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A vegetarian in Piemonte?

Can anybody provide tips about finding food in Piemonte other than meat that pairs with Piemonte's legendary wines? Ideal is a place to eat with rooms (or within walking distance of rooms). I'm cool with some fish (bagna cauda) but would like to hear about vegetarian menus that are not utterly reliant on cheese (or non-stop truffles plus eggs or pasta -- unaffordable!)

Are some areas and cuisines of Piemonte more vegetarian-oriented than others? How do vegetarians get by? What do they drink? The picture of Piemonte so often painted is red wine and braised meat. Is there a vegetarian tradition we don't hear about?

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  1. I am not sure I understand what you mean with "rooms", but here is about vegetables: If you are already aware of and fine with and/or rule out the items you have listed - vegetables with bagna cauda, cheese, truffles, eggs and pasta - I don't know what you are still expecting to hear. Pasta with some vegetable sauce, boiled or grilled vegetables, cheeses are all the most often found vegetarian options. What else is vegetarian for you? Risotto is of course famous in the area, but if you mind meat-broth, that is not an option. You won't find tofu, if that is what you are looking for.
    If you care about the wines and are trying to match, meat (all game, rabbit, duck) and truffles is the way to go, as they match best with the regions tannic and full bodied wines.
    Cheaper would be also other flavorful mushroom dishes, like pasta or risotto with porcini or ovoli (if in season). Agnolotti come sometimes with a vegetarian filling (herbs and/or vegetables). Peppers are famous, next to grilled with bagna cauda you can have them also stuffed. Fonduta, gnocchi all'ossolana are vegetarian but cheesy. Tajarin is also famous, but again pasta.
    So, there is no secret vegetarian tradition you don't hear about, but there are enough options for vegetarians to eat. It just becomesa bit hard if you rule out pasta, cheese, truffles. Also, maybe eat these not with the heaviest of the Piedmont reds (Barolo) but with the easier ones, like Dolcetto d'Alba, all 3 Barberas, Langhe. Or the lovely, fresh whites.

    21 Replies
    1. re: vinoroma

      thanks for your reply. By "with rooms" I meant either an agriturismo with a restaurant, a relais, an albergo ristorante -- a place where you can sleep without needing to drive home, on the premises or within walking distance.

      I'm not sure I can be much clearer about vegetable dishes beyond those we so often hear about in Piemonte cuisine. Im not "ruling out" those dishes, just finding it hard to imagine vegetarians in Piemonte eat them day in and day out.

      Yes, I do care about food and wine matches, and seldom hear of Piemonte's wines matched with vegetable dishes, so I wondered which are matched with vegetable dishes. I wasn't implying there was a "secret" tradition -- just asking if there was a tradition that doesn't get talked about. There are many places in Italy where the consumption of meat was quite skimpy for a very, very long period of history -- but you wouldn't know that today visiting the region and looking at restaurant menus or learning about that cuisine from the media.

      Thanks again, very much. I hope other Piemonte-knowledgeable chowhounders will weigh in, and I hope I've made my interest clearer.

      1. re: summerUWS2008

        I think that the Barolo-Barbaresco will go best with umami-based dishes (that will mean meat, cheese, mushroom dishes etc, probably.), or perhaps soups and pasta with dried beans, grain and such. There will be a tradition of non-meat dining since the average farmer would not have had meat on the table all the time- slowfood places might be a good place to find it. You must have seen the great post from Kirk today that included a restaurant with tuna-stuffed peppers - but that doesnt sound like red wine chow.

        On our most recent trip to Emilia-romagna we saw very few vegetables of any sort on menus (that was early summer) - hopefully in fall there will be plenty of eggplant, peppers, fnnel, kale, crucifers, etc. as well as the wonderful funghi.

        It did seem to me that northern italy was fish-mad - many of the upscale, inland restaurants were serving fish, scampi, etc but the price was astronomical, so that is not likely to be a solution, esp also since fish is not usually so red wine friendly.

        I hope you have a lovely trip and wait to hear all about it..

