Matteo Ponti of Forlino
Executive chef Matteo Ponti of Forlino took Priyanka Elhence on a journey through some of Piedmont’s most renowned classics.
Known for its rich cuisine, white Alba truffles and tannin-heavy Nebbiolo wines, such as Barolo and Barbaresco, there is so much to love about Piedmont, Italy’s second largest region. Bordering Switzerland and France in the northwest of the country, Piedmont has a mountainous landscape surrounded by the Alps on three sides, and is home to Italy’s highest peaks and largest glaciers. “I’m from the small town of Trecate in the Novara province, Piedmont’s second most popular city after the capital, Turin. It’s located in the middle of the Aquerello rice plantation, home to the famous aged carnaroli rice, one of the best risotto rice in the world,” says executive chef Matteo Ponti of Forlino proudly.
Unlike a busy metropolis, Piedmont is all about the country lifestyle. “Families believe in growing their own vegetables for personal consumption and buying from small producers to support the local community,” says Ponti. As his hometown is located between the two large cities of Novarra and Milano, Ponti grew up constantly exposed to good food. “Piedmont classics include salame della duja, the traditional Italian pork salami cured in the ‘duja’ terracotta jug; cassoeula, an ancient Milanese pork and savoy cabbage stew served with polenta, a typical winter dish from Lombardia; and salame di cioccolato,
chocolate salami, a favourite birthday present of mine” he shares. The region is also known for its prized nocciola tonda
gentile delle langhe or nocciola del Piemonte, the Piedmont hazelnut, valued for its almost-round shape, mild flavour, high oil content and crunchy flesh.
The youngest among four brothers and one sister, Ponti spent a lot of time in his family garden filled with produce, which was used to make homemade jams, pasta, vinegar and tomato sauce. He was always amazed at the things his mum would whip up for them; his favourite dish was freshly plucked zucchini flowers and pumpkin flowers deep-fried with anchovies. For special occasions, carpaccio di manzo alla Piedmontese
was a regular feature, showcasing the region’s famous Fassona beef from special Alba cows. Ponti’s rendition here adds an inventive spin of bagna càuda to the regional dish. Mamma Ponti also taught him how to make the iconic ravioli del plin, the handcrafted ravioli stuffed with slow-braised beef chuck, black truffle and porcini mushrooms. “The pasta is characterised by the ‘pinching’ method of making the ravioli,” he adds. The traditional recipe’s origins however date back to Turin’s aristocratic past, during which leftover roasted meats from lavish feasts for royalty were used the next day to make stuffed pastas.
Ponti’s father, on the other hand, tended to the family farm and was in charge of the family Sunday Brunch. Ponti was only four years old when his father taught him how to make his famous risotto alla Milanese, together with coniglio con polenta e stufato
di funghi del piemonte (rabbit with polenta and mushroom stew).
Kitchen nightmares were a regular feature in his early life. “The most memorable episode was when I first started baking. I got so frustrated one day that I smashed one of my failed creations on the wall. As you can imagine, Mamma Ponti wasn’t too happy about cleaning up the mess that I had made,” he grins.
Still, he persevered and from the age of 11, Ponti’s homemade cakes and cookies were a huge hit at school. “My baking exploits made me really popular with my schoolmates and they always looked forward to my treats on my birthday every year,” he ends with a smile.
PINCHED BRAISED BEEF CHUCK AND PORCINI MUSHROOM RAVIOLI WITH BLACK TRUFFLES ‘RAVIOLI DEL PLIN’
Serves 10 Prep time 15 minutes
Cook time 2 hours + 12 hours marination + 3 hours baking time
egg pasta 600g flour 500g egg yolks
• In an electric mixer, combine flour and egg yolks for 10-15 minutes until a smooth dough forms.
• Wrap dough in plastic wrap and rest in the chiller for 1 hour.
700g beef chuck, cubed 50g carrots, cubed
6g garlic, sliced
50g onions, cubed
50g celery, cubed
10g brown sugar
500ml Barolo red wine
2 tbsp olive oil + 2 tbsp olive oil salt and black pepper, to taste 50g ricotta
30g 36-month-aged Parmesan cheese 1 egg
6g Italian parsley, chopped
• In a mixing bowl, mix the beef chuck together with the carrots, garlic, onions, celery, rosemary, Barolo red wine and brown sugar. Refrigerate overnight.
• Preheat oven to 120°C.
• Strain beef and vegetables and set wine marinade aside. • Drizzle olive oil in a hot pan and sear the beef to form a brown crust on all sides. Season.
• In a separate pan, sear vegetables in hot oil for approximately 5 minutes. Season.
• Place the seared beef and vegetables on an oven tray and drizzle over with the wine marinade. Cover tray with aluminium foil and bake for 3 hours.
• Strain and blend the beef and vegetables in a food processor. Add ricotta, Parmesan, egg, parsley and seasoning. Set aside.
• Remove the pasta dough from the chiller. Divide dough into 4 equal portions. Keeping the other portions covered until ready to use, roll one portion into a sheet 2mm thick.
• Working quickly, place rounded teaspoonfuls of filling 1-inch apart over half of the pasta sheet. Moisten the dough around the filling by brushing gently with water.
• Roll out another portion of dough and place