Category — Wine
Charles and I are talking about wine and food on the new i-Italy TV show about all things Italian in New York which premiered this past weekend on NY Public TV Channel 25. If you missed Episode 1, here is a link to it on You Tube:
The show airs weekly Saturdays at 11PM repeated Sunday at 1PM.
November 28, 2012 No Comments
Charles and I always enjoy having dinner at the home of our friends Diane Darrow and Tom Maresca, who are both great cooks. Here is a link to a post I wrote a while back about a dinner at their house: http://michelescicolone.com/dinner-commissario-montalbano/.
They’ve just written a mini ecookbook, featuring 10 of their recipes for tomato-based pasta sauces. They tell interesting stories in their headnotes, and Tom provides wine recommendations for each dish. Here’s an example:
Farfalle with Calabrian Tomato Sauce
Copyright © 2012 Diane Darrow and Tom Maresca
What makes a dish Calabrian? In Italy, that’s a no-brainer: “peperoncino rosso piccante,” or “hot red peppers,” used liberally. It must be the bracing mountain air and the rugged countryside that makes Calabrians so fond of what they call “diavolillo,” or “little devil.” Though Calabria is far in Italy’s south, a lot of it is upland, and we guess it takes a lot of hot red pepper to ward off the night’s chill. At least that’s the best explanation we can come up with for this region’s conspicuous fondness for peppery dishes. We’ve moderated that tendency somewhat in this tasty recipe, but if you want the heavy-caliber experience, by all means add more peperoncino.
Whenever we’re traveling anywhere in Italy from Rome to Sicily, we take the opportunity to restock our supply of these hot peppers, which keep very well in the refrigerator for months. Just one of them, seethed briefly in olive oil, gives an intriguing lift to many sauces. However, it’s important to remember to remove the little devil before serving the dish, lest one unsuspecting diner bite into a morsel of heat that sizzles the tonsils.
This recipe is as simple as our rigatoni with mushroom sauce. The zinginess of dried hot red pepper is further enriched by the combination with pancetta, the air-cured but unsmoked bacon that’s widely used throughout central and southern Italy as a starting point for pasta sauces. Different regions cure it slightly differently: It may be almost entirely unspiced or completely covered with crushed black pepper. Guess which kind Calabria prefers.
Wine: The regionally correct choice would be Ciro (Librandi makes a good one), but Ciro is hard to find here. Primitivo would work, as would a fruity Zinfandel or even a Syrah. Or you could go completely against the grain and serve a sprightly white wine with this dish — maybe a Falanghina or a top-quality Frascati, like Fontana Candida’s Luna Mater.
4 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 cup chopped onion
2 ounces chopped pancetta
2 pounds plum tomatoes, puréed in a food mill or processor
1 dried peperoncino rosso (or substitute 1 pinch crushed red pepper)
1/2 cup chopped fresh basil
1 pound imported Italian farfalle
Freshly grated pecorino romano (optional)
Heat the olive oil over low heat in a nonreactive skillet. Add the onion and pancetta and cook 5 to 7 minutes, until the onion is soft and the pancetta has released its fat. Don’t let the onion brown or the pancetta crisp. Add the puréed tomatoes and the peperoncino. Stir thoroughly and cook on a simmer uncovered for 30 minutes, or until the sauce thickens nicely. Remove the peperoncino and stir in the basil and salt to taste.
Bring a large pot of water and 1 tablespoon of salt to a boil. Cook the farfalle until al dente. Drain in a colander, transfer to a warmed serving bowl and toss with the sauce. Serve at once, passing the grated cheese at the table for those who like it.
“Not the Same Old Spaghetti Sauce,” published by Hang Time Press, is available from Amazon, Barnes&Noble.com, and iTunes for $2.99. For more info about Diane and Tom, check out their very entertaining websites at http://dianescookbooks.wordpress.com/ and http://ubriaco.wordpress.com/.
July 5, 2012 2 Comments
Of all the regional cooking styles of Italy, none is so misunderstood as Tuscan. Traditionally, Tuscan food is as simple as can be — a handful of good ingredients and simple techniques add up to memorable eating. I was reminded of that last week at a dinner hosted by the Sada Family of Fattoria Carpoli with a menu prepared by Emanuele Vallini of Ristorante La Carabaccia in Bibbona, Tuscany.
