by Mario Batali

Gattinara is a tiny hamlet about two hours drive north of its sexier and more well traveled Piemontese wine town cousin Alba and yet is still a great area to tour on my constantly evolving gastro tour and my mission of the delicious.

The town itself is so small as to present only one great meal at a place called Nuovo Impero (via Francesco Mattai, 4 tel 0163-833234) where simple and delicious classic Piemontese cooking is the offering. Fresh yolk only tajarinserved simply in a delicate meat juice called sugo d’arrosto and dusted with castelmagno cheese is perfect. Risotto with chicken livers was a second primo, followed by a definitive brasato al nebbiolo, a braised beef belly, the same cut as in pastrami, and in turn followed by a perfect pear and a slice of raschera>/I> cheese aged to an intense piquancy.

The wine list is small and definitely local, but that is what I love about great regional dining. Northwards toward Verbania in a little town called Fondotoce, situated right on Lago di Mergozzo is a great place to try both lake fish and meat culture at one table. At Piccolo Lago (via Turati, 87 tel 0323-586792) there is a mix of simple smoked fish antipasti as well as a salad of shredded pork shank with potatoes and tiny cipolline. Risotto with thyme and pancetta was perfect, here in the land of Arborio rice as was a plate of shimmering herb flecked gnocchi in butter with walnuts and Bra cheese.

Sixteen kilometers south in the town of Stresa there is the best example of this micro regions cooking at Piemontese (Via Mazzini, 25 tel 0323-30235). I started with some local salumi della duja and exquisite soft pork salami with a layer of white clean lardo around the outside and I knew things would be right. A salad of potatoes and hake in a red wine vinaigrette with basil and fennel fronds was equally delicious, but the corn flour tagliolini in a duck ragu blew my mind. A textural masterpiece, I ordered another plate, just for quality control, and they were just as good, if not even a little bit better as I knew the song.

The secondo was for the whole table and was a big pan of local pork sausages with a rustic large grind texture and the delicate seasoning of a master butcher. The contorno served with it was subtle and sublime. Big white beans dressed with a Barbera wine sauce that defined lip-smacking texture and the big shouldered flavor of hunks of smokey pork shank pieces floating throughout brought the table to silence in contemplation of greatness. For cheese, we enjoyed three different robiole and then on to pears poached in Gattinara with gelato touched with pralines and the most delicate moscato. Divinity in stresa!!!!