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PORCINI HEAVEN IN PIEMONTE

VILLAFAVOLOSA Mar 2, 2011 08:56 AM

In the hills of the Monregalese, the lovely countryside surrounding the town of Mondovì, foraging for porcini mushrooms is a local obsession. These earthy delicacies appear only when the woods and weather conditions acquiesce. Fresh porcini are so prized in these parts that serious enthusiasts never divulge their favorite hunting grounds. To a true Fungaiolo there is nothing quite like the thrill of finding a porcino peeking out from underneath a chestnut leaf.

The last time I dined at Trattoria da Franca I felt like I had stumbled upon someone’s secret stash of mushrooms and I was in porcini heaven. Four out of twelve courses featured freshly picked porcini. Everything on the menu at Da Franca is either home-grown, freshly foraged or sourced from a local producer di fiducia. The recipes go back generations and are typical of the Monregalese and the Langhe. The owner, a wonderful woman named Franca, does all the cooking and runs the trattoria with the help of her extended family. The locale itself is comfortably furnished and simply decorated with family antiques and photographs. When you enter the dining room you are met with a spectacular vista of the Casotto Valley and the Langhe Monregalesi.

Franca’s menu is typically composed of 12 courses and is served family style. This evening there were three antipasti made with porcini mushrooms: carne cruda con funghi porcini, frittata di porcini and cestino di funghi. The carne cruda was slices of raw Piemontese beef dressed with olive oil, salt and shaved porcini mushroom. Franca’s frittata di porcini was thin, tender and loaded with pieces of fresh mushroom. The third antipasto, cestino di funghi, consisted of a crispy square of pastry filled with sliced porcini mushrooms prepared al verde, sauteed with parsley and garlic.

Among Franca’s non-mushroom antipasti, the fiori di zucchine fritti and quiche di peperoni tasted sinfully delicious. Naturally, the zucchine blossoms came from Franca’s organic garden and she served them to us still hot from the pan. Her quiche combined roasted red peppers with a garlicky bagna caôda-like filling. Delicioso. I have to admit that I have already tried several times at home to reproduce Franca’s quiche di peperoni. Of course, I haven’t been able to duplicate it exactly but I am getting closer with each attempt.

The two primi on the menu were risotto ai porcini and ravioli con ragù and for the sake of research I felt compelled to try both primi. The risotto was served piping hot, perfectly cooked and had an incredibly intense flavor of porcini mushroom. Franca’s delicate ravioli were filled with Raschera cheese and herbs and served with a delicate meat sauce.

Then came two meat courses: arrosto di vitello and cinghiale al civet. The veal roast was moist and tender and was accompanied by oven roasted potatoes. The wild boar was prepared al civet which is a classic Piemontese method of slow braising in red wine, herbs and spices. The braising liquid imparts a wonderful aromatic flavor to the wild boar.

Formaggi this evening were Raschera d’Alpeggio, Testun, Toma and Castelmagno all classic cheeses of Cuneo Province. I sacrificed and passed directly to the dessert. The choices were bunet, panna cotta and torta di castagna, three classic Piemontese desserts. In order to make the decision easier, Franca served three small portions of each sweet. My favorite was the bunet, a dense chocolaty flan with amaretti. The panna cotta was served with wild blackberries and was so delicate it was quivering on the plate. Torta di castagna is ubiqutious in the Langhe but Franca’s moister, sweeter version of the chestnut cake is outstanding.

Da Franca offers outstanding traditional Piemontese cooking in a charming setting away from the crowds and tourists. The entire menu costs €25 or less per person, depending on how many courses you choose. The wine list offers a good selection of local reds and whites, all at very affordable prices. Very little English is spoken but Franca and family will help explain the menu and make you feel at home.

Da Franca
Via Vecchia Roatta, 2,
12080 Torre Mondovì
Tel. (+39) 0174329024
Closed Tuesdays

 
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    DavidT RE: VILLAFAVOLOSA Mar 2, 2011 02:12 PM

    Thanks for the review. I have spent an afternoon in Mondovi, but it is certainly above the beaten path for most tourists. Your review give us a reason to go there!

