Saturday, 30 July 2011

S.P.Q.R. (or the rice balls on the phone...)

When I am feeling home nostalgic and the only place I would like to do is walking on the river bank or enjoying the little wine bars and trattoria of Trastevere, or a grattachecca in front of the Tiberina island, the only way to face the blue is to cook something traditional and bring my mind back home with Roman flavours.
This is why once again here I am writing about some Roman local recipes. Most of the time the result will be extremely tasty and quite fat, but that's how we like it, sometimes!
This time is going to be a starter whose name will be difficult to pronounce and also slightly weird: suppli' al telefono(on the phone).

Before explaining why are they called this way here is the recipe…
You will need to prepare a light ragout, with onions, carrots, olive oil and minced beef. Suppli could be done with a simple tomato sauce as well but personally I prefer the meaty ones. It is important though not to exceed with the ragout…it has to colour and lightly dress the rice, nothing more.
Boil the rice, mix it with the ragout and leave it on a side. Originally suppli' were done with the rice left over from the day before but this was when people was not wasting food as there was not that much available.
When the rice will be cold, then mix an egg and whisk another one in a bowl to use later. Make some balls with rice sized and shaped like a big egg and put 2 mozzarella cube in the middle. Then pass the rice balls in the whisked egg and in breadcrumbs and finally deep fry it in hot oil.

Golden rules:
- do not fry them for too long, their colour should be golden brown, not too dark.
- eat them when still hot…when you bite it the mozzarella inside should melt and follow you creating a white line between your mouth and the rest of the suppli…like a phone wire….and that's why "on the phone"!
- have a glass of wine from the Castelli Romani…a Frascati or a Marino, something simple and light but with a lively acidity to clear your mouth.

PS: If you are in Rome you will be able to find them in any Pizzeria al taglio or Rosticceria, those typical kind of takeaway places, but the best in town are for sure the ones from the Pizzeria Ai Marmi in Trastevere, also locally called Obitorio (mortuary) for its marble tables without table clothes…you will have to queue for them but you'll be highly rewarded!


Thursday, 28 July 2011

Celebrating wine for 15 days!!

In the middle of Italy, south of Tuscany, in a small city called Montefiascone a 15 days long wine festival is about to begin.

The town is in a dramatic position on a hill overlooking Bolsena volcanic lake and it is very rich in history being in a area where Etruscans and Romans used to leave and where during the more recent centuries popes and important ecclesiastic personality stayed.
The festival is going to start next Sunday and will consist of concerts, meetings and processions with ancient traditional costumes but most important it will celebrate the most important wine of the area: the white Est! Est!! Est!!! 
The wine's name has a curious and legendary origin. It is said that a German bishop on his way to Rome had sent his servant ahead in order to find the best places to drink good wine. The servant used to stop, try the wines and if they were worth he used to write with chalk on the door Est (Latin translation for  "it is"). But when he got to Montefiascone (couple of hours away from Rome) he was impressed by this light and refreshing blend of Trebbiano and Malvasia Bianca and wanted to highlitght the pleasure of his experience with an enthusiastic triple Est! Probably this is just a legend, but someone says that when the bishop arrived he decided to stay and lately died here, and his tomb is in the Basilica di San Flaviano on the Route Franchigena.
I am not sure if the story is fiction made up to attract interest over a wine that it's considered by 2 of the main wine personalities (Hugh Johnson & Jancis Robinson) "the dullest white wine with the strangest name in the world" but I know the festival and the wine….It's true the wine is very simple, quite plain with a light aromatic flavour of green apple and a good acidity, and it lacks of structure and complexity but the festival is great fun.
So if it happens you to be in the area in the next 2-3 weeks have a tour and for 15€ you could have a walk in the historical cellars in the centre of the city and taste all wines from around 10 producers…and trust me it will be fun!!!

Sunday, 24 July 2011

Are you drinking Glera or Prosecco?!

