Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Garden's Last Hurrah Soup

By this time of year, if your garden is like mine, you've already ripped out the last vestiges of any edible plants. Before putting the garden to rest for the winter however, I harvested the remaining kale and put it to good use in this soup, especially welcome now that cold weather is upon us. It's got everything you need for supper in one bowl - protein (sausage and white beans); vegetables (kale and tomatoes) and carbohydrates (potatoes). I cooked it all in this brand new Le Creuset pot (more about that at the end.)
 The kale I grow is lacinato kale, sometimes called dinosaur kale or cavolo nero in Italian, where it's commonly used in ribollita. But you can use any kind of kale you've got, or use Swiss chard or spinach, for that matter. It all depends on your taste and what's available to you. 
It's ready to eat after about 45 minutes of cooking on the stove. Add a couple of slices of bread and sit down to a satisfying, filling and nutritious meal. 
Now about that Le Creuset pot. Mine was discolored and more than 40 years old. After reading on Adri Barr Crocetti's blog about how the company replaced her old, stained pot with a new one, I thought I'd contact them too. I did, and they replaced mine with the beauty you see above. (Merry Christmas!) They aren't kidding when they say their product has a "lifetime limited warranty." If you've got a discolored, but otherwise non-chipped or damaged Le Creuset pot and want to contact them, call the company's toll-free number at 1-877-418-5547 or email them at Consumer-Services@LeCreuset.com.

Sausage, Bean, Kale and Potato Soup

2 Italian sausage links (about 1/2 pound)
1/2 cup red onion, minced
2 T. olive oil
3 stalks celery, minced
2 cloves garlic, minced
4 cups chicken broth
1 cup dry white wine
1 parmesan cheese rind
1 cup sliced small potatoes (like fingerling potatoes)
1 15 oz. can small white beans, rinsed (about 2 cups)
1 bunch of lacinato kale (about four cups chopped)
1 cup diced tomatoes
red pepper flakes, to taste
3 or 4 sprigs fresh oregano (or 1 t. dried oregano)
salt, pepper
optional - another cup of water

Sauté the sausage links in a pan smeared with a small bit of olive oil and cook through. Remove the sausage from the pot, add the 2 T. olive oil, the onion, celery and garlic and cook until softened. Slice the sausage and put it back in the pot, adding the wine. Bring to a boil and add the chicken broth and the rest of the ingredients. Let everything come to the boil, then reduce to a simmer and cook for about 45 minutes. Add another cup of water if the soup is too dense for you, or if you want to stretch it a bit. Remove the parmesan rind before serving.
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Thursday, November 13, 2014

Potato Gnocchi

When I was growing up, my mother used to make gnocchi in the basement kitchen (don't all Italians have a basement kitchen?). The table would be covered in trays containing dozens and dozens of gnocchi that she made with love for her family. My mom was a great cook, whose spaghetti sauce was the best, whose eggplant parmesan was beyond wonderful, but her gnocchi?  Well, let's just say that they weren't her strong suit. Gnocchi should be light, almost melt in your mouth when you're eating them, but it's not easy to get that consistency. Many times they're leaden bombs rather than fluffy pillows. There are a couple of pointers you need to know in order to achieve those light-as-air gnocchi. By the way, gnocchi is the plural, and gnocco is the singular. But whoever ate just one gnocco? Well, maybe if they're the leaden bomb type you did. 
The first thing to do is not to boil your potatoes, but to bake them in the oven - no foil or anything else covering them. This will help eliminate some of the moisture in the potato. And that leads me to the second point - not too much flour. The more flour you add, the heavier the gnocchi will be. If your potatoes are too moist, then you'll have to use more flour to make a dough that will stick together properly. And that will make for heavier gnocchi. So bake the potatoes, rather than boil them, to eliminate some of the moisture.
Peel them while they're hot - as soon as you can handle them - and press them through a potato ricer. If you don't have one of these, try using a cheese grater. Spread out the "riced" potatoes on a cookie sheet and let everything cool.
I put the potatoes on a board and make a well for the egg, just as if you're making pasta. But you can use a bowl if you prefer. Mix in the egg, salt and pepper, then add the parmesan cheese and part of the flour. Don't add the full amount all at once. Using your hands, just keep incorporating a bit of flour until you have a soft dough that holds together. If the dough is stiff, you're going to have heavy gnocchi, so just add a little flour at a time.  (Do I sound like a broker record here?) You might need only one cup, you might need 1 1/2 cups. A lot depends on the size of the potatoes, and the flour and the humidity of the day.
Don't overwork the dough. Just work it long enough to shape it into a fat log, then cut the log into smaller portions. Take each portion, one at a time, and roll into a long "snake."
 Cut the "snake" into small pieces - 1/2 inch thick or so - an roll it over a gnocchi paddle. If you haven't got one, do as my mom did and use a fork to create the ridges. 
 Some restaurants don't make any ridges at all, but rather serve the gnocchi as is. I think the ridges serve to help the sauce cling better, but also they make for a prettier appearance.

