Bringing Cucina Piemontese Home to Colorado
No doubt I’m not alone in my frustration of trying at home, often with little or no success, what seemed so easy in a cooking class. Compounding the frustration is when that cooking class was half a world away and doesn’t translate well to a high country Colorado kitchen. Earlier this year I found a solution to that problem when I was leading a group on a gastronomic and cultural adventure in the iconic Italian wine region of Piemonte. I discovered Chef Enrico Trova of La Scuola di Cucina di Asti and cucina piemontese came home to Colorado with me.
Chef Trova’s 15 years in California, during which time the affable Italian chef owned and operated Amici of Beverly Hills, enabled him to understand the limitations that his American clients face when they return home and try to recreate the dishes he taught them. His Gnocchi al Ragu Piemontese – sausage (salsiccia) ragu on gnocchi – is one of his recipes at home in any kitchen anywhere.
This dish has become a new favorite of mine to cook in my Rocky Mountain high country kitchen. My Labor of Love tour guests enjoy learning to make this with Chef Trova and my guests around my table love it, too, particularly when paired with Barbera, one of Piemonte’s signature quintessential wines. I don’t have the patience or the time to make gnocchi always, so polenta, another staple of the cucina piemontese, makes a delicious accompaniment for this sauce. Keep in mind, however, that the starch from gnocchi adds a richness to the ragu that you can’t duplicate with polenta.
Just like the saying that great wine can only come from great grapes, delicious culinary results can only be achieved with fine ingredients. Of course, the Italians have us beaten on that one, even in their supermarkets. Chef Trova uses the king of Piemontese sausage, salsiccia di Bra, a bovine (usually veal) sausage.
Salsiccia di Bra resulted from an exception in the Albertine Statutes of 1848 – the precursor to unified Italy’s first constitution – that all sausage must contain pork. You have to love the Italian’s reverence for food to the extent they codified sausage-making requirements in their first constitution. This was Charles Albert of Sardinia’s way of providing an alternative to pork sausage for the Jews of Cherasco, a bustling hilltop town nearby Bra. Today, pork finds its way into salsiccia di Bra, but the classic sausage is pure bovine.
Colorado Meat Company
Trying to find the prized sausage in ski country Colorado, or to pry the recipe out of a Piemontese, is impossible. Fortunately for meat lovers here in central Colorado we have a great resource for the sausage used in the ragu: Colorado Meat Company in Avon. Husband and wife team of Chris and Brittany Hudgens own the Colorado artisanal butchery they opened in August 2015.
It’s a risky business, but thanks to their dedication to high quality Colorado products and, equally important, excellent personalized customer service, Chris and Brittany have succeeded in carving out a niche for preserving the butchery craft in a high country region with a rich ranching history.
Each week Chris and his assistant Jake Lebowitz prepare several different types of sausage from over 40 recipes in Chris’ repertoire. My favorite for salsiccia ragu is their Italian sausage. I use 2/3 hot to one-third sweet sausage for a perfect balance of heat, herbs Chris picks himself, and spices. Made from 100% Colorado sourced meat, this sausage is a perfect substitute for the salsiccia di Bra Chef Trova uses in his Asti kitchen. It’s best to call ahead and ask Brittany to reserve the sausage for you since it’s not made every week.
So time to learn how to make it.
Chef Enrico Trova’s Salsiccia Ragu
Ingredients for six (6) main course servings:
2 pounds of bulk fresh sausage (avoid store bought!)
1 carrot, chopped
1 onion (purple or yellow), chopped
1 celery stalk, chopped,
1 clove of garlic, chopped
2/3 bottle of red wine (I like to use a good quality Barbera – either d’Asti or d’Alba – since it is a great pairing for this dish).
2 cups of tomato purée (passata rustica – Chef Trova describes this as “uncooked sauce”)
In a heavy 5-quart Dutch oven, sauté the sausage on medium-high heat until it begins to brown. Next, add the chopped vegetables (mirepoix) to the sausage. Sauté the sausage and vegetables until all the liquid has evaporated from the meat. This is an important step, so be patient. Lower the heat to medium. Pour the red wine to cover the meat and then add the tomato puree. Stir then simmer gently to boil off the alcohol. If the mixture is too dry, add a little water. Chef Trova warns not to add stock or more wine since that will alter the flavors at this point. Simmer covered for another 60 minutes to let the flavors meld. Add salt and fresh ground black pepper to taste.
For a traditional Piemontese dish, serve over polenta or gnocchi. But this is equally tasty over pasta, such as penne or rigatoni. You can top with grated Reggiano Parmigiano or Pecorino, or a dollop of fresh ricotta, or it’s simply delicious as is.
Variations: Colorado Meat Company’s Italian sausage is a perfect blend of seasonings, so I don’t have to add any other herbs or spices. But depending on the sausage you use and your own taste, you might have to get creative with herbs (e.g., thyme and oregano) and spices.
Suggested wine pairing: Barbera d’Alba from producers such as E. Pira e Figli (Chiara Boschis), Paolo Scavino, Sottimano, and Mauro Molino, all of which are readily available in Colorado through Giuliana Imports. Or just pop into Riverwalk Wine and Spirits in Edwards and ask owner Jarrett Osborne for guidance.
If you’d like more of Chef Enrico Trova’s traditional Piemontese recipes, including his gnocchi recipe and technique, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.