Has anyone ever heard of Glera? Certainly not that many, at least not before 2009. This is the year when names and appellations have slightly changed in Prosecco.
To legally protect this wine from the venturous productions coming from countries such as China or South America, and to defend its origins, the name of the grape, since then commonly referred as Prosecco, has been changed to Glera.
Prosecco is actually a clone of Glera. And Glera is a really ancient grape variety grown mainly in the area around Trieste in Friuli Venezia Giulia and more specifically around a little town called Prosecco and later spread in Veneto. I know that now the story could sound confusing, but it's not.
The good thing is that the name of the wine has not changed and of course neither its taste. But now when you will be buying a bottle of Prosecco you will be sure that it will be coming from Italy. Two top appellations (DOCG) have also been created: Prosecco di Conegliano Valdobbiadene and Colli Asolani produced in Veneto in the heart of Prosecco evolution and development, and one minor (DOC) in an area in between Veneto and Friuli Venezia Giulia, where the grape has its origins. But on the back of the label as it happens for a lot of Italian wines, you could find Glera grape specified.
Once said that and leaving the boring legal part on a side, either if you call it Prosecco or Glera what you will have a light, fruity and refreshing aperitif. And please do not even try to compare it to Champagne. This is a totally different thing. Better or not it depends mainly on taste, but totally different.
Champagne is champagne. It is made from 3 grapes: Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier and Chardonnay. It is produced in Champagne region only. And the second fermentation takes place in the bottle. Finally a long ageing period on the lees gives the wine a deep complexity and buttery and yeasty notes.
Prosecco is Prosecco. It is made from Glera. It is produced in North of Italy. The second fermentation happens following the Charmat method in bulk tanks to finally being bottled under pressure. The resulting wine is fruity, fresh and aromatic.
The only common thing is the presence of bubbles, and even the bubbles are different!!

Sunday, 17 July 2011

A night in Italy or on your "Italian" sofa

If you are dreaming of a trip to Italy to discover the beauty and flavours of what it's called the Bel Paese (the beautiful country), well I can help you to do that staying on your sofa. I know it is not going to be exactly the same, but trust me: following my suggestions you will taste a bit of Italy. And those sensations, perfumes and flavours will bring your mind directly there!
You will have to buy some "magic" ingredients that are quite rare, but not totally impossible to be found.

First ingredient is a cheese. But it is not a normal,common cheese.It's called Pecorino di Fossa, it is  mainly from sheep milk but the recipe allows as well some cow's or goat's and it is originally from Sogliano al Rubicone a little city in Emilia Romagna, not that far from the Adriatic coast.  It has ancient origins and goes for a particular and long (around 10 months) ageing process that gives it intense and singular aromas. When ready, the cheeses are kept in cellar conditions till the beginning of August when they are going to be wrapped with leaves, put in large cotton bags and  stored in tufaceous hollows (fossa), closed with wooden lids. The cheeses will then stay there for 90 days and will be taken out on November the 25th, Saint Catherine day, with a large traditional feast in the city. This process is responsible for the unusual and poignant flavours of the Pecorino. It is rich, pungent, vegetal, spicy ad has complex aromas of musk, truffles and wood.

Second ingredient is arbutus (corbezzolo) honey. Of course this is not an ordinary honey. It is actually quite rare and produced mainly in Sardinia and Tuscany. It is very healthy, it has antiseptic properties and it is supposed to be a very effective natural remedy for asthma. But these are not the reasons for my choice. This honey has a nutty colour and herbaceous aromas, but also a particular perfume of untoasted coffee beans. It is sweet only at the beginning, then slightly astringent and has a final, persistent and surprising bitter twist. Its intensity will make a perfect match with our Pecorino and it will sharpen its fragrances, balancing the spiciness. 
If this in still not enough to bring your senses miles away and make you feel like sitting in an traditional trattoria...maybe you need a  good bottle of red! In this case there would be plenty to suggest but my personal choice tonight is going to be Aglianico. This deep and masculine red from Basilicata (or Campania) with its strong, powerful tannins will finally clear your mouth and will leave you with a persistent desire of turning this dream into reality.

Tuesday, 12 July 2011

Surprise: you can even drink red wine in Summertime!!

