Uova alla Piemontese (Piedmont Eggs)

May 24, 2012

A tavola non si invecchia (“You do not become old at a table with friends and family”)
~Italian proverb

Aptly named, Piemonte derives from the Medieval Latin Pedemontium (“at the foot of the mountains”). Lying at the base of the Alps, Piemonte is bordered by France and Switzerland to the west and north, as well as Liguria, Valle d’Aosta and Lombardia to the east and south (and a sliver of Emilia Romagna).

Once home to Celtic-Ligurian tribes and later Gauls, it was absorbed by the Roman republic. After the fall though, it was invaded by the Burgundians, the Goths, Byzantines, Lombards, and Franks with incursions by the Magyars and Saracens. Piemonte was divided by warring feudal lords before the House of Savoy, whose holdings included Sicily and later Sardinia, consolidated and ruled the region for centuries. Later, the region became a French client republic, was even annexed by France, and then was again restored to the Kingdom of Sardinia-Piemonte. Finally, Piemonte became a springboard for Italy’s unification (il Risorgimento) beginning in the mid 19th century, with Torino even briefly becoming the capital of Italy. By the end of World War I, the states and regions of the boot agglomerated into one single state of Italy. Given this cross pollination, little wonder that cuisine there reigns supreme. That is just the shortened skinny, so my apologies to valid historians.

A haven for gastronomes, and while decidedly Italian, Piemonte sidles up to and has historical bonds with France. So the region has a culinary culture tinged with and subtly influenced by Provence (and vice versa). Even occitan is the spoken language by a minority in the Cuneo and Torino valleys, and franco-provençal is also spoken by another minority in the alpine heights of Torino.

From rugged peaks to gentle sloping hills to plains, the cuisine conforms to seasonal changes and regional anatomies, confluences. The Po River collects the waters flowing from the semicircle of mountains (Alps and Apennines) which surround Piemonte on three sides. The fertile Po valley plain creates the dense rice paddies near Novara and Vercelli. Fruit orchards abound and garlic grows effortlessly here. The vines of bold, elegant reds such as Barolo and Barbaresco grace the region.

Piemonte is home to zabaione, panna cotta, bagna cauda, white truffles, agnolotti, snail and leek casserole, polenta, risotto, confections and artisanal chocolates, tajarin (egg yolk rich pasta) — just to name a few. Unlike southern Italy, tomatoes might as well not exist here.

Bra, a town and commune nestled near Torino, is home to the “slow food” movement, a response to the fast food revolution. Slow Food occupies the crossroads of ecology and gastronomy, ethics and pleasure. A way of eating and living, it is a grassroots organization with supporters around the globe. Slow Food was founded to counter the recent rise of the fast life, the exodus of local food heritage, and the dwindling enthusiasm for food — its origins, scents, flavors and textures. (You know that common, but bizarre tableau of shamelessly gobbling down a double quarter pounder with bacon and “cheese” with an order of large fries or two and a huge coke in hand while winding through noon traffic between appointments.)

The movement fosters food biodiversity, encourages local culture, develops nexuses between farmers and producers, opposes multinational agribusiness, educates about food, and organizes food events. It ponders and acts upon how food choices not only affect individuals and families, but the world overall. Such admirable work with nary a shred of sanctimony. Be grateful.

While universal in scope, there are local Slow Food chapters called convivia. Each convivium arranges functions ranging from simple dinners to visits with local farmers to conferences and courses promoting Slow Food’s tenets. Other networks give a voice to small farmers, breeders and fishers whose approach is geared to the movement’s principles of connecting community to the environment.

“Slow Food unites the pleasure of food with responsibility, sustainability and harmony with nature,” proclaims Carlo Petrini, Slow Food founder and president. Once again, the food abides.

Seemed only à propos to salute the egg here — especially local, coop coddled ones. First, hardboiled eggs marinated in olive oil with garlic, herbs, and anchovies, followed by that sublime trifecta of mushrooms, cheese and eggs.

UOVA ALLA PIEMONTESE I (PIEDMONT EGGS)

6 hardboiled eggs

2 C extra virgin olive oil
1/3 C fresh parsley leaves, finely chopped
1/3 C fresh rosemary leaves, finely chopped
1/3 C fresh sage leaves, finely chopped
8 plump, fresh garlic cloves, separated, peeled and minced
1 T balsamic vinegar
4 fine anchovy fillets, drained and chopped

2 C extra virgin olive oil

Place eggs in a heavy, medium sauce pan, and add enough cold water to cover by 2″ or so. Bring to a boil over high heat, uncovered. Immediately remove from heat, cover, and let stand for 12 minutes. Drain hot water off eggs and then carefully transfer eggs to a large bowl of ice water to halt the cooking process. Then dry thoroughly with a kitchen towel. Gently crack the eggs and peel under cool running water, taking care not to mar the white. Put the peeled hardboiled eggs in a bowl.

Whisk together the parsley, rosemary, sage, garlic, balsamic vinegar, and anchovies. Then, while whisking vigorously, slowly drizzle in the olive oil. Pour the emulsion over the eggs in a mason jar, close tightly and refrigerate overnight or for a day. To serve, cut eggs in half lengthwise, put an egg on each plate, spoon over some oil, and savor with crusty artisanal bread.

UOVA ALLA PIEMONTESE II

3 1/2 T unsalted butter
1 T extra virgin olive oil
1-2 plump, fresh garlic cloves, peeled and minced
1 bay leaf
1 1/2 C wild mushrooms or crimini, cleaned and thinly sliced
Pinch of sea salt
1/4 C dry white wine

1/2 C Fontina cheese, thinly sliced or grated

4 eggs
Water
White wine vinegar

In a heavy skillet, add butter, olive oil, garlic and bay leaf over medium high heat. Once hot, remove the bay leaf, place the mushrooms, sauté over high heat, add salt, sprinkle with the wine and allow to evaporate. Spread about half of the cooked mushrooms into four ramekins and layer with a few thin slices of Fontina. Set aside the ramekins and the unused mushrooms and cheese for later.

Preheat oven to 400 F

Fill a large, heavy skillet deep enough to cover the eggs with water. Bring to a simmer, and add the white wine vinegar. Crack each egg into a shallow bowl or saucer to assure they are not broken. Then, using a slotted spoon, spin the boiling water into a sort of vortex. Once the water is spinning rapidly, gently drop the egg from the bowl in the center of the whirlpool, where it will spin around and coat the yolk in a ball of egg white. Cook until the eggs are barely set, about 2 minutes. Remove the eggs, draining well with a slotted spoon and dab the bottom with paper towels to dry.

Carefully put the poached eggs into the ramekins already partially filled with mushrooms and cheese and then add the remaining mushrooms and Fontina. Bake just until the cheese has melted and serve.

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