At this point, if you've followed the recipe below, you should have a couple of cookie sheets of these cute little dumplings - maybe 120 - 150 or so. They're best when eaten fresh the same day, but you can freeze them too, plopping them into the boiling water from their frozen state. I've even served the frozen ones to company - they're perfectly acceptable, but they're more fragile and do have a tendency to disintegrate more easily in the cooking water when you boil them. Like most things, fresh is best.
You can serve them with tomato sauce, as my mom always did, or try something different, like the accompaniment below, of butternut squash, caramelized onions, swiss chard and mushrooms.  
 Or serve them with a roasted red pepper sauce. Once you're tried these traditional potato gnocchi, you'll want to experiment with other types too, like these butternut squash gnocchi here or these ricotta and swiss chard gnocchi with a red pepper sauce here.

Potato Gnocchi

3 large brown-skinned baking potatoes
1 large egg
1 t. salt
1/4 t. white pepper
pinch of grated nutmeg
1/4 c. parmesan cheese
1 1/2 cups flour (or more if needed)

Bake the potatoes uncovered in a 375 degree oven for about an hour or until done. Remove from oven and when you can handle them, peel them. Put chunks of the potato through a ricer and spread on a cookie sheet. Let it cool completely, then mix with the egg, salt, pepper and nutmeg and cheese. Add flour, 1/4 cup at a time. You may not need all 1 1/2 cups flour, just add enough until the dough comes together and you can roll it out in a "log." Cut the log into four or five pieces, then take each piece and roll it out like a snake, about 1/2 inch to 3/4 inch thick. Take each gnocco and make an imprint on it, using either a fork or a gnocchi paddle. The recipe makes from 120 to 150 gnocchi.

Butternut Squash, Mushroom and Swiss Chard "sauce" for gnocchi

butternut squash, about two cups diced into small pieces
1 onion, thinly sliced
2 cups sliced cremini mushrooms
5 or 6 large leaves Swiss chard, chopped roughly, stems eliminated
about 1/4 cup olive oil
salt, pepper
4 or 5 sage leaves, minced
2 small sprigs rosemary, minced (about 1 t.)

Take 2 T. of the olive oil and sauté the onions with it in a saucepan, until they're golden and caramelized, about 1/2 hour or so. Remove from pan and add a couple more tablespoons of oil and the squash. Saute until cooked through, adding a little water to the pan to keep the squash from sticking. Remove from pan. Do the same thing with the Swiss chard, and remove from pan. With the remaining olive oil, sauté the mushrooms at high heat. When they're cooked, put the onions and squash back into the pan with the mushrooms and season, with salt, pepper and the herbs. 

Cook the gnocchi in boiling salted water. They'll need only a few minutes to cook. When they rise to the surface, they're done. Gently strain them from the water with a slotted spoon or "spider" and place them in the saucepan with the butternut squash, onions and mushrooms. Mix everything gently, drizzling more olive oil on top and sprinkling with parmesan cheese.

