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« Returning to the Piemonte | Main | Questions I recieve via email and through comments by Farid Zadi »

March 13, 2006

Conversation with Paolo Ferrero by Swiss Chef (Ed McGaugh)

The Book of Rai Interview with Paolo Ferrero


Born in Turin, Paolo is a native Piemontese and speaks English, French, German, Spanish and of course Italian. He comes from a family of restaurateurs and managed the family restaurant Canestrello d'Oro for many years and has made a passionate career out of fine Piemontese food and wine. Paolo also writes a column for the Italian wine magazine called Barolo & Co. and has an extensive knowledge of the local wines. Paolo is closely connected to a never-ending network of wine makers, restaurateurs and shop-owners, all of whom he knows personally.

Swiss_Chef: Hello Paolo and thank you for joining us at Book of Rai. Please tell us a little about your restaurant the Canestrello d'Oro in Cinaglio near Asti.

Paolo Ferrero: First let me say thank you for your interest in the Piemont and more importantly the Monferrato! I ran he "Canestrello d'Oro" ( a "canestrello" is sort of a cookie traditionally prepared by the cooks of my small village, Cinaglio...) for eight years, from 1998 till 2004, since my mother Adalgisa, who was one of the restaurant's two chefs, decided to retire. For 20 years Canestrello was our family's restaurant but it was my mother, chef Ezio Musso and maitre ‘d Paolo Smaniotto and I who succeeded in transforming the "Canestrello" from a popular Pizzeria to a distinguished country inn. We had limited seating, white table-cloths, Bohemian crystal glasses, fresh country flowers and jazzy background music. Regarding the food, our mottos were : "tradition with a modern twist".
We wanted to rediscover the beautiful traditional Piemontese recipes while looking forward to a more modern style of presentation.

Typically we started with an antipasti tasting, dictated by season’s bounty. For example:
-Tuna and black Taggiasca olive mousse refined with parsley.
-Hand minced raw veal and goat’s milk cheese tartar.
-Roasted red peppers and stewed veal tongue with anchovies, capers and Barbera vinaigrette sauce.
-Leek and Parmesan cheese soufflé.
-A selection of made-in-house tajarìn, agnolotti, gnocchi, and pappardelle.
-Risottos (too many to mention but always following the season).
-During the winter- a thick bean and "maltagliati" soup.

The main courses always included pork, beef, rabbit, chicken as well as a fish offering usually cod, bass or sea-tout.

Fresh porcini and white truffles always in season
Always a wide selection of local artisanal cheeses.

Three desserts completed our menu, usually accompanied by a Moscato or Malvasia sparkling sweet wine.

In a few years we were rated by the main gastronomical Guides in Italy, such as "Espresso", "Luigi Veronelli", "Paolo Massobrio", "Accademia Italiana della Cucina" ( Unfortunately the consequence of a misunderstanding- we were somehow overlooked by "Gambero Rosso" what a pity! We did manyge to rank in the top 1.000 restaurants in the whole Italy. Something for which we are very proud.

The wine list was heavily centered in the Monferrato's wines and consisted of 80 labels. The price of our multi course was about 35 euros, wines excluded. Monthly we organised a gastronomical degustation dinner based on the season; aromatic herbs, spring flowers and fish, black or white truffles, porcini and game and so on...

Swiss_Chef: In your opinion who are the most interesting and influential chefs working in the Piemonte today?

Paolo Ferrero: The two young stars of Piemontese gastronomical scene are Davide Scabin from the "Combàl Zero" famous for his innovative style and Davide Palluda at "L'Enoteca" of Canale d'Alba. Very well renowned too are Giampiero Vivalda from L'Antica Corona Reale in Cervere and Luisa Valazza from Il Sorriso in Soriso, and, of course, Walter Eynard from Flipòt in Torre Pellice. Don't forget the well-known Cesare Giaccone from Da Cesare in Albaretto della Torre, Walter Ferretto from Il Cascinale Nuovo in Isola d'Asti, Giuseppina Bagliardi from Il Gener Neuv in Asti and Claudia Verro of La Contea in Neive).

Swiss_Chef: Paolo you are very knowledgeable about Piemontese wines. What are you drinking that is special and which grape varieties should we know about?

