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Report 1104: Perfect Piemonte and Bella Bologna: A Succulent Journey for the Senses and Soul

By Palma from California, Fall 2006

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Page 7 of 18: "Figasms," Asti and Amaretti

photo by Palma

Asti Readies for the Palio

We started the day with yet another breakfast of the gods: Piemontese smoked pork tenderloin surrounded by salumi with cherry tomatoes and basil, warm peach and cherry jam torta, freshly baked raisin/nut/rosemary bread, and my all-time favorite food ... EVER ... figasms! “Figasm” is the name I gave to these better than anything morsels Diana created for me, after learning on SlowTalk about my food preferences. She took a perfectly healthy fig, and surrounded it with an exquisite combination of all my favorite fats! Stuff a fig with a perfect gorgonzola dolce, wrap it in prosciutto, then sauté it in butter mixed with honey until it begins to carmalize. Then see how many Palma can eat without a trip to the cardiac care unit.

It was another perfectly sunny, warm day! We drove to Asti, parked, and hit the shopping district. Asti was getting ready for it’s palio next weekend. There were bleachers being set up all around what was now a large parking lot. I had about an hour before the stores would close for lunch, so there was no time to waste.

Off a main street, I found a wonderful linen, bedding, and custom fabric store. I immediately was drawn to a scrumptious plaid wool throw of sunny sherbet colors that would work beautifully in my guestroom. There, I also bought five of the most gorgeous washcloths I have ever seen! How can I get so worked up over washcloths? Even Brad said, “You HAVE to get those!” It sounds silly to be so excited about washcloths, but they are works of art. I bought five colors that look like a bouquet of fall leaves: rust, mocha, two shades of gold, and a burgundy. Each cloth has a terry center, with a thick beautiful paisley/floral print chintz cotton border. If you stick your finger in the center of each cloth, and bunch it up like a flower, then put all five in a round glass vase so they look like fall lilies blooming the various print fabrics, It is lovely (and purely decorative) in my guest bathroom. The room is a rich tan color with a mosaic tile border around the sink area, and shower, with all those colors.

Next, in a jewelry store, I bought two resin and 18K gold bracelets. One is silver and one is bronze with what I call “the SlowTrav logo”, or, a design of swirled circles of gold going around the border. We walked to the Duomo, and tower, and stopped at a caffe in the piazza for a latte and vino.

When we left Asti, we drove through more rolling hillsides laden with grapes ready for the harvest. Soon, we reached the picturesque town of Barbaresco. The town was one long block in size, with a nice tourist office, a church, and a couple of enotecas. We stopped at a charming enoteca for a glass of wine, and shared a cheese plate of five local cheeses. This sleepy little town was sweet and gentle, with two dogs napping in front of the tourist office, until a new car arrived in town for them to greet and sniff.

Our third town of the day, Nieve, was recommended to us by Micha. We drove up above the “main” town to the centro storico, and parked by the castle. It reminded me of Montichiello, only steeper. There was a church, a caffé, a small hotel, two restaurants, and the castle. We walked around, taking photos, and stopped to revive me with coffee. As we were walking out of town, Brad said, “Piano, piano”. I thought he wanted me to walk more slowly. Then I heard the beautiful piano music. We stopped and tried to figure out if it was live or a recording. After a few moments, we realized it was live, when the musician repeated one section a few times. We lingered to listen to the person practicing the difficult classical piece. It was lovely, like our own concert in the street, and another of those unplanned moments of joy in slow travel.

Our last stop would be the tiny “cookie town” of Mombaruzzo. A few kilometers outside of town, I asked Brad to pull over for an amazing sight. From the road you could see a stunning cupola of the dome of a duomo. We were out in the middle of vineyards and tiny one-street towns, and this looked almost like the Vatican across the hill in the distance! We stopped and took quite a few shots, zooming as close as our little camera could go. What an amazing jewel glimmering in the late afternoon sun!

We arrived in Mombaruzzo at 5:30. I love the name of this town! It makes me want to say it over and over! You could smell amaretti as soon as you stepped out of the car. We were armed with a Baur B&B card, and walked right in to the cookie shop/caffe of Micha’s friend, Massimo. We said we were friends of Michael’s. We sat and ordered cappucini, and were given several samples of the two types of amaretti. They taste like Amaretto di Saranno, but are chewy instead of crisp. There are the regular ones, and a noci variety. Massimo brought us into the back room where the amaretti are made from zuccharo, almonds, egg whites, and apricot pits. We bought LOTS of cookies, and our coffees were complementary. I asked Massimo about the dome we had seen from the road, and he proudly told us it was the duomo of Fontinelle, the town where his wife grew up.

We drove back, showered, and sipped wine on the terrace until 8:30, when we returned to Acqui and had dinner off the piazza, at Osteria del Teatro. I had pasta shaped like a little cinched bundle, stuffed with pears, ricotta, and honey, in a honey cream sauce. Brad had veal tortellini with a light meat sauce. Next came my veal chop with gorgonzola and noci sauce, and Brad’s tagliata di manzo. We shared a mushroom and spinach stuffed, fried, zucchini blossom, and drank a bottle of Arneis wine. For dessert, we shared a baked pear with zablione. Dinner was 66 Euro. It had been a long, fun day, and we were ready for our comfy bed.

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