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How the Piedmont Parties

November 18, 1998|JOHN-THOR DAHLBURG | TIMES STAFF WRITER

TURIN, Italy — There's a passion in Italy for cocktails, that high form of the bartender's art intended to seduce both the palate and the eye. And few are more devoted to the form than Gino Risso, the bantamweight owner of Caffe Roma, a wine bar in the town of Costigliole d'Asti.

Risso is known internationally by cocktail lovers, though he protests that his fame has nothing to do with his talents behind the bar but instead from the presence of a cooking school in the local castle where Americans, Japanese and other foreigners flock to learn Italian cuisine. In the evenings, many of the budding chefs enrolled at the Italian Culinary Institute for Foreigners repair to the Caffe Roma, which Risso has owned since 1984, for a break and perhaps a Negroni, one of northern Italy's most popular cocktails.

At the food and wine festival organized by the Slow Food Movement and held in Turin this month, Risso shared some of his cocktail mixing expertise for an even larger international audience.

One of his goals was to promote his home region of northwestern Italy. Its truffles, cheeses, bread sticks, chocolates and other gastronomic delights have carried the name of the Piedmont--Piemonte in Italian--throughout the world. On hills blanketed now with smoky autumn fogs, growers tend some of the country's most prized grape varietals: Barolo, Barbaresco, Dolcetto. And sweet vermouth, Italy's famous herb-infused aperitif, as well as Asti Spumante, its best-known sparkling wine, also are local products.

FOR THE RECORD - Correction
Los Angeles Times Sunday November 22, 1998 Home Edition Food Part H Page 2 Food Desk 1 inches; 30 words Type of Material: Correction
In some editions, an incorrect photo credit was published for pictures of stuffed olives with Wednesday's Drink page story, "How the Piedmont Parties." The photos were made by Times Staff Photographer Lori Shepler.

"For uninhibited exploration of the varieties of grape juice and what can be made of them," world-famous British wine expert Hugh Johnson has said, "no part of Europe can compare with Piedmont."

Specially for The Times, Risso drew up a plan for a cocktail party that is Piedmontese in food and drink but uses ingredients available in the United States. Many of the hors d'oeuvres, especially the stuffed olives, would be excellent small bites to offer this Thanksgiving while the turkey finishes roasting.

The fixings range from blue-veined Gorgonzola, known as the king of Italian cheeses, to Americano Cocchi, a white wine aromatized with herbs and spices that has been produced without interruption since 1891 in the town of Asti, eight miles from Risso's cafe.

There is only one exception to the local rule: the hot stuffed olive appetizer that uses table olives from another region, the Marche, located halfway down the Italian peninsula.

That prized variety of olive, known as Ascolana, is also grown in California, according to Ze Migliori, a producer in Ascoli Piceno whose company came up with the recipe. If Americans can't find Ascolanas, said Antonio Madeo, another Italian producer, they can use Seville, Manzanilla or another type of plump green olive.

THE COCKTAILS

The Negroni

1 part gin

1 part red vermouth

1 part Campari

Angostura bitters

1 orange slice per glass

Mix gin, vermouth and Campari, then and add bitters to taste. Pour into Old Fashioned glass and float orange slice.

September Impressions (Impressioni di Settembre)

3 parts Moscato d'Asti or Asti Spumante

1 part vodka

1 part dry white vermouth

1 lemon slice per glass

Mix wine, vodka and vermouth. Serve in champagne coupe glass and garnish with lemon slice.

Il Barberino

1 part vodka

1 part apricot brandy

3 parts Barbera d'Asti or similar dry red wine

1 orange slice per glass

Mix vodka, brandy and wine. Serve in champagne coupe glass and garnish with orange slice.

The Beautiful Country (Il Bel Pais)

1 part vodka

1 part peach syrup

3 parts Grignolino d'Asti or dry rose

3 drops Angostura bitters

Lemon rind

Mix vodka, peach syrup, wine and bitters to taste. Garnish with curl of lemon rind.

Other possible drinks: Asti Spumante, Champagne, Spanish Sherry

THE APPETIZERS

Electric Tomini (Tomini Elettrici)

Tomino is a fresh cheese made from cow's milk, available in most Italian delicatessens. Try a fresh creamy goat cheese as a substitute.

Place sliced cheese on small toast squares, sprinkle with extra-virgin olive oil, oregano and small rounds of hot red pepper (whence the name "electric").

TORTINI AL GORGONZOLA

Serve Gorgonzola cheese slices on small toast squares that are still warm.

ROBIOLA DI ROCCAVERANO

Robiola is a rich, mild cheese made from goat's milk, sometimes blended with cow's or sheep's milk. Use a Brie if you can't find it. Use good-quality oil, because oil provides most of the flavor.

Place slices on toasted white bread; sprinkle with extra-virgin olive oil.

STUFFED OLIVES, ASCOLI STYLE

(Olive all'Ascolana)

Total Preparation Time 50 minutes. Active Work Time 50 minutes.

1 tablespoon olive oil

1/4 pound skirt steak, minced

1/4 pound cubed lean pork, minced

1/4 pound boneless, skinless chicken breast, minced

1 1/2 teaspoons minced onion

1 1/2 teaspoons minced celery

1 1/2 teaspoons minced carrot

Salt, pepper

1 tablespoon white wine

Eggs

Dash nutmeg

1 tablespoon grated Parmigiano Reggiano

2 pounds Ascolana olives, or other large, plump green olives

1/4 cup flour

1/4 cup bread crumbs

2 cups extra virgin olive oil

Heat oil in small skillet. Add steak, pork, chicken breast, onion, celery and carrot and season lightly with salt and pepper. Cook, stirring until meat is lightly browned, 5 to 8 minutes. Add wine and cook until dry, about 3 minutes.

Turn mixture into food processor and add 1/4 teaspoon salt, 1 tablespoon beaten egg, nutmeg and cheese. Pulse mixture until it forms mass, but do not puree. Cover and refrigerate.

Pit olives, keeping as whole as possible. Fill each olive with about 1/2 teaspoon filling.

Put flour on 1 plate, beat 1 egg and put in bowl and put bread crumbs on another plate. Roll olives first in flour, then in beaten egg, then in bread crumbs.

Heat olive oil to 350 degrees in large, deep-sided skillet. Fry olives, 6 to 8 at a time, until light brown, about 3 minutes. Drain on paper towels and serve hot.

12 servings. Each serving: 166 calories; 1,771 mg sodium; 31 mg cholesterol; 14 grams fat; 5 grams carbohydrates; 7 grams protein; 0.98 gram fiber.

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