        1. re: jen kalb

          Thanks, jen! First I have to go to New York (although I probably will spend a night on the road somewhere in Piemonte or Lombardia on my way to Malpensa).

          I think the northern Italy fish craze is about weight consciousness. In general, I never expect to see vegetables on Italian restaurant menus. A handful of lovely vegetable dishes show up in Liguria, which is traditionally a near-vegetarian cuisine, with almost NO meat at all. But restaurants seem to invariably offer "contorni" of insalata mista, spinach and maybe fried potatoes. Chicory is a fun addition in Rome, and of course artichokes.

          1. re: summerUWS2008

            Handwritten menus have more or less gone the way of the dodo bird, and printed menus will only list "the usual suspects". But most trattorie offer seasonal contorni that are not listed on the menu and that they will not necessarily mention to a foreign guest. If it's in season and in the markets, chances are it's available if you ask for it.

            1. re: zerlina

              Zerlina, Im going to remember this method on my upcoming trip. We usually ask about contorni, but Im going to be more assertive. this time.
              It was frustrating in Emilia Romagna because there was really very limited local produce in the markets (a few cherries) at the end of June. the rest seems to be from outside the region altogether and from large commercial farms rather than market gardeners..
              Summer, Im not sure its about weight - they have luscious seafood on the italian coasts and they just love to eat it as a luxury item as an alternative to the local land based cuisine. Da Vittoria near Bergamo is an example of ths trend - we didnt go there but we did eat at Angelo e Colleoni in Bergamo Alta, and it also offered a lot of top flight seafood which the patrons seemed to be gobbling down in preference to the local land dishes.

              1. re: jen kalb

                Ms. Kalb,
                With all due respect, do you know what you are talking about?

                You say, "It was frustrating in Emilia Romagna because there was really very limited local produce in the markets (a few cherries) at the end of June. the rest seems (sic) to be from outside the region altogether and from large commercial farms rather than market gardeners."

                I don't know which markets you were referring to, but they are not markets I go to. Emilia Romagna at the end of June is a feast of vegetables from the area, not outside the region. A vegetarian's delight with local produce.

                You said in an earlier post "You must have seen the great post from Kirk today that included a restaurant with tuna-stuffed peppers - but that doesnt sound like red wine chow.'
                Wow, a restaurant that had tuna-stuffed peppers! Ms. Kalb, peppers stuffed with tuna is a staple of Piemonte. And that was canned tuna. And it it is adish that is red wine friendly.
                You said "northern Italy is fish mad." What is "northern Italy (San Remo?, Courmayeur?, Brescia?, Cortina? Venice?,Modena?) All northern Italy; none of the cuisines bear much resemblance to any of the others.

                In Italy there is only regional, really local... not even regional, cuisine and you do this board a great disservice by broad generalizations that are going to lead people very far astray.

                Also, if you haven't been to a place or restaurant, it is probably wise not to comment on it. Using guides in English, is not a substitute for having gone to a restaurant.

                summerUWS2008. If you ask, you will have no trouble having decent fall vegetables in Piemonte. Contorni are available. Just ask. And... no one will look askance at ordering red wine with the contorni. Perhaps not as good as with meat, but absolutely nothing wrong, In fact, everything right.

                1. re: allende

                  allende, like I said to Zerlina, I wasn't really asking about contorni. I live not far from Piemonte, and many of the vegetables I buy come from there because they can't be grown locally. So I know it grows good vegetables. I just wonder what Piemontese do with them other use them to dip in Bagna Cauda. And since people think so highly of Barolo, I wonder if you can pair with something other than meat and, if so, what.

                  1. re: allende

                    Allende, I totally defer to your regional expertise. Oviously Italian food is highly local and I hope you provide OP with lots of useful specific advice instead of attacking what were intended only to be encouraging general remarks of mine..As for guidebooks/resto info I totally agree. Slowfood, gambero rosso and the other italian reviews and websitesa are all useful sources in addition to the sorts of advice one finds here.

