Northern Italian. That’s right. In our classes, we have begun visits to Italy this year. Likely four in fact.
I have had lots of requests for classes on Italian food. I figured I needed to respond in full. There’s no better way to get started than with a visit to the northern part of this really long country.
Northern Italy his home to a number of cities that we readily recognize. Milan, Genoa, Turin, Bologna, Parma, Modena, Trieste, Verona and Venice are some major ones. Most of us relate these to food in some manner. We all had a map and got acquainted. World geography class had been a while.
We begin our culinary visit in the northwest of Italy. The region is the Piedmont and the area of Valle d’Aosta. In northern Italy, butter and milk are king. Not much olive oil and tomato to be found.
The dish we chose was Fonduta. It’s closely related to Swiss fondue. In this version, milk, egg yolks and butter take the place of white wine and cornstarch.
Rather than Gruyere, the cheese used is creamy Fontina. We got ours at Earth Fare. A touch of truffle oil goes in at the end. Paired with some pieces of rustic bread, this is a rich cheese delight.
In the very north of Italy, there is the region known as Alto-Adige. Here is where a dumpling called Canederli is found. Again milk, eggs and cheese are used.
Bread is the main ingredient rather than flour or potatoes. A little smoked ham and onions go in too. These are simmered in beef broth and traditionally served in a pool of it. We made a sauce with butter and sage for ours.
Now we went over to the southwestern part of northern Italy to the region of Liguria. Specifically the town of Genoa. Here is where you find a seafood stew known as Buridda.
This entire region is along the coast.
Here is where we found a touch of olive oil and tomato. Just a little. Aromatic vegetables went in along with a few mushrooms. Yes and one clove of garlic. The taste of the sea came from clam juice as well as anchovies and capers. We used a few red pepper flakes.
All these things simmer together for a while with some fresh herbs. We were ready to eat it.
For our seafood, we chose cod. We also used shrimp, clams, mussels and squid. All of these things simmer together until just tender. We served it in bowls with more crusty bread.
Now it was time to go to the east coast and visit the city of Venice. Here risotto rules as the locals eat more rice than pasta.
The pasta greatly admired here is bigoli. Think of spaghetti with a hole. I was able to obtain some from Caputo’s in Salt Lake City. This is a great market, and their packaging is outstanding. You could also use perciatelli or bucatini.
Instead of pairing our bigoli with a local favorite, duck ragú, we chose to head over to Bologna to find our meat sauce.
Sauce Bolognese. Most of us have had a version of that one. The one we made was rich and flavorful without being heavy. A little of this sauce goes a long way. Six ounces is plenty for two full portions of pasta.
Once again butter. Onions, celery and carrots were our veggies along with garlic. The seasonings were simple — salt and pepper.
For our meat, we chose ground chuck. Milk is used and white wine. Then some whole tomatoes broken into small pieces. And lots of simmering — several hours.
The result is a sauce that’s all meat and veggies with no liquid left. Just lusciousness ready to use. Mix with cooking water and simmer your pasta in it before serving. That’s what we did with our bigoli and served it with Parmesan and fresh pepper.
We had lots of fun making some northern Italian dishes. We look forward to a pasta class in April. Next month it’s Mardi Gras bites.
Jim Sikes is an Opelika resident; a food, wine and restaurant consultant; and a columnist for the Opelika-Auburn News. Contact him on Facebook at In the Kitchen with Chef Jim.