Cartosio is a tiny hamlet of Monferrato in lower Piemonte, halfway between Torino and Genova with as little as 800 inhabitants. For 202 years it was home of Cacciatori—hunters—an informal country restaurant, “pure expression of place and tradition” according to former LA Times critic S. Irene Virbila. Today Massimo Milano and his wife Federica Rossini are the last interpreters of five generations of old-school cuisine based on ingredients available in the season and cooked à la minute on wood-burning stoves.

Cacciatori is the result of a collective work of women—that lit the same stoves since 1818—and their recipes handed down from generation to generation without missing a beat. Simple but absolute flavors, from the vegetable gardens, courtyards, and stables selected over the years by Massimo and gently prepared by Federica, the latest heir of a line of cooks who still knows how to tame the wood range.

Federica and Massimo Milano hospitable hosts at Cacciatori

Federica and Massimo Milano hospitable hosts at Cacciatori

The food is not attempting to be overly complex, the focus is on a few ingredients of the highest order, treated with total respect, and inventively presented. In the menu, the ubiquitous salame and focaccia are a clear sign of this borderland trattoria within Piemonte and Liguria. A consistent trait throughout your meal: while Cacciatori’s hand-cut tajarin is a dish of true Piedmontese heritage, all vegetable preparations are influenced by the wide use of Ligurian aromatic herbs.

Within Cacciatori’s unmissable masterpieces one will find Zucchine ripiene—stuffed with pork, Parmigiano, egg and marjoram—and Pollo alla cacciatora, originally a summer preparation where chunks of farmyard chicken are browned in a pan with oil, then slow-cooked with rosemary, onions and few tomatoes and finally seasoned with a pinch of nutmeg.

Federica inherited the local recipes from her mother-in-law Carla

Federica inherited the local recipes from her mother-in-law Carla

Gratin di Cardi Gobbi
– Thistle Gratin –

The winter cuisine of Piedmont is defined by the use of some unique vegetables like Cardo Gobbo—or humped thistle—a Slow Food Presidium that grows in the sandy soils of Nizza Monferrato. Unwatered and untreated when tall and lush, in September, thistles are folded and covered with earth. This is when, trying to free themselves to find light, they swell and bend, turning into humped white and tender thistles.

Ingredients

1 kg of Cardo Gobbo thistle, 100gr Fontina Dop, 50gr Parmigiano Reggiano, 1 egg yolk, and for the béchamel 50gr butter, 50gr flour, 1/2L milk, salt, and nutmeg.

Procedure

Clean the thistles and remove the hard outer leaves and filaments and finally cut into pieces.

Blanch them for a few minutes in salted water with lemon juice, drain them, and cut into smaller pieces.

Prepare the béchamel keeping it fairly liquid, remove from the heat and add the grated fontina cheese, the egg yolk and stir quickly.

In oven-proof single portion terrines put a thin layer of the béchamel sauce, then the thistles, and a couple more layers until you get to the top. And drizzle with abundant Parmigiano Reggiano.

Bake at 180° C for about 20 minutes, until lightly colored and gratinéed.

Gratin di cardi gobbi di Nizza

Gratin di cardi gobbi di Nizza

To make the dish even more festive and prestigious – eventually, for your dinner on Christmas eve – when the terrine comes out of the oven and ready for serving, you can finish it with a shave of white truffle – 6 to 8 grams per person are a generous quantity for such an entrée.

Cacciatori

Via Moreno, 30, 15015 – Cartosio (AL) – T. +39-0144-40123

Closed Wednesday and Thursday.

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