A Weekend Discovering Pizzas in Piedmont

The pizza and Italy, in fact, over time, have managed to create a strong common image. It is almost a symbiosis concerning the historical, cultural and traditional aspects. The existence of this complex local heritage, a sort of 'genius loci', is full of meanings and also symbolic values. It identifies this country and makes certain smells and tastes familiar, and the urban landscape itself.

The unmissable ones are the classic marinara to the Margherita, from the one with the yellow cherry tomatoes of Vesuvius and olives to the pizza with the salami of Faicchio. The days away are a bit all the same, but fortunately, we always arrive at the end of the day. If in Milan you have an aperitif, in Turin you go in a Piola, in Rome in a trattoria, and in Naples, you cannot go but eat pizza.

The pizza is definitely the queen of the country's gastronomic tradition. In some pizzerias it is possible to taste it in its more traditional version, others have focused on innovation. The choice is really wide. From wherever you start, Ovada is a point of arrival. You can come here from the Western Liguria or from the great cities of the North. The feeling will always be that of a small miracle with the discovery of a sweet and welcoming landscape, different from the one we just left behind.

Although the name of Ovada can make us think of grapes, this is only an impression given by the sight of the endless vineyards that surround it. In fact the toponym Ovada comes from Vadum, indicating the fact that already in Roman times the city was a place of transit and therefore also a hub of commerce. The Stura Valley, which connects Genoa and Ovada also through several other municipalities, offers a breathtaking view to the traveler. There are the winding roads, wedged between the green of the Ligurian Apennines and the stream, more or less dry depending on the period. It leads to Ovada through a wild and sweet landscape at the same time is a real emotion to experience.

But it is certainly not less exciting to arrive in this lovely city of Alto Monferrato, during one of the still warm weekends that we managed to rip off in the autumn. Crossing the Po Valley with the desire of the sea in the heart, after the first tunnel of the Trafori motorway, we feel we have arrived in Liguria, while still traveling in the province of Alessandria.

The landscape changes right here and within a few kilometers, the endless expanses of Piedmont give way to the hills and the sight of blue mountains in the distance. The monotony is pleasantly interrupted by the vision of colored houses, of castles that dominate the valleys, and of a lot of green. To get to the sea it would take another twenty minutes. But the fascinating highway route of bends and tunnels can be tackled even later. We want to stop right here.

Ovada is rich in monuments and churches of great historical and cultural value, such as the seventeenth-century Church of Our Lady of the Assumption. It with its two tall bell towers and dome draws the characteristic Ovada skyline. The city has given birth to a series of prominent figures from the world of the arts, including the nineteenth-century composer Antonio Rebora. It is to whom the city's School of Music is dedicated.

In the center, we also see the church of the Immaculate Conception. It is managed by the Franciscans of the adjacent convent. We also see the church of Santa Maria Delle Grazie, founded by the Dominicans in the 15th century. In via San Paolo, we admire the birthplace of San Paolo della Croce, declared a national monument since 1918.

Our walk through historic buildings, pretty gardens, and characteristic caruggi takes us with a discreet peck into the central Via Ruffini. Known for its fresh fish, excellent pizzas, and focaccias, the place is loved by those looking for quality at a friendly price.

We sit in the spacious hall, ideal for private parties and birthdays, furnished with style and elegance. There is as well as the characteristic room with brick vaults that is open during the weekends. To contribute to the family atmosphere are also beautiful vintage images of the historic center of Ovada on the walls, in addition to the slates that tease us with the details of the menu. From our table, we can see the spectacular wood-burning oven from which delicious pizzas and focaccia come out one after the other.

After tasting the various specialties of the restaurants, we can confirm that we could not imagine being treated better. The fresh fish comes three times a week directly from Savona, and we are fortunate to be here in just one of those days.

So we start with a nice mixed seafood appetizer. We continue with the exquisite first courses like the fish ravioli with scampi with cream and the linguine with seafood. Let's water these goodness with excellent white wines, both of the territories, such as Gavi, but not only. The labels change periodically and there are wines from different regions. Among the main courses of fish, we taste the swordfish cut with rocket and tomatoes, the sea bass in the foil, while some of us choose a rich grill of mixed fish.

A part of our group opts for the irresistible focaccia and pizzas, tasting the legendary Recco type focaccia. It is available in different varieties besides the classic one with stracchino and gorgonzola, with cooked ham, with pesto, with culatello and even with porcini mushrooms.

The pizzas are leavened for a long time. The dough is prepared in the evening for the next day, which makes them very digestible. I greatly appreciate the presence of pizzas made with whole wheat flour. At the sight of the pizza menu, we all experience a pleasant embarrassment of choice. In addition to the classic tastes, we find many imaginative and appetizing varieties such as "cowboy" pizza, with tomato, mozzarella, sausage, beans, bacon and onion.

There was also "atomic" pizza, with gorgonzola and sausage. The marinated pizzas are also very good, like the "Alassio" with mixed fish. There is the one with shrimps and rocket or the pizza with fried squid. There is also a wide selection of white pizzas for all tastes. It includes pizza with fontina and walnuts, with pesto, stracchino, boiled potatoes, and walnuts or "Ufo" pizza, with truffle cream, cream, mozzarella, ham and mushrooms.

Here we enjoy a nice dinner even those who are particularly attentive to nutrition and to the line. Not only thanks to the choice of pizzas with whole wheat flour, opting perhaps for a vegetarian seasoning, but also by choosing one of the light dishes.

We also indulge in a rich parade of desserts, representing an irresistible temptation, starting with the homemade cake. We choose from tiramisu, white pannacotta, Nutella pannacotta, and Chantilly cake. Those who still feel in the summer, choose a good ice cream or one of the various delicious parfaits, but also like the Nutella crepes drowned in coffee or whiskey.

Every day I think exactly the same thing. They should not allow them to saturate the air with that wonderful fragrance at that time! Turning the corner,s the scent of freshly baked pizza hits my nostrils overwhelmingly and descends directly to the stomach to tempt me into temptation. How do you resist pizza at the Pizzerias of the country?

I cannot and then I stand patiently in line until I get in front of the counter to choose the pizza directly from the pans beyond the glass. Potatoes, mozzarella, and gorgonzola, spianata with olives or simply pizza with tomato sauce (but also with spicy salami or mushrooms or asparagus). They are all worth it!

You can eat standing next to the bar counter, while sitting on the bench in the long side of the room or gathered around the only table, in the corner, to the right of the entrance. What matters is only the pizza!

Thanks to this trip, which I hope to repeat soon, I have learned that Alto Monferrato is not only a land of good wines. There are also excellent pizzas, and when you sit down at the table to enjoy a plate of fresh fish, it seems to be out of the sea.
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  • Felicity Grace Terry
    Felicity Grace Terry March 26, 2012 at 8:05 AM

    Such amazing facts about one of my favourite foods. I love the idea of the 'twelve pizzas'.

  • ashok
    ashok March 26, 2012 at 10:25 AM

    yummy post!

  • anthony stemke
    anthony stemke March 26, 2012 at 6:38 PM

    I love pizza, have baked hundreds. Your facts are interesting and your recipe is lovely.

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