We began with a passed fritto misto of coccoli, fried bread dumplings, zucchini flowers, and sage leaves accompanied by the Sada family’s fresh and citrussy Vermentino Toscana IGT 2010. The fritti were perfectly fried and charmingly presented in cones of brown paper, so they were easy to enjoy as we stood around and sipped our wine.
In the dining room, Davide Sada told us about how he founded the winery in 1998 in the beautiful coastal region of Tuscany known as the Maremma. He spoke with pride about the food of the region and introduced the first course, pappa al pomodoro, a thick soup made with stale bread, ripe tomatoes, basil, and extra virgin olive oil. He explained that in Tuscany, stale bread was either fed to the chickens, or used to make pappa. The beautifully orangey-red soup was delicately spicy and also matched well with the Vermentino.
Farro della Garfagnana, spelt cooked with pancetta and leeks, was molded into a disk and served on a sweet bell pepper cream and topped with frizzled leeks. The smoky bacon flavor complemented the sweetness of the peppers and crisp leeks. With it we drank the Integolo Toscana IGT 2009, a blend of 60% cabernet sauvignon and 40% Montepulciano, which Mr. Sada said he had developed as an everyday drinking wine. At under $15 per bottle, I could see enjoying this wine with a wide variety of foods.
Tuscans are great soup eaters, so our next course was another classic of the region. According to Signor Sada, Caterina di Medici brought the recipe for Florentine onion soup with her to France and taught the cooks at the French court to make this classic dish. I think I’ve heard that one before! The slow cooked red onions were sweet and tangy. The crowning touch was an egg yolk in its shell to add or not, as you preferred. It brought a creamy richness to the luscious soup. With that we drank the Baldoro Toscana IGT, a robust wine meant for aging.
The filet of pork in an an herb and walnut crust was the next course. Pork filet is not the tastiest cut, but the flavorful crust enhanced it and the meat was cooked to rosy perfection. It went beautifully with the Carpoli Toscana IGT 2006. This was Mr. Sada’s Super Tuscan wine, and it had big ripe red fruit flavors.
Dessert was a masterpiece of simplicity: a luscious cream of mascarpone, blended with crumbled cantucci, the classic Tuscan almond dipping cookie and a few berries. The finishing touch was a glass of espresso to pour over the dessert as you wished. I loved the combination with the sweet and concentrated Vermentino Toscana IGT 2008, a late harvest dessert wine. What could be simpler, or more elegant?
Signor Sada told us that this is the kind of food they eat and wine they drink in Tuscany every day. He added that he firmly believed that if you work in quality, you will be happy. After a dinner as good as this one, I think that he must be very happy indeed.
September 22, 2011 No Comments
In Italian,” finire a tarallucci e vino” (literally, to finish up with cookies and wine), means to say that there was a happy ending. At the Tarallucci e Vino restaurant at 15 East 18 Street near Union Square in NYC,we were happy not just with the ending of the meal, but everything else from appetizers to dessert.
We had the tasting menu, so we got to try a number of different things. My photos don’t really do them justice, so I’ll just post a few of the best ones. Above is a roasted sea scallop with wild mushrooms and a poached quail egg.
Among the starters were these fried sage leaves stuffed with anchovies and mozzarella. I like to stuff zucchini blossoms this way, but this inspired combination means that I can make them even when the blossoms are not available. The sauce was nice and fresh, but the crunchy sage and tasty filling really didn’t need it. Many more good things followed.
Did I mention the bread basket? Charles could not stop eating the flatbread flavored with squid ink, rosemary and olive oil. I know it sounds odd, but take my word for it, I was glad he ate it all so I could not. There were also warm little baguettes and olive rolls.
We’ve long been fans of Tarallucci e Vino and weekend mornings often find us there enjoying one of New York’s best cappuccinos and a perfect Italian-style cornetto. On our recent trip to Abruzzo, we met Lorenzo, who is the manager for all 4 of the restaurant’s branches. He invited us to come by for dinner to the 18th Street location and we were glad we did. It’s one of New York’s best kept Italian restaurant secrets. The place was cozy and the atmosphere lively. Charles had only good things to say about the wine list and in honor of our last trip ordered the Cantina Frentana Coccociola, an unusual white wine from Abruzzo, and the Emidio Pepe 2003 Montepulciano d’Abruzzo, which was superb.
