Giro di Italia Stage 4 & 5: Piedmont Region

I am working on reconnecting with writing and finding a place where I can create and learn all at the same time. I have had this site for nearly five years. At times more productive than lately. I thought the discipline of an event such as the Giro would help to getting me closer to understanding what it is that, or why it is that I feel the need to keep this very site going. So there may be some fits and starts along with some bumps along the way as I get my rhythm back.

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Stage 4: Time Trial; 32.5 km | Savigliano to Cuneo
Stage 5: 168 km | Novara to Novi Ligure

Today marks the first of series of posts focused on Italian regional cuisine as measured by the progress of one of the epic cycling events of the year, the Giro d’Italia. Although there is no “Lance factor” with the Giro it is still a great challenge to watch and yes, it goes on for weeks–that’s the fun of it. The other two big races take place in France (July) and Spain (August).

Today and tomorrow find us at Stage 4 and 5 and through the Northwest corner of Italy through the region of Piedmont, an area surrounded on three sides by mountains.

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What many don’t know is that this region is home to grissini (gruh-SEE-nee). Not those bland, ubiquitous sticks found at standard bearer Italian restaurants. A true grissini is made by hand, pencil thin and crispy. At times it can be up to nearly a yard long (or one meter for those non American readers). Thought to have been created in 17th century Turin they can be found virtually everywhere in Italy (and around the world!) nowadays.

A great bit of folklore imparts that it was created in 17th century Turin to cure the digestive problems of a duke whose had a court baker who devised a recipe leading which healed the duke’s tummy woes so well that he went on to be king. Legend has it that today the ghost of the king haunts his old castle, with a grissino in hand. It is also said that Napoleon had a mad obsession for grissini or what he called “little sticks of Turin” and would have them shipments follow him where ever he marched.

Stirato (straight) grissini are crisp and light in taste and are no bigger than 3/8″ in diameter; Rubata are hand-rolled producing a thicker and more like an ordinary breadlike taste.

A former colleague of mine often made a lunch of grissini bought at the local bakery. He’d wrap anchovies and prosciutto around each and stare out his window. Maybe he was thinking of his next vacation. It did, however, keep people out of his office long after the meal was complete.

Often you will see breadsticks served alongside the region’s signature dish, Bagna Caoda, a hot bath made of olive oil, garlic (often at a ratio of 1 garlic head to a person), chopped into a fine paste, and milk or cream. The breadstick, along with raw vegetables and sometimes cooked potatoes are used as a vehicle making for quite a satisfying meal. Often when the bagna caoda is nearly gone, an egg is added to the persons “bath,” scrambled and eaten.

Tips:

Best if made and eaten on the same day as you want them crisp.

Quick light supper, wrap proscuitto around grissini, slices of Parmesan and nuts.

Piedmont References: World on a Plate

Gusto de Piedmont
Bicerin: coffee specialty
Cheese of Piedmont

Other recipes

Smitten Kitchen Cheese Straws
King Arthur Sesame Grissini
Cooking Light Parmesan & Cracked Pepper Grissini

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