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Where the Locals Go - Trattoria Da Franca
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.
Ravioli at Trattoria Da Franca
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 the Slow Traveler a dining experience to remember. 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.
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