Dining out on delicious memories III

Submitted by HedonisticHiking on 11 Mar 2021

As we continue to miss Italy and won't this year have the chance to catch up with so many of our favourite chefs and restaurateurs, we have re-visited this month three more truly fabulous dining experiences from our tours in La Bella Italia.  From the highly sophisticated cuisine of Piedmont in the north to the flavoursome rustic dishes of the wild Abruzzo mountains in central Italy, all these menus are prepared with love and a real passion for seasonal local ingredients.

The Jewels of Piedmont

Piedmont is the birthplace of the global Slow Food movement.  The region has world-class produce and wines to match, and it is an area recognised throughout Europe for its culinary expertise. This particular restaurant, Castello di Grinzane Cavour, is situated in the castle which was once the home of Camillo Benso, Count of Cavour -  a leading statesman in bringing about Italian Unification and subsequently the first Prime Minister of Italy.  The chef, Marc Lanteri, was born in the French Alps and trained in both France and Italy so his cooking is a fusion of styles and influences from both sides of the border. His wife is a sommelier by profession and matches the seasonal dishes with wines from the extensive cellar.  We eat here on the final night of our Jewels of Piedmont tour.


Vitello Tonnato  Thinly sliced roasted veal with a traditional sauce of tuna and capers

Wine Choice - Metodo Classico Piemontese Rivetto "Kaskal"

A sparkling wine made from nebbiolo grapes which pairs excellently with the veal, from Piedmont winemaker Enrico Rivetto.


Tajarin al Nero  Ink pasta with cuttlefish, zucchine, tuna roe and lime zest

Wine Choice - Timorasso Cascina Baricchi 

This winery lies just to the east of the town of Alba. This white it made with 100% Timorasso grapes, which is an ancient variety historically found in the hills between Piedmont and Aosta.  Today it is enjoying something of a revival.


Scamone di Fassona  Piedmont beef, tarragon jus and asparagus tips

Wine Choice - Barbaresco Punset "Basarin" Riserva

Basarin is one of three Barbaresco vineyards owned by the Punset winery which has been owned by the Marcarino family for decades. In the 1980s, Marina, Renzo's daughter, took over and converted the property into a completely organic operation.  This wine is made with 100% nebbiolo grapes.


Clafoutis all'albicocca  Apricot flan with lavender cookies

Wine Choice - Moscato d'Asti Ca' D'Gal Lumine

Moscato d’Asti is a sparkling white wine produced mainly in the province of Asti. The wine is sweet, low in alcohol, and made from the Moscato bianco grape.  This Moscato is from a single vineyard called Lumine.

Lucca, Volterra and the Island of Elba

As we leave the Tuscan mainland on this tour and head for the beautiful island of Elba we pass through the tiny village of Bolgheri. This coastal area has become one of the most interesting and innovative wine regions in Italy with its unique microclimate and proximity to the sea giving perfect conditions for both red and white grapes. While traditional Tuscan winegrowers concentrated on native Sangiovese grapes for the great wines of Chianti, those in Bolgheri were experimenting with French varieties, chiefly Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Cabernet Franc, and producing  excellent, high quality wines.  Over time they became known as the "Super Tuscans" and could command increasingly high prices.  We stop in the fabulous Enoteca Tognoni in Bolgheri for lunch and of course we have the chance to taste one of the most talked-about local wines.


Fiori di zucca ripieni di ricotta e gamberi   Zucchini flowers stuffed with prawns and ricotta

Wine Choice:  Tenuta dell'Ornellaia Bianco

The famous Frescobaldi family own the estate here and make their Ornellaia Bianco white wine using 100% Sauvignon Blanc grapes.


Pappardelle con ragu di cinghiale  Traditional Tuscan thick ribbon pasta served with a rich wild boar sauce

Wine Choice: Tenuta San Guido - Sassicaia

Probably the best-known of the "Super Tuscan" reds is this wine known as Sassicaia, produced by the Incisa della Rocchetta family, with over 80% cabernet sauvignon grapes.  It usually retails between €100 - €200 per bottle.


Sorbetto al limone    Lemon sorbet

The Wilds of Abruzzo

The final night of our tour in Abruzzo sees us dining on many of the region's unique dishes.  These high mountain ranges prove harsh terrain for the cultivation of crops and the population have made the best, over the centuries, of the ingredients which they have. We eat in the hotel, the Villino Quintiliani, but the dinner is cooked by Laura whom we first met in 2013 when she still ran her own restaurant in the town. Now she comes to the hotel to cook this meal just for our groups, ably assisted by hotel owners Grazia and Monica, along with Monica's mother Ida, and it is a very special evening to be a part of.  It is the nonnas (grandmothers) after all who have kept Italy's traditional recipes alive and are passing on the skills to the next generation.


Wine Choice: Cantina Tollo - Passerina Spumante Brut

Passerina is a rare white grape from the Abruzzo region which can be made into dry still and sparkling wines.


Pasta fritta con prosciutto    A light fried ball of dough served piping hot with a sliver of prosciutto ham


Caratelli con gli orapi    A hand-made curl of pasta served with local wild spinach which is harvested from the high mountain pastures where sheep have grazed the previous year

Wine Choice: Cantina Tollo - Terre di Chieti - Pecorino

Percorino grapes, which share their name with the Italian word for a sheep's cheese, were almost extinct until their rediscovery in the mid 1980s.  The wines have steadily grown in popularity since and cultivation of Pecorino in Abruzzo is on the increase.


Coscio d' agnello al forno con Patate Maritate  Roasted lamb with a traditional potato dish - thin slices layered with scamorza cheese, rosemary, oil and breadcrumbs

Wine Choice:  Cantina Tollo -  Rosso - 409

In Abruzzo, red wine means only one grape variety - Montepulciano d'Abruzzo.  This ruby red wine is grown at 409 metres above sea level and is soft and full-flavoured.


Torta con frutti di bosco    A tiny tart filled with fruits from the forest.

On all our tours we offer a variety of dining experiences, from small characteristic osterias to restaurants of renown and, on occasion, award-winning establishments with big reputations. We work hard to plan menus which celebrate the best local and seasonal ingredients and which showcase the traditions of the regions where we are hiking. We are often quite literally walking through the menu each day as we pass vineyards, orchards, waving wheat fields or fishing ports, and our time spent with cheesemakers or truffle hunters truly helps to bring the menus to life. We also seek to balance the evenings so that dinners with four or more courses are interspersed with lighter meals, and we always take into the account the amount of walking completed on a given day. It goes without saying that all courses are matched with excellent regional wines and we like to share a little of our local culinary knowledge before the start of each meal.