August 1, 2011 1 Comment
Last week, Charles and I spent a few days in Rome, then headed to Abruzzo. Here is my Roman favorite dish his trip, the Spaghettoni alla Carbonara at Roscioli. The bits of guanciale were chunkier than usual and had been fried until crisp around the edges. The sauce was perfectly made, with just eggs and cheese and lots of black pepper. Perfection!
In Abruzzo, we stayed in the area known as the Costiera dei Trabocchi where we were the guests of the Cantina Frentana winery. Trabocchi are wooden platforms built for fishermen that are now used as restaurants. For a better look at them, see my blog on the i-Italy website. Not surprisingly, the star attraction in this area is very fresh seafood.
The last one above had tiny little lamb meatballs tangled in spaghetti alla chitarra, fresh pasta made on a chitarra, a wooden frame strung with thin wires used to cut sheets of fresh pasta into long square spaghetti.
Cheese, of course, was only served on pasta with meat sauce. A plate of long, skinny fresh green chilies was passed with every pasta.
July 16, 2011 No Comments
Joel Peterson, the owner of Ravenswood Winery, has been called both a vino-revolutionary and the godfather of zinfandel. That may be, but it doesn’t give you any idea of how knowledgeable he is, or that he is a delightful dining companion. You may already have guessed that he makes a superb line of California zinfandels. Joel was in town last week and together with some other writers, I had a chance to chat with him and taste his new vintages over lunch at A Voce in the Time Warner Center. As far as I’m concerned, there is no better way to taste a wine than to accompany it with food, and A Voce turned out to be the perfect choice.
Joel organized the tasting in 3 flights. We began with the lightest wine, the Dickerson Zinfandel, named for the vineyard where the grapes are grown. This wine is made from 100% zinfandel grapes. As soon as I lifted my glass, I noticed the aroma — like a big bowl of fresh ripe raspberries. It was a perfect way to the start the tasting and went great with the first course, crisp fried cassoncini, little turnovers filled with crescenza, a creamy cheese, and swiss chard, plus tender sliced prosciutto and stracchino, a soft cheese best known as the stuffing in burrata, and fresh fava beans. Then we moved on to the Big River Zinfandel, also 100% zinfandel, which had a more subtle fruit aroma and concentrated flavor. The third wine in the flight was the Belloni Zinfandel made from a blend of grapes. Joel described the aroma as dark fruit like plums, which was true, and boysenberry, but since I ‘m not sure I know what boysenberry smells like I’ll have to take his word for that.
Joel made it clear that he wants to avoid what he called the “3 sins of Zin”: high alcohol, high sugar, and too much oak. With the next course we drank Barricia Zinfandel fom the vineyard of the same name, made with 76% zinfandel grapes blended with petite sirah. This wine was more complex than the first three with a better balance. The Old Hill Zinfandel, so called because the vines are thought to be the oldest in Sonoma, went great with my pasta, Sagne alla Amatriciana. Sagne is a wide fresh pasta ribbon and in this version it was sauced with a smooth tomato sauce flecked with smokey bacon and fresh marjoram. The wine tasted of dark cherries with a rich leathery quality. The bacon, tomatoes and spicy pecorino cheese on the tender pasta matched up with the wine beautifully. The Teldeschi Zinfandel was particularly interesting to me. Joel said that the blend of 4 grape varieties — zinfandel, petite sirah, Carignane and Alicante Bouschet — used were originally planted by Italian immigrants and this wine was a favorite with traditional grape growing families.
We ended with two more wines. According to Joel, the ICON Mixed Blacks was the wine that should have been and would have been made in California if it had not been for Prohibition. The blend of grapes is the same as the above Teldeschi, but the proportion of zinfandel is much lower — 37% for ICON as opposed to the 75% in the Teldeschi. That’s why the ICON cannot be called a zinfandel on the label. To go with the wine, I had grilled quail glazed with fig reduction resting on a bed of fregula, tiny Sardinian pasta similar to couscous. This was outstanding and the flavors of the fig glaze and grilled meat were an ideal match with the robust flavors of the ICON and the final wine of the day, the Pickberry Red. This is a Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon blend that shows promise, and will really come into its own with a few years of aging.
June 27, 2011 No Comments