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Friday, November 7, 2014


It's been open only a month and they're packing them in every night. The widely anticipated opening last month of Brigantessa, on Philly's East Passyunk Ave., - a hot-spot in the city's restaurant scene - lives up to every bit of expectations. And why wouldn't it, when you've got a talented, three-time James Beard nominated chef (Joe Cicala) and visionary owners of the hugely successful Le Virtù (Francis Cratil Cretarola and Cathy Lee) backing it.  What Le Virtù does exceedingly well for Abruzzese cuisine, Brigantessa does for Southern Italian cuisine in general. 
It calls itself a "forneria meridionale," meaning a place that features Southern Italian wood oven cooking. Living up to its name, the back of the house is dominated by a monster wood-fired oven imported from Naples used for cranking out delicious pizza. Joe spent time there to learn Neapolitan pizza making techniques and earn his "pizza verace" certificate. His attention to detail has paid off. But Brigantessa is more than just another pizza joint. 
Brigantessa - whose name comes from the female brigands who fought against Northern Italian domination in the late 1800s - features a very reasonably priced menu with inventive selections not typically found at Italian restaurants in the U.S. When was the last time you ate smoky-infused broccoli romanesco served over a bed of polenta or wood-grilled beans and octopus? Exactly. 
The second, wood-fired oven in the back of the house, (this time square-shaped) is used to impart a charred, smoky flavor to many of the restaurant's offerings. And in a word, they're all fabulous.
The space has been totally renovated and looks fresh and modern, yet welcoming and homey at the same time. The front of the house features a bar and high top tables, ideal when you just want to pop in for a drink and some spuntini. There's a huge selection of Italian and local craft beers and a wide variety of Italian wines to accompany the food.
Upstairs is a large dining room, with beautifully gripping photographs of Southern Italian subjects lining the walls, taken by Le Virtù employee Kateri Likoudis. 
Earlier this week, I was privileged to eat at Brigantessa with Domenica Marchetti and Helen Free, good friends who came up from the D.C. area, and were as eager as I to try the new restaurant's offerings. 
Here's a sampling of some of the dishes we ate, but the menu is far more expansive and so were the plates on our table. Unfortunately, some of my photos were just too blurry to include here.
These tangy "long hots" stuffed with house-made sausage and sprinkled with cheese were a delicious and different take on the ubiquitous peppers and sausage.

 Braised artichoke hearts served with bread crumbs and crispy fried capers never tasted so good.
 Don't miss the sarde "in saor" with fennel and onions - sardines in a sweet and sour treatment.
 Of course we had to sample the pizza and the one we ordered was just what you'd expect of the best Neapolitan pizza - a soft, pliable crust charred a bit on the outside and chewy around the edges. Add house-made fior di latte mozzarella, fragrant prosciutto and bits of arugula and you've got a concoction that you can't stop eating. 
 The pastas we sampled were equally tempting, including these cappellaci dei briganti, served with a rich meat ragu and pecorino cheese. 
 Sorry for the poor photo, but this pasta was not just delicious, it was sensational. It's pappardelle made from black chick pea flour and served with a sauce from whey-braised lamb (After making the mozzarella, Joe puts the whey to good use) and sprinkled with fennel pollen. Forget any preconceptions linking Italian food to only red sauce. If ever you could taste Southern Italy in one perfect mouthful, it was this dish, redolent of rosemary and the flavors of Abruzzo.
 The pièce di resistance (or should I say "pezzo di resistenza") was this dreamy dish of ricotta gnudi, showered with a shaving of white truffles. The ethereal pillows just melted in your mouth and made you wish that truffle season was 12 months a year. But the beauty of eating here is what's so great about eating at the best trattorie in Italy - you taste what's in season, at the height of its freshness.
Full as we were, we couldn't leave without sampling some desserts. I would say this was overload, but then again, how could you not be tempted by these sweets prepared by pastry chef Angela Ranalli (Joe's wife). From right to left you're looking at crunchy Moorish-style Cannoli with a fragrant filling made with ricotta, and flavored with rosewater, pistachio, and orange blossom water; tortino al rhum - an Italian rum cake in a terrine; an assortment of Italian cookies and candies, including a crunchy Sardinian almond candy, and candied rose petals; and last but not least, house made gelato covered in white truffles (you heard me right!). 
We left there totally sated but looking forward to our next visit. 
In the meantime, I can make one of Joe's pasta dishes at home to remind me of the wonderful evening spent at Brigantessa. For those of you who live far from Philadelphia and can't get to the restaurant, try this recipe at home. It might be a little tough getting the whey, but don't let that stop you from using milk to marinate the lamb. Black chick pea flour is nearly impossible to find in the U.S., but Bob's Red Mill makes regular chick pea flour that you could substitute.
Buon Appetito.

