Let me tell you a bit about Le Alpi … the Alps.
They are one of the great mountain ranges of Europe, present in Austria, Slovenia, Italy, Switzerland, Liechtenstein, Germany and France. It is believed that their name originates from a Celtic word meaning height. Their highest peak is Monte Bianco (Mont Blanc), which reaches 4810 metres into the sky.
Piemonte is surrounded by the Alps to the South, West and North. The squeezing together of the earth’s plates, ice ages and time have all shaped these Alps and made them what they are today. And in that shaping and carving, the Alps surrounding Piemonte were blessed with a multitude of mountain streams and lakes that teem with fish.
While the Piemontesi are meat and game lovers, they have the luxury of an abundance of fish at their disposal, including trout, perch, whitefish and pike. And while Piemontese cuisine is heavy with meat and game dishes that can be quite complex, their preparation of fish reflects the simple and uncomplicated qualities of mountain life. Most fish dishes are simple in preparation: a few herbs, some butter and maybe a few drops of wine.
As I "travel" through Piemonte, I have been thinking about what to make for a main course. It would be so easy to fall back on a truffle dish, as this is the land of the white truffle. And of course there’s the ubiquitous meat with Barolo, or perhaps a dish or two featuring rabbit or pheasant, which are very popular in Piemonte. But I wanted something different; something that would capture the essence of what it’s like to live in a place where fresh fish is so readily available.
In Micol Negrin’s Rustico, I found that dish: Trote all’Astigiana (Baked Trout in Wine-Butter Sauce). Along with fresh trout, sage and rosemary are placed in a baking pan surrounded by onion, lemon and my own addition of fennel. Drizzled with olive oil and some dry white wine, and then topped with a few knobs of butter, the fish is cooked at high heat for a short time. A little bit of butter is added to the pan juices to thicken them and the resulting sauce is poured over the trout. Delicate and moist, this fish represents the essence of Piemonte.
This is what it’s like to live in a land where each morning, the sun touches the mountains around you first.
Trote all’Astigiana (Baked Trout in Wine-Butter Sauce)
Adapted from Rustico by Micol Negrin.
- 3 lbs. rainbow trout, either 4 small trout that have been scaled, slit and gutted, or 2 trout fillets
- salt and pepper
- 4 sage leaves
- 4 rosemary sprigs
- 6 tablespoons (3/4 stick) unsalted butter
- 1 cup dry white wine
- 1 lemon, cut into quarters
- 1 onion, roughly chopped (optional)
- 3 or 4 green onions, cleaned and white parts only (optional)
- 1/2 a fennel bulb, roughly chopped (optional)
- Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.
- Wash and dry the trout. Drizzle some olive oil in a baking pan. If you’re using the onion, green onion and fennel, toss the vegetables in a baking pan with olive oil and a bit of salt and pepper.
- Lay the trout in the pan. Squeeze two of the lemon quarters over the fish and add the lemon quarters, along with the other two quarters to the pan to roast with the fish.
- Scatter the sage leaves and rosemary sprigs over the fish.
- Pour the white wine over the fish.
- Sprinkle with salt and pepper.
- Take 4 tablespoons of the butter, and scatter pieces of the butter over the trout.
- Bake for 15 minutes, or until the trout are cooked.
- Carefully transfer the trout (and vegetables if you’ve used them) to a platter. Place the baking pan on the stove and heat the remaining juices over medium-high heat until they have reduced and thickened, about 5 minutes.
- Stir in the remaining 2 tablespoons of butter. Pour the thickened sauce over the trout and serve immediately.
Note: This recipe serves 4. The original recipe also calls for fresh bay leaves (4) to be scattered over the trout, but here in Toronto it’s tough to find fresh bay leaves and I didn’t want to use dried.