                    Re fish -.. In the few places we went on this recent trip- inland places like Parma and Bergamo Lago di Garda and Mantova - it seemed to us that fish was the luxury choice IF an alternative to the dominant local land-based (or friesh water fish-oriented) cuisine was wanted. For that matter, Rome is full of upscale fish restaurants as well. . I wouldnt be surprised to see wonderful fish on the coast (san remo, venice etc)- but inland its a little more curious. Im only speculating based on this trend when I say that OP may find good fish on menus in Piemonte also.

                    With respect to the range of veg we saw in E-R and elsewhere, I can only say what we saw and experienced. The rstaurant cuisines in the towns we visited (this is a very wealthy area) were not oriented toward vegetables (tho we had two exquisite pasta dishes involving veg at Arnaldo's in Rubiera - a mushroom lasagna-like dish and tagliatelle with a delicate summer veg ragu. but they really had only had very pedestrian things on their contorni cart. the veg and fruit shops in the towns did not offer a lot of local product at that time - and I know what to look in this connection. Even the big covered market in Modena did not seem to have alot on offer - maybe it was the season, maybe all the market gardens around there have been paved over for shopping malls and subdivisions. In any event, its hard to deny the trend toward obtaining produce from farther away in that region at least. But this is totally irrelevant to the food culture of Piemonte, and the fall season when OP will be visiting and

                    1. re: jen kalb

                      You said:"Even the big covered market in Modena did not seem to have alot on offer - maybe it was the season, maybe all the market gardens around there have been paved over for shopping malls and subdivisions."

                      I happened to be there (the big covered market in Modena) late this past June. Boy,what was there, sure looked like local vegetables to me... and lots of them. As someone who lives on the Italian coast, and travels to E-R quite often to eat, I can tell you we always come home with loads of vegetables from markets in Modena, Bologna, Parma etc., and we wouldn't buy them unless we knew they were locally grown.

                      The same thing goes on in Piemonte. Not only in Alba and Bra which have great weekly vegetable markets, but in many of the smaller towns. Saluzzo (if I recall correctly) , for example, has a farmer's markets where the local contadini sell their vegetables. Contadini still are in abundance in Italy.

                      Mantova, and the area around it, is the place where I've spent the most time in Lombardia. Lots of time over a very long period of time. Non freshwater fish has been around for a long long time. It is not a recent phenomenon. Why does it exist? As soon as trucks had reliable refrigeration, people wanted to have ocean fish. Do restaurants serve ocean fish in St. Louis? In Chicago?

                      1. re: allende

                        Yes. But its not the popular phenomenon or with the degree of conoisseurship here as in Italy - another gross generalization but I dont think americans like or eat fish as much as europeans and if we do it tends to appear (except in luxury and asian restaurants) as boneless filets or as slabs of bland, white varieties that are served fried and battered out of the freezer. Salmon is coming on , as well as other farmed varieties, but much ocean fish (again the exception for luxury and asian restaurants) tends to have been partially or fully frozen at some stage because of the long period between when it is caught by a deepsea trawler and when it appears on the table here. Seafood - shrimp is normally shelled and frozen, lobster is the one seafood item that americans in the middle of the country tend to be willing to wrestle (crab , clams etc tend to be more local phenomena in areas where they are found)When I visit my family home in Ohio, its a treat to have the local walleye from Lake Erie , not ocean fish. or seafood.

                        Im glad the veg situation is better than it appeared to me- do you find it translates through in the restaurant dining culture?

                        1. re: allende

                          Don't call a small farmer a "contadino" they don't like it, its like calling someone a "peasant" in English speaking countries. yesterday we stopped at at a little veg stand along the road to pick up some salad veggies (as the neighbours goat went to town in our garden), and in conversation I referred to myself as a contadino, which I have no problem with. He thought was taking the mickey and went into a long spiel, then tried to sell me some wine. I shut him up by merely showing him my hands, no not callused (although they are there) but black from pressing wine the day before!

                        2. re: jen kalb

                          Even in Liguria, much of the fish served in restaurants is a "luxury" priced item on the menu, if we are talking about whole fish, market price.