Black Chick Pea Pappardelle, Whey-Braised Lamb, fennel pollen
Recipe from Joe Cicala at Brigantessa
printable recipe here
Pasta Ingredients:
3/4 cup black of chickpea/garbanzo flour
1 cup of “00” flour or unbleached all-purpose flour
3 extra large eggs at room temperature
1 teaspoon of extra virgin olive oil
Using the “well” method, place the flours on a work surface, and create a volcano in the center. Add the eggs and oil, and mix with a fork, slowly incorporating the flour.
Once the mixture is somewhat homogenous, kneed for five minutes by hand until the dough becomes firm and smooth. Let rest for one hour covered in the refrigerator. Using a pasta machine, roll out the dough from the largest setting to the second to smallest. Cut the dough into 1-inch strips approximately 6-inches long. Cook in salted boiling water for three minutes or until tender. Add the cooked pasta to a pan with the ragu and toss. Serve with pecorino cheese, and dust with fennel pollen.
Ragu Ingredients:
1⁄4 cup of extra-virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons of unsalted butter
1 rib of celery, finely chopped
1⁄2 Medium yellow onion, finely chopped
1⁄2 Medium carrot, finely chopped
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
2 pounds of lamb shoulder cubed
1 cup of dry white wine
2 bay leaves
2 sprigs of rosemary
1/2 gallon of whey or 1 percent milk

In a large pot, sweat the vegetables in the olive oil and butter over medium heat until translucent. Add the lamb cubes, and turn the heat up to medium-high in order to slightly brown the meat. Deglaze the pan with white wine and add the herbs. Reduce the wine until nearly dry, and add the whey. Simmer for one hour or until the lamb is tender enough to shred with a wooden spoon. ■

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Friday, October 31, 2014

Pumpkin Spice Cake

"Each year, the Great Pumpkin rises out of the pumpkin patch that he thinks is the most sincere. He's gotta pick this one. He's got to. I don't see how a pumpkin patch can be more sincere than this one. You can look around and there's not a sign of hypocrisy. Nothing but sincerity as far as the eye can see." - Linus
It's the night before Halloween and I've finally finished sewing the kids' costumes (he a knight in shining armor, she a medieval damsel in distress). The dinner dishes have been cleared and the pumpkin takes center stage on the countertop, ready for carving. Will it be a funny face? Or a scary face this year? Dad helps bridge a compromise (and carve the pumpkin) after much arguing, and the jack o'lantern is set on the stoop outdoors, while the salted seeds roast in the oven. They're done just in time to munch while watching "It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown" on TV - a tradition we'd no sooner miss than skip trick or treating. 
Yes, it's the night before Halloween, but for years now, there have been no costumes to stitch, no arguments about what to carve on the pumpkin. And I'm watching TV alone while Linus waits in vain for the Great Pumpkin. Somehow it feels like shouting in a vacuum. 
The years have flown by faster than Snoopy's dogfight with the Red Baron and nostalgia could threaten to take me down. But no, I'm remembering the good times, and remembering that while there is no pumpkin on the counter to be carved, there is a pumpkin spice cake that is calling my name. 
And a darned good one too, even if it's not a great looker. It's baked in a plain Jane rectangular pan, with a cream cheese frosting sprinkled with nuts. The kind of thing you'd find at a bake sale - or in my kitchen tonight.

It doesn't make the pretty statement like the circular pumpkin coffee cake I made earlier in the week to serve to my Italian chit-chat group (photo below), but the rectangular recipe tastes a whole lot better.  If you really want the recipe for this one, email me and I'll send it to you, but once you've tried the pumpkin spice cake, you won't want any other.

