We arrived in Piemonte and after several hours of rest made our way to dinner at La Stazione in Santo Stefano Belbo in the province of Cuneo. We were staying at the Relais San Maurizio close by and were looking for a simple trattoria to have some fresh pasta. Mission accomplished.
Just look at this picture (make sure to click and enlarge):
Note the soft, pillowy edges of the gnoccho -giving enough to slightly melt into the surrounding morsels, but firm enough to retain the integrity of the gnoccho’s shape. These seem comfortable on the plate – content, at ease. And why shouldn’t they be? Sitting there in that dream of a meat sauce. Do you see how it lightly clings to each piece? Thin but not at all runny. Each morsel of meat wants to ensure it accompanies the pasta into your mouth, but it doesn’t want to overpower the texture and flavor of the gnoccho. The time put in to making the sauce concentrated the flavors and thickened the consistency to the point where any more would dominate the dish. This is perfectly balanced and incredibly delicious.
Compare to below:
This is a plate of gnocchi from The Florentine Cafe in the North End. First, let me swallow the vomit that is creeping up my throat. Though, should I fail I can take solace in the fact that as long as I aim for the plate noone will notice. This is a dish that also attempts to be balanced, but because of the poor quality of both products, it spirals out of control and becomes a red sauce soup.
First, note the grooves on the gnocchi. There is no single more telling sign of bad pasta than decorations. This is supposed to conjure up images of grandmothers gently pressing the back of a fork into the dumpling – this is an illusion. This is the pasta equivalent of that enormous and perfectly shaped red pepper/apple in the supermarket that you just know is genetically engineered. No natural process would lead to something like this. Those who make gnocchi from scratch, like the ones from La Stazione, could not care less about minute aesthetic details like perfect roundness or grooves in the back. Do you know why? Because they spent hours making the damn things already. When you see something like this, the appropriate associations should not be hand-kneading and flour covered wooden cutting boards, but rather millions of factory made dumplings passing under a rotating four pronged press at the rate of 100 gnoccho’s per minute. Now, because these gnocchi have no distinctive flavor, the work of creating a palatable dish is left to the sauce. Because no one takes the time to make a flavorful and rich sauce, you need to drown the damn things. Quite the spectacle.
Anyhow, back to the rest of our meal at La Stazione.
(this picture marks the beginning of a recurring theme wherein I get so excited by the food that I start eating before I take a picture)
Veal braised in Barolo. At the top of the screen you can see the beginnings of some lightly fried porcinis which accompanied the veal. Delicious.
I had never heard of Grignolino before but we had tried several Barolos from Michele Chiarlo in the past that we had enjoyed, and it was incredibly cheap (7 euro) so we gave it a shot. It’s a native grape of Piemonte that is supposedly characterized by its fruit and tannins. I got the fruit, not so much the tannins, which made it very drinkable and an excellent buy for the price. Not much to it besides something you’re happy to drink with a plate of pasta.
Stazione was exactly what we were looking for and was a perfect beginning to our stay in Piemonte. Unfortunately we did not get to go back, but that’s only because we kept finding so many other great places to try.