    3 Replies
    1. re: DavidT
      VILLAFAVOLOSA RE: DavidT Mar 3, 2011 04:45 AM

      David, Mondovi' is definitely worth visiting. The historic center (called Mondovi' Piazza) is undergoing a renaissance which was aided by last year's Andrea Pozzo exhibit and the recent opening of the Museo della Ceramica. There is also an exciting dining vibe going on with restaurants like Ezzolino and Il Baluardo, which was just awarded a Michelin star. - Giuanin

      1. re: VILLAFAVOLOSA
        Irene65 RE: VILLAFAVOLOSA Mar 3, 2011 05:59 AM

        Grazie for the review, John/Giuanin :-)
        I have found some interesting hints in your blog too.

        Ciao
        Irene

        1. re: VILLAFAVOLOSA
          jen kalb RE: VILLAFAVOLOSA Mar 10, 2011 08:19 PM

          great report !
          here are some links

          -----
          Trattoria da Franca
          Via Vecchia Roatta, 2,, Mondovi Cuneo, Piemonte 12084, IT

          Il Baluardo
          piazza d'Armi 2, Mondovi Cuneo, Piemonte 12084, IT

          Ezzelino
          via Vico, 29, Mondovi Cuneo, Piemonte 12084, IT

      2. Villasampaguita RE: VILLAFAVOLOSA Mar 3, 2011 09:00 PM

        Thank you for your succulent review! We too love autumn in Piedmont, a time of great flavours, wine harvests in and not just tartufi bianchi in the woods but all types of porcini and other funghi all over the region. We are fortunate to live in a national park and our woods are full of the most wonderful fruits of the season at this time which we gather by the basket load for our own consumption.

        And everywhere you go mushrooms are on the menu, last year on the way home from Salone Del Gusto we decided to stop at a little town near Villa Franca for a simple and quick pizza, but to our delight the pizzeria was offering a complete antipasti course of several different types of local funghi for 10 euro, what a bargain, how we pigged out!

        If anyone is interested the little town of Giaveno near Turin on the way to Sacre di San Michele is famous for its Mercato dei Funghi and have a weeklong festival in October.

         
         
        3 Replies
        1. re: Villasampaguita
          DistendedBelly RE: Villasampaguita Mar 10, 2011 03:10 PM

          @Villasampaguita

          First time poster here! Hello :)

          I was wondering if you knew the dates for the Mercate dei Funghi in Giaveno? We will be in Turin the second week of October.. I'm currently compiling a list of the markets/festivals that will be happening during the time we're there.

          I did a quick google and was unsuccessful.. I'll try again!

          Thanks in advance!
          -DB

          1. re: DistendedBelly
            Villasampaguita RE: DistendedBelly Mar 10, 2011 11:28 PM

            Better to use Google.IT. looking at the city's website www.giaveno.it , they haven't yet posted this years dates, but last year it was from October 1st to 10th. However the weekly market is every Saturday and you will surely find mushrooms from September through October. Don't miss the the Alba truffle fair on the weekends, and if you are mobile several other local truffle festivals in the region.

            1. re: Villasampaguita
              DistendedBelly RE: Villasampaguita Mar 11, 2011 08:09 AM

              Thank you so much for this, Villasampaguita! Much appreciated :)

              Yes, we will be hitting up the Alba truffle market on Sat Sun (is this correct? Plotkin says Sats, but Fiera Tartufo site mentions Sat and Suns)!

              I don't think we will make the Asti market (Weds Sats?), but I know there are other truffle fairs and food fairs around, so will be googling shortly to add to the list. You are a wealth of knowledge (I recognize your name from a plethora of other food/Italy/Piemonte forums).. would you happen to have a master list of these markets/events?

              Once again, thanks for all your help + pointers!

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