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Hazelnuts, cyclists and Nebbiolo wine: from Italy to Murrumbateman

Bryan Martin 7 September 2019

Hilltop vineyards and hazelnut groves are part of the beautiful Langhe region. File photo.

Well, the good news is – if you actually want to think about this –  that older Italian men in cycling lycra don’t look any better than middle-aged Aussie men wearing lycra.

Sure they look great as a peloton, and should only be seen as such, but strolling through a restaurant, eye level, sweaty, and clingy, it’s another story, so I’m trying to focus on my tajarin instead.

We are sitting in a little restaurant in the pretty hill town of Barbaresco in Piedmont, Italy. Along with its neighbouring region, Barolo, and the greater Langhe, it’s the top spot in the world for the king of grape varieties, Nebbiolo. My absolute favourite wine comes from here.

Let me nerd out a little: Nebbiolo is a late-ripening, large clustered grape variety that requires some care in growing and making. Originally considered impossible to grow here in the Canberra district, but then climate change came along. Now we can grow it, so I am, and that’s why we are here. Would probably prefer a cooler globe to pass onto the kids but what can you do?

So here we are, overlooking the amazing vineyards that cover every hill and slope along with hazelnut trees. We’re eating this fine, eggy pasta, so I can ignore the squashed cyclists’ appendages and savour instead one of the best pasta dishes with its perfect match: a complex, restrained bottle of Azienda Agricola F.lli Cigliuti Barbaresco.

Claudia and Silvia Cigliuti are the third generation behind this tiny family business.

They produce beautifully made wines in one of the neatest cellars I’ve seen. Their father, who is still very active and out thinning the new crop as he has for his entire 80 years, made a choice after the war to change from being a lowly paid grower and to focus on making super-premium wines. His daughters are doing an excellent job developing the brand and it’s really worth finding if you can (check at Ainslie Cellars for the next release).

It’s summer here so we miss out on the winter highlight of white truffles but the porcini mushroom takes over as the flavour booster to pasta and risotto.

We’ve camped in the high hilltown of La Morra, where from every direction you get amazing views around the three valleys of Langhe. Barolo is to the south, Serralunga to the east, Verdunna to the north and so many little villages in between, all separated by so many vineyards. It’s stunning. Even if you aren’t into wine, the food, culture and scenery are worth the visit.

Hazelnuts make a luxuriously indulgent pasta sauce in the Piedmont region. Photo: creative commons.

This vegetarian sauce is pretty intense so you should go pretty small as a dish. Tajarin pasta will be hard to find but you can use all egg tagliatelle instead or make your own.

Tajarin with porcini and hazelnuts
1/2 cup loose packed sun-dried porcini mushrooms
1 cup pouring cream
2 tbsp olive oil
200g Swiss brown mushrooms, sliced thick
1 small onion, diced
1 clove garlic, chopped finely
1/3 cup white wine
30g butter
1/4 cup grated parmigiana
300g Tajarin pasta or tagliatelle
Salt and pepper
1/4 cup roasted & skinned hazelnuts, chopped
Parsley, chopped

Bring cream to a simmer and soak porcini in this for half an hour.

Bring a salted pot of water to the simmer, follow the instructions and time the cooking of the pasta to coincide with the sauce.
Heat oil and fry mushrooms until they are well cooked. Scoop out, reserve, add a little more oil if needed and fry the onion and garlic until soft.

Drain the porcini, keeping the cream, and add to onion mixture along with fried mushrooms. Deglaze with wine, reduce a little and add cream and butter. Cook until it’s nice and saucy, not too thick. Season with salt and lots of pepper. Off the heat, stir in parmigiana and hazelnuts. Toss through pasta and serve with extra cheese and parsley.

Of course, find a Nebbiolo to go with this. Depends on how deep your pockets are but dig deep if you’ve gone through the trouble to make this dish.

The other important crops here in Piedmont is hazelnuts, mainly for the local Ferrero Rocher factory and as a host to the black truffles.

These, fresh, are stunning, roasted and so very sweet and not like how we generally see commercial hazelnuts, like dusty baking aid. To preserve their freshness most of the vendors pack them in cryovac.

I’ll leave you with that image, hazelnuts packed in cryovac and older Italian cyclists, in lycra.

Bryan Martin writes for Region Media about food and wine. He is the winery manager at Clonakilla and runs the Ravensworth label.


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