to create an intense red wine gravy and butter-soft meat. In the bustling Turin neighbourhood of San Salvario, Scannabue serves theirs atop potato purée, with a mega wine list from which to choose a worthy Barolo vintage.
Rich bonet at Porto di Savona
Crushed amaretti biscuits and bitter chocolate are hallmarks of this set, eggy dessert, the name of which means ‘cap’ in Piedmontese dialect. It may also appear on menus as budino (‘pudding’), and has the consistency of a dense crème caramel. Depending on the season, it’s often otherwise flavoured with local hazelnuts or chestnuts – all options are equally luscious. Down the road from Turin’s Piazza Castello, bonet is always on the menu at Porto di Savona - a restaurant going strong since 1863.