Maybe you are not a white wine drinker. And even if you are certainly missing the chance to taste amazing wines, there is nothing wrong with it. But in summertime when magazine's columns are all about "refreshing, crisp and cool" white wines, I am sure that your only desire is to find the right red to drink in a park under the sun!
You will then probably be surprised to know that there is plenty of choice to relive your thirst! Possibly you don't even know that most of these wines can be even slightly chilled. And no sommelier or wine expert would be shocked about that (and if they are...well then don't trust them!!).
If your first thought of good red wines for the summer days is Beaujolais,well, you are not wrong but I can tell you there is much more than that out of there! Keeping your choice in France but moving Western in Loire Valley you can enjoy the refreshing, crisp, light to medium bodied Saint-Nicolas de Bourgueil, Chinon and Saumur Champigny all made mainly from Cabernet Franc and all characterized by fruity aromas and good acidity. Particular scents of lead pencil (graphite) can be smelled in the first two. It is a must for people from Loire valley to serve these wines chilled in summer.
Leaving France for Italy, you can taste different things from various Northern regions. In Piedmont you can choose between a crisp and dry Barbera and a more tannic and less acidic Dolcetto. Both can be easy drinking wines especially in their youth. Dolcetto is full of ripe berries such as black cherry but can show liquorice aromas sometimes, while Barbera is definitely more about red fruit and plums. Moving further in Trentino Alto Adige there is a cheerful, unpretentious local wine called Marzemino that is extremely enjoyable. It is light, fruity with hints of violet and has a light body. Again I would chill a bit before drinking it! Same region but different wine: Lagrein. In this case you could actually choose to go lighter in colour and taste the great pink version. But if you'll go red then you will find forest fruits and vegetal flavours, a medium body and a fine bitter twist.
And there would be much more to list...Grignolino, Bardolino, Freisa....but I cannot list only Italian wines, so let's move to Bierzo. Mencia is the grape used in red wine production in this region of North -Western Spain, and can give very different wines depending on the producer and the style they choose. Most of them are subtle and original with an interesting complexity, a refreshing acidity and medium intensity of dark berries.
Last but not unusual Austrian wine: St Laurent.The grape is originally from Alsace and probably related to Pinot Noir and very similar to this even if  more robust. It is characterized by a lively acidity and red fruit aromas especially fresh sour-cherry. It is a very elegant wine and can age well if produced in low yields.
And now finally, just to be sure that you will enjoy your wines at their best, please make sure you keep them in fridge for not more than half an hour....we don't want to loose their perfumes.

Saturday, 9 July 2011

Bites of pleasure

Cheese and wine is a classic match. A never ending, successful relationship that will always give you pleasure and sometimes can intensely surprise.

Most sommelier know that sweet wines enhance the sharpness and saltiness of blue cheeses. This is why matching an English Stichelton from Nottinghamshire with some Muscat de Rivelsates from Cazes (Roussillon - France) can be such a great combination. Stichelton is very similar to the most famous Stilton but the unpasteurised milk gives it a creamier, more delicate and fruitier taste that match perfectly with the fine sweet aromatic flavours of exotic fruits, apricot and peach of the Muscat. The well balanced natural acidity of the wine will then finally clear the buttery texture of the cheese leaving a long and intense sensation in your mouth.
A less usual and very interesting food and wine marriage would come out pairing an aged Comte' with a Chablis Premier Cru such as the Laroche 1er Cru Les Clos.  

Comte' is an aristocratic, elegant and voluptuous cheese especially if long aged. A 24 months is outstandingly aromatic and rich and the stoney character and fine flower aromas of the Chablis 1er Cru Les Clos are going to be a great partner for it. The wine will enhance the nuttiness of the cheese and will extend the flavours in your mouth with a very long finish balancing the richness of the cheese with its powerful minerality and fine complexity and structure.This is a noble and sensual match.
It is a tasting experience that will open your senses and will leave you memories of pleasure.

Pictures taken at Liberty Wines stand at Imbibe