Don't get me wrong - the crumb-topped pumpkin coffee cake was good, but not nearly as moist and tender as I wanted.
 So more "research" was in order. That's when I found this recipe on Mary's blog, "One Perfect Bite." As Mary states on her post, the recipe is a gem of simplicity and feeds a lot of people. She was so right. But even more importantly, it tastes terrific. I know I'll be making this one again and again now that pumpkin season is here. 

And even though the knight and damsel are not here to share it with me, I'll follow Linus' suggestion and be "most sincere" as I savor every bite.

Happy Halloween!

Pumpkin-Spice Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting.
printable recipe here
4 eggs
2 cups granulated sugar
1 cup vegetable oil
1 can (15 oz) pumpkin 
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1 cup raisins, if desired
Cream Cheese Frosting
1 package (8-oz) cream cheese, softened
1/4 cup butter, softened
2 to 3 teaspoons milk
1 teaspoon vanilla
4 cups powdered sugar
1/2 cup chopped walnuts, if desired

1) Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Spray a 15 x 10 x 1-inch pan with cooking spray.
2) Combine eggs, granulated sugar, oil and pumpkin in a large bowl and whisk until smooth. Stir in flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, ginger and cloves. Stir in raisins if using. Spread in pan.
3) Bake 25 to 30 minutes or until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean and cake springs back when touched lightly in center. Cool completely, about 2 hours.
4) In medium bowl, combine and beat cream cheese, butter, milk and vanilla with electric mixer on low speed until smooth. Gradually beat in powdered sugar, 1 cup at a time, on low speed until smooth and spreadable. Spread frosting over cake. Sprinkle with walnuts. Cut to desired size. Store covered in refrigerator.

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Thursday, October 23, 2014

Cauliflower Cake

A couple of years ago, I was visiting a friend in London and rummaging through her cookbooks when I found this recipe by Yotam Ottolenghi. I wanted to make it as soon as I saw it, especially after eating at one of his restaurants there. But it's like the book that's sitting on the shelf you never read; or the bolt of fabric in the closet you never get around to sewing into a dress. I forgot about it. The recipe didn't appear in any of his cookbooks published for the U.S. market. Until now, that is, when I saw it in "Plenty More" - his latest cookbook and one that was gifted to me this week by my niece Keri.  My interest in making this delightful recipe was renewed.
Aside from the visual appeal, it tastes terrific, somewhat like a frittata, but with a little more heft from the cup of flour and baking powder in the recipe. It's got tons of flavor from the turmeric, rosemary and basil too, so don't leave those out. I would however, add another egg or two next time I make it, (or use less of the vegetable). As you can see from the photo below, I didn't use cauliflower, but instead used broccoli romano, or broccoli romanesco - my favorite vegetable,  another gift I received this week - this time from my son.. It tastes very similar to cauliflower, but you can't top it for distinct appearance. I've posted recipes using it before, so if you're interested, go to the white search box at the top of the blog and type in the words "broccoli romano." I can see making this with lots of other vegetables too, including with artichoke hearts - which I'm planning to try next week.  Stay tuned.
The first step is to carefully separate the florets and bring them to a boil for about five minutes, then drain.
 Line a springform pan with parchment paper, then smear with butter and sesame seeds. The recipe calls for nigella seeds, but I couldn't find them and used black and white sesame seeds instead.
 The batter is on the thick side, so be careful not to break up the florets when mixing everything together. Next time, I plan to use eight or nine eggs instead of the seven called for. I think it will make a little lighter "cake" and give more space between the vegetables.
 Still, I loved the way it looked and tasted - not quite a quiche, not quite a frittata, not quite an omelet - but a savory "cake" instead. Ottolenghi says to serve warm, rather than hot. I think it would be good either way (first hand knowledge from having reheated in the microwave). It would also be delicious at room temperature, making it ideal for taking to a picnic or dinner at someone's house. Serve in medium slices as a side dish, or in large slices with a salad as a main course. Try baking it in a square pan and slice in squares for an hors d'oeuvre. 
 Either way, it won't last long and it'll be one of those recipes you'll make over and over again and adapt to your liking.  

From "Plenty More" by Yotam Ottolenghi
Serves 4 to 6 (I think it serves 8 or more, even as a main course, with a salad on the side- CCL)
• 1 small cauliflower, