Every Tuesday, Italian expat Emiko Davies is taking us on a grand tour of Italy, showing us how to make classic, fiercely regional dishes at home.
Today: A classic fondue from Piedmont, because Italians do it better.
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Depending on where you're from, fondue may conjure up images of 1960s dinner parties with pointed sticks poised over a colorful pot filled with oozing, warm cheese. It might make you think of Switzerland or even France, and cold evenings in the mountains around a bubbling pot of gruyère and wine. But here's another recipe to add to that imagery: a regional specialty from Piedmont, which, let's face it, has had its share of culinary exchanges with its northernly neighbors France and Switzerland. The Piemontesi do what they do best with their dishes: they add truffles.
Piedmont is one of Italy's prime truffle growing regions, and it is famous for that most prized and most mysterious fungi of all, the white truffle, which is hunted and gathered in the forests around Alba. Truffles are an extremely valuable and prized ingredient -- but they are so bountiful in this area, particularly at this time of the year, that they are featured in a number of Piedmont's most traditional recipes. And despite the price tag that comes with a truffle, its best is brought out in simple, homely dishes like this fondue.
Truffles are the perfect partner to cheese, eggs, or anything creamy -- and does not need much cooking. In fact, grated or sliced thinly, raw, and perhaps with just the heat of the food it is served over is the best way to experience them. And it's good to know that a little goes a long way when it comes to truffles. This fonduta is just the thing. The recipe, which hails from Alba, is the most traditional, simple recipe for fonduta you could ask for; it has been translated and adapted from the cookbook, Nonna Genia, a treasure of Piedmont's cuisine by Beppe Lodi.
While the Swiss like a hint of garlic with their fondue, made of gruyère melted with wine, the Piemontesi save their wine for drinking. Fontina, egg yolks and milk are warmed together over a bain marie. The melting mixture is then laced with shavings of fresh, pungent truffle. Use black, if you can't get white, but steer clear of truffle oil, which is usually a chemical concoction. Keep the fonduta warm. Then take a nice baguette or loaf of ciabatta bread, toast it if you like, and watch it happily disappear.
The Australian-Japanese cookbook author has lived in Florence (where a visit to a cheese farm once inspired her to start a food blog) for over 10 years with her Tuscan sommelier husband and two kids. Her third cookbook, Tortellini at Midnight, is out now.