Thursday, May 19, 2016

Il Circolo degli Artisti

Senza titolo
In the city of Torino, on a lonely stretch road, right behind a big wooden door of an historical building is this unexpected courtyard. Not a crink through the door reveals it's charm from the outside. There's no sign of the restaurant we're looking for, the street address, though, seems to be exact. Via Bogino, 9.  Lost, we ask the guard standing in front of the building if he can help.  We're looking for Il Circolo degli Artisti. The guard tilts his head in sign of consent and greets us in with his hand showing us the way. We walk in and there we stand in a dreamy state of bliss admiring the majestic courtyard. Quiet, peaceful, lovely, just lovely. The guard shakes us awake and tells us to take the stairs on the left.

As I run my fingers along the stone handrail that accompanies the large steps of Palazzo Graneri della Roccia, I feel there's something that goes beyond it's obvious bellezza. There's sentiment, passion, this place has a soul, a tangible elegant and discrete soul. I reach the first floor and the feeling materializes through magnificent paintings, a gentleman reading in a quite corner, the sound of a teaspoon swirling sugar within its cup, the breeze of a slightly open window that flips the page of a newspaper, the sound of glasses that cling, the whispers of those that converse, the old wooden floors that squeak and creak as I move around curious through the 11 rooms and 2000 square meter space of this old, very old building. As it was then, it is now, since 1847 Il Circolo degli Artisti, the Artist's Club, continues its art exhibitions, concerts, events and conferences in this incredible space.
The true heart of this club is found on the mezzanine floor where the traditional "Tampa" is located. A simple trattoria where members of the club would eat and drink. Today the restaurant still exists, it's just not a simple trattoria anymore. It's become an elegant, not too fancy restaurant. Throughout the years, self-portraits of club member artists were added on the walls forming an extraordinary collection of more that 500 paintings. This is why I came here in the first place without knowing what to expect and finding myself surprised in all its aspects.  Probably the most beautiful gem found in Torino. At least that's my thought.

So now lets talk food!

The meal was very impressive.  We started with a taste of typical cheese, several types, all so good served with bread sticks wrapped in a paper towel with a print of a poem on those who love to read. The restaurant in fact is called the il Circolo dei Lettori, The Readers Club. I took the paper towel from the table and tucked it away in my purse. It's now framed and hanging on my kitchen wall. I love it. Sly move, uh?!

We ordered a few typical dishes, caramelized onion served with crisp codfish and parmatier cream with lemon and thyme.  Ravioli del plin (small ravioli with beef, rabbit and pork). Veal tenderloin with Marsala reduction and Santena asparagus and for dessert, homemade violette ice cream, Moscato wine sorbet and Carpano vermouth sorbet.  Was it good?  Yes. Would I go back? Yes. I would go back over and over again without hesitation.

The enthusiastic me keeps this feeling going on for days and with it I have an urge to repeat a meal I particularly enjoyed.'s what I made at home.

Cipolla caramellata nella sfoglia, baccala' mantecato e parmatier al limone e timo, con germogli di ravanello; Caramelized onions, whipped codfish, parmatier with lemon and thyme, topped with radish sprouts.

My adaption was the whipped codfish instead of the restaurant's crisp fried version, just because I didn't feel like frying, and the simple topping with radish sprouts, just because it's good for you :-) and because it gives that extra twist.
BQ8A3115 BQ8A2971

Caramelized Onions, Whipped Codfish, Parmatier with Lemon and Thyme, topped with Radish Sprouts 
serves 4 people
adapted from the restaurant's menu Il Circolo dei Lettori

Caramelized Onion
1 sheet of ready puff pastry - I used the store bought
2 large red onions
4 teaspoons of brown sugar
salt to season
extra virgin olive oil

Cut 4 big round disks of puff pastry using a cookie cutter and fit each in a portion of a muffin tin. Remove the outer skin of two big round onions and slice each in half, horizontal wise. Place the onions in the puff pastry rounds, in the muffin tins.  Drizzle with extra virgin olive oil, season with salt and add 1 teaspoon of brown sugar on each onion. Cook in a preheated oven for 20/30 minutes at 180ºC.  Lower the heat if the onions begin to brown and/or cover with parchment paper.

Parmatier with Lemon and Thyme
1 potato
1 leek
lemon zest
1 tbsp butter
1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
2 cups vegetable stock

In a saucepan, add the butter and extra virgin olive oil, stir in the previously chopped leek and diced potato.  After about 5 minutes add the warm vegetable broth, season with salt, pepper, lemon zest and fresh thyme. Allow to cook until the potatoes are tender. Mesh the mixture through a sieve to to form a smooth cream.

Whipped Codfish
200 gr dry codfish previous soaked and rehydrated or fresh
1 cup milk
extra virgin olive oil

Cook the codfish in 1 cup of milk until tender about 15/30 minutes (depending if you're using fresh or dry previously soaked codfish).  Drain the milk and set the fish aside to cool.  In a blender mix the codfish, add just a pinch of salt and pepper and slowly drizzle in a cup of extra virgin olive oil while it blends.  You can also use a wooden spoon and stir in the oil until the fish fluffs. This procedure is called baccala' mantecato.