Paolo Ferrero: Apart from Nebbiolo & Barbera and the indigenous vines, such as Grignolino, Ruchè, Freisa, Dolcetto, I'd like to mention a few remarkable but not so well-known production areas; the hills of Ovada, with its Dolcetto, a red wine well suitable for extended ageing, and the fresh, smooth Cortese, a still white wine which can also be used to make sparkling wines. Additionally, the region of Tortona, traditionally used for farming, but they are surprisingly able to produce some "monster" Barbera as well as a full-bodied long-ageing white wine called Timorasso. Timorasso is a local vine "exhumed" by the "genius loci" Walter Massa, founder of Tortona's wine Rénaissance. Both of these regions are located in the district of Alessandria.

Swiss_Chef: Which are your top five favorite Piemontese dishes?

Paolo Ferrero: 1) A special dish I make composed of polenta placed in a bowl, then add one whole egg yolk and cover with bagna caoda sauce, which is anchovies, garlic and extra-virgin olive-oil, then cover the whole thing with generous shavings of white truffles.
2) La "Tartrà" which is a light "timbale" with cream, eggs, parmesan cheese, aromatic herbs (rosemary, thyme, sage, bay leaves) onions and nutmeg );
3) Risotto with beef-tail ragout;
4) Duck livers and porcini sauté "Lord of Cavour's style" refined with old Marsala wine (it reminds you of Madera).
5) Pork neck braised in vinegar, white wine and sugar, with spring onions, gherkins and carrots...
6) "Arsumà" an egg-flip whipped with Barbera or Nebbiolo as dessert...
Sorry, I couldn’t stop at 5!

Swiss_Chef: Paolo, we know how important the weekly food market is in Italy, tell us about the Asti market.

Paolo Ferrero: There are many things to say about the Piemontese family’s approach to the food market. Many things have changed during the last 25/30 years in Italy and in my Piedmont. Once, everybody had their own favorite butcher or baker and the weekly market was used basically for fruits, vegetables or sausages and cheeses (things that can be bought once a week). Nowadays quite a lot of the women work and they haven't so much time to dedicate to food and cooking. Additionally the Euro has caused some serious economic problems for Italy and the result is more supermarkets, more "hard-discount" centers, more "take-away", more fast food, more eating outside of the home. The weekly food market on Wednesday or Saturday's big market in Asti, for example, has become, in my opinion, more of a tradition than an economical issue but it is still a useful and beautiful way for the visitors to better comprehend the Italian way-of-life.

Swiss_Chef: I have had the best risotto of my life in your kitchen. Can you please tell our readers how you and your mother made it?

Paolo Ferrero: Very easy to do! First of all, you have to prepare a tomato sauce, cooking two or three tomatoes in extra-virgin olive oil with a clove of garlic. Then you'll add the rice into the sauce, letting the rice get toasted for a few minutes. The next step is adding a good veal and vegetable stock, in order to stew the rice ( the cooking time depends on rice's quality : my preferences go to the carnaroli or to the baldo which take more or less 18/20 minutes. Add the stock every time the rice looks dry. Finish rice by whisking in butter aromatized with basil and enriched with grated parmesan and pecorino cheese. Allow it to set covered, off the burner for the last two minutes. Decorate with a pair of basil leaves. That's the "Riso alla Gambolò". Gambolò is a small village in the middle of Pavia's famous rice-fields.

Swiss_Chef: Excluding the food of the Piemonte, which world cuisine is your favorite?

Paolo Ferrero: I like French cuisine for the general quality of food and for the costs/quality ratio. I've eaten very well in India too, particularly in the Rajistan region, with all sorts of spices and vegetables! The best fish in my life I had in in Senegal and in the Philippines; a tropical grouper with pineapple and mango. Unforgettable "Fritanga" ( a roasted mixed-meats meal ) at San Cristobal de las Casas, Mexico. I'm sorry, I was almost forgetting the Creole cuisine...

Swiss_Chef: Gelati is something typically Italian but there are different styles of gelati. Can you please tell us more about them?

Paolo Ferrero: Regarding the gelati, I must confess that I'm not an expert on this matter. In any case, I know that we have different interpretations of the "Gelati" expressing two Schools : the Venetian which is delicate, rich and full as the tonal painting of Giorgione or Bellini of gradations and shades. The Sicilian, sweet and plentiful, a Baroque, opulent symphony of flavors...

Please, let me investigate this question with Ezio, my former Chef, living dictionary for all the cultural & gastronomical matters.

Swiss_Chef: Thank you very much for sharing with us Paolo!

Paolo Ferrero: My pleasure, thanks to everybody for your attention!


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Nice interview. Thank you!


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