                          Also, it does occur to me that the Mediterranean may offer a wider variety of fish suitable for serving whole to a family than the two oceans of the US. I have only been along the Gulf coast twice in my life, but the last time I was, I remember encountering incredibly sweet and good tasting fish that were only big enough for one or two people -- not slabs of ocean going fish.

                          1. re: summerUWS2008

                            I dive in the Mediterranean near to Cinque Terre, and it is sad to say, but there are very few fish left in the waters of this remarkable sea. Its a big deal to see a big fish. Overfishing in a big way. Even Calamari if you can find fresh from local waters is outrageously expensive - 30/40 Euro a kilo. Most comes frozen from SE Asia or S.Atlantic. Cheapest fresh fish in our supermarket is Nile Perch from Lake Victoria in Africa and flown to Europe in giant Russian transport planes - I wonder for how much longer before they deplete this resource too.

                      2. re: jen kalb

                        jen, I live in the Italian coast and I know what you mean. Most of the seafood fished around where I live immediately is loaded onto trucks for consumers in the bigger cities of Piemonte and Lombardia. But when these same people vacation, they shop in the local markets, and increasingly we are seeing turkey being sold instead of veal to make cutlet dishes, etc. I do think the increase in preferring fish has something to do with people wanting to retain their figures.

                      3. re: zerlina

                        Zerlina,

                        Yes, but I was thinking more of vegetable-centered courses, rather than a contorni. For instance, in Liguria, there is a lattughe ripiene in brodo, (stuffed lettuce in broth). The broth may be meat-derived, but it's more than getting pan-cooked vegetables as a side dish. It is a course unto itself, and a classic dish.

                        1. re: summerUWS2008

                          I very much enjoy lattughe ripiene, having eaten it many times since first having it 30 years ago. Please correct me if I am wrong, but isn't the filling made with meat?

                          1. re: allende

                            allende,

                            yes! you are right! There is a meat in it (some ground veal, classically.). I had forgotten. Ligurians serve so many stuffed vegetables without meat, I should have picked another example.

                  2. re: summerUWS2008

                    Oh, sorry, I really couldn't imagine what you meant by rooms, the furthest I got was that maybe you mean tasting rooms! lol

                    The point with eating vegetarian in Italy (I am one of the biggest advocates/believers of local food in Italy, but in this case, there is a common point in almost all regions) is that, it is very possible, since as someone mentioned a big slab of meat is rarely something the poor farmer/worker can afford (more about that in a minute). So there is a lot of pasta, a lot of vegetables - but it almost never is made with the modern idea of vegetarianism in mind! So there is the meat/chicken broth in the otherwise perfectly vegetable-y risotto or soup, there is some pancetta or guanciale in the soffritto of the vegetable dish, there is often an alici or two that is added to a pasta sugo to make it more saporito, etc. So a modern vegetarian as we understand it today (or like in India) will find it a bit more difficult.

                    But back to the slab of meat: in Piemonte it IS traditional. The razza Piemontese is famous and sought after, and meat, not only of these cows but also as game (poor man's meat!) is very prominent in Piemontese meals.

                    So, as I said in the first post, these dishes definitely do go "better" with the big reds of the region, but not only is anyone free to combine as he likes, there are still all the vegetarian options and other, not lesser, but maybe a tad lighter, wines that go perfect with each other - I have listed a couple of options for both dishes and wines in the first post.

                    Also: The tuna (sometimes also acciughe) stuffed peppers, as I have also written above, are very local and yes, the fish is not fresh but conserved. You can definitely combine it with a red!

                    1. re: vinoroma

                      Thanks for the clarification, and especially the information that a big slab of mean is traditional in Piemonte. I really haven't been asking how to avoid meat. I've been wondering if there are classic Piemontese dishes that are vegetable centered, and which Piemontese wines go with them.

                      I'm also just curious how a Piemontese vegetarian would cook for her or his family. Classic recipes? Or new inventions? And pour what?

