There is an everlasting link between some areas of Alto Piemonte that goes beyond historical-political events but feeds on ancient stories hidden in the dusty corners of the municipal library of Borgomanero.
According to the legend, it is here, in the second largest town of the Novara province (after the capital), lying between the picturesque Lake Orta and the glorious Lake Maggiore, which saw the birth of one of the most identifying dishes of this territory: Tapulone. However, what lies behind a very fine donkey stew, perfumed with the sumptuous local red wine, which still animates the Sunday tables of the Alto Piemonte’s families and the September festivals? An ancient tale, straddling reality and legend, marked by the tired steps of a group of pilgrims, thirteen in total. Centuries ago, it was not uncommon to meet them on the way to Lake Orta, on whose mysterious island the remains of San Giulio still rest today.
It is said that the thirteen, on their return from the long and exhausting pilgrimage, seized by hunger pangs, have realized that they have finished all their provisions. So they decided to fall back on the donkey that accompanied them along the way, sacrificing it on the bed of a stream, the Agogna, where afterward, they would have given rise to the present Borgomanero. They crushed the leathery meat of the animal in a very fine mince, cooking it for several hours in abundant red wine from the Novara Hills, from which they came. A linguistic curiosity, a sign of how culinary stories and legends pervade the ways of saying: the thirteen (pilgrims) “pulled” the donkey in a corner to sacrifice it and in the local dialect “tirè i trödzi” means to go to a better life.
Even today, the Tapulone is a culinary symbol of the city of Borgomanero, as a node between the wine area that responds to the names of Boca, Ghemme, Fara, to name a few, and the splendid lake gem of Orta. A common thread between the sacred and the profane, which inextricably unites deeply different territories.
However, how’s the Tapulone prepared? You lose count of all the different recipes, jealously guarded by the local restaurants of the historic center of Borgomanero. A base of opulent beaten lard and extra virgin olive oil is essential, perfumed with chopped blond onion and garlic. Add to the sautéed, laurel and other spices, ranging from rosemary to black pepper, up to the cloves. Minced meat, or tciapulata or ciapulata, in the Piedmontese dialect (from here, Tapulone), is sautéed over high heat. A skillful dose of salt and plenty of local red wine to accompany a slow and delicate cooking of about two hours. In the end, you will get a creamy dish: the meat, thanks to the very small cut, the abundant wine and the fried fat, will be soft and juicy. A variant common to the basic recipe is with the addition of minced cabbage, ideal for a winter dish.
Today, for practicality and for greater difficulty in finding donkey meat, for the decided taste of the meat which may not be appreciated by everyone, the Tapulone is prepared by replacing it entirely or partially with ground beef or horse.
Traditionally, the dish finds its maximum expression with delicate and enveloping contours such as mashed potatoes or the inevitable polenta, to enhance the vinous notes of the stew. The perfect match, which pays homage to another product of excellence in the area, is the Polenta di Beura, the flagship of Val d’Ossola and a member of the Slow Food association. It is a whole-wheat corn flour, rustic and full-bodied, thanks to the high oiliness of the wheat germ, an ancient cultivation that goes well with the historical dishes of the territory. The “Polenta di Beura” project was born in 2012 in order to recover a product that, in the past, has characterized the mountain economy and which, with the advent of the industry, has fallen into oblivion. Today, the agricultural company Mulino San Giorgio, based in Beura, in the province of Verbania, is a proponent of this great recovery, an appropriate throne for a king of local cuisine such as the Tapulone.
The polenta is available here
Until next time,