                      1. re: summerUWS2008

                        I think this will help you:

                        http://www.piemonte-magazine.it/leggi... (see also the column on the right of that page

                        )

                        As to what to pour, I *have* written some suggestions twice now.
                        And about the lattughe ripiene: just like I said before, it is a vegetable dish without being vegetarian in the strict sense, as are many dishes in Italy.

                        1. re: vinoroma

                          Thanks vinoroma! Those recipes are marvelous!

                          I didn't fail to note your recommendations for Piemontese wines that pair well with "senza carne" dishes. I guess I was hoping a "senza carne" person would pop up and give me actual examples of what he or she had chosen to drink with some "senza carne" Piemontese dishes one night or in a restaurant.

                2. Summer, do not despair Piedmont's "meaty" cuisine is in fact no more or less than anywhere else in the world. I have lived in Piedmont for almost 10 years and I am still a vegetarian! Although I must be honest I do eat fish, cheese and eggs, whatever that makes me and sometimes even the egg-layer, but absolutely no red meat. My wife who is carnivorous cooks up wonderful dishes for me, although she also wows our guests with her non-vegetarian dishes.

                  When we first came to Piedmont and were eating out all the time it was absolutely no problem to order dishes "sensa carne" - which I prefer to "sono vegeteriano" as the latter still brings images of a plate of steamed vegetables being delivered to the table and sounds more restrictive. Nearly all restaurants can prepare a non-meat antipasti course, and at least a primo piatti of either tajarin or risotto, and often non-meat stuffed agnolloti. Secondi will quite often depend on how "vegan" you are, if you can take fish or occasional fowl, but given the quantities of food served in Piedmont, I often skip the 2nd in favour of the dolce.

                  Of course some restaurants are "meatier" then others and some are "veggier". But in my years in Piedmont I have never felt the need to seek out a vegetarian restaurant, although I am sure there must be some.

                  Pizza is also a good standby for a quick meal, and of course it's very easy to order a veg-combination pizza. As far as a "secret" tradition, well of course as some other posters have said, in days gone by poor people only seldom ate meat except on festive occasions and so were quite creative with the non-meat cuisine, maybe using a bit of brodo (meat stock) or anchovies which were widely available. Now everyone is rich and meat is consumed all the time, but memories and techniques of preparation are still there .

                  2 Replies
                  1. re: Villasampaguita

                    Thanks, Villasampaguita ! I wasn't despairing. I was curious. I think that is a great tip to say "senza carne"

                    When you order in a restaurant, do you get some of the dishes that are on the menu as meat dishes made for you without meat? Or do you choose from the menu those that are "senza carne"? Or do you talk to the server or cook and have them just cook you a meal, knowing you don't want meat?

                    What do you drink? Part of the reason I posted this thread is that I was wondering if Barolo pairs well with any non-meat centered hot dish. It is a very expensive wine, and to my recollection, I've never seen a magazine article recommending it with anything but meat -- so I'm always reluctant to buy it.

                    I think most vegetarians worldwide eat eggs and cheese. Vegans are very much in the minority.

                    I never call myself a vegetarian (because I don't qualify!) But I do think vegetarians -- or anybody who doesn't prefer a meat centered diet -- are remarkably patient having pizza being mentioned so often as a reliable dining out choice. I like pizza well enough, but I only want it about once a month -- and in Liguria, I almost never want it. I've yet to find any actually good pizza. Is there good pizza in Piemonte? (Why do I think I'd rather go to France and eat pissaladiere if I'm starting out in Liguria?)

                    1. re: summerUWS2008

                      If you specify sensa carne they will not give (deliberately that is) you dishes prepared with meat. Surprisingly (or not if you consider the traditional cuisine) there are many dishes prepared without flesh.

                      Most little osterie or trattorie do not have a menu. The waiter will come over and tell you what they have that day. If you ask him they can often modify a dish for you.

                      I only ate pizza when I didn't want to spend a couple of hours in a restaurant. Pizza's are quick and easy and any pizzerie will have more dishes then just pizza on the menu (yes they typically have a menu) .

                      Barolo is an expensive wine even in these parts and most locals don't drink it on an everyday basis. The wine of choice in Piedmont is Barbera, the Barbera d'Asti' are usually superior to Barbera d'Alba's and the lower grade is Barbera del Monferrato. Barbera's are IMO a perfect accompaniment to most Piedmontese cuisine, meat or no meat. Avoid any that say "vivace" unless you like a young wine still a bit fizzy from incomplete fermentation. House carafe wine is often quite good too if you don't feel like a good bottle. I would suggest that you try out some of the many other wines that Piedmont has to offer besides the 3 "B"'s and are little known outside of this region, such as Freisa, Grignolino, Dolcetto, Nebbiolo d'Alba, Arneis (white) and my favourite Ruche. I am not such a big person on saying that a certain wine must be served with a certain dish, although a big Barolo (if you can find one, they are a vanishing species in this age of pop wine) would overwhelm a fish dish for example.

                      Also don't forget to try some of the desert wines, Moscato d'Asti (the Cinderella sister of Asti Spumante) plus Brachetto d'Acqui and Malvasia d'Asti, both red, sweet and sparkling, sounds disgusting, but you must try.

                  2. If you eat cheese, Piemonte has an amazing variety of wonderful cheeses.

                    Personally I like the older, harder (vechhio, stagionato?) cheeses. And I hate to be obvious, but this time of year truffles are also a great part of Piemonte cuisine. We usually go for Barbara wines with our cheese, veggies and pastas.

                    4 Replies
                    1. re: DavyTheFatBoy

                      Summer, as an example we went out on Sunday to the (white) truffle festival in Castagnole Monferrato and driving through town fell in love with the looks of a local restaurant, so had lunch there. The menu was fixed, the mixed anti-pasti had both veg and meat items, I was able to swap with my fellow diners, but I am sure if I had asked they would have made me a completely non-meat version. The primo was tajarin ai funghi con panna, cooked to perfection, no problem here at all. Second was agnolloti stuffed with veal and served with shaved truffles, but I asked for something else and they made me a tender young roasted chicken with mashed potatoes and wine reduction sauce, plus shaved truffles. Again I am sure they would have made a completely veg if I had asked for it, in spite of being very busy with families in for Sunday lunch and truffles. Desert was an exquisite combination of 3 classic Piedmontese dolce which slid down the gullet . This completely unpretentious restaurant restored our faith in simple Piemontese cuisine prepared and presented to perfection. "Il Merlo Ghiottone" (www.ilmerloghiottone.it/) at 29 euro per person not including wine, we had an excellent local Ruche.

                      However while we were walking around town we found a charming little B&B which you might like to consider "Il Biancospino" ( www.ilbiancospino.com), and there are several restaurants plus the ubiquitous pizzeria in the town, which is North of Asti in the classic Monferrato area.

                       
                      1. re: Villasampaguita

                        Thanks, villasampaguita for both posts. I really do have now a much better picture of how to proceed. All my initial experiences with barbera have been the fizzy, and while I'm not irremediably opposed to fizzy reds, they can be off-putting. I'll see if I can track down Ruche.

                        I'm already a big fan of Dolcetto, have found my one experiences with Freisa pleasant. Arneis doesn't seem to me to go with anything I've discovered so far!
                        I really enjoy it when wines are well-paired with foods. It's not that I'm a stickler or correct. It's just so wonderful when the right pairing is made.

                        1. re: summerUWS2008

                          personally, I just love Barbaresco (its been years since I have wanted to pay the price for it, tho) - the Nebbiolo grape is loose textured and very delicious, rather like a good burgundy - just remember that there are wines like Gattinara, Spanna and Ghemme that are made with this grape also but not as expensive as Barbaresco or Barolo.

                          Hopefully your hosts/waiters will help to find good pairings with your food.

                      2. re: DavyTheFatBoy

                        Thanks! I do like cheese, although obviously can't eat it non-stop for all the fat, and I do like truffles -- and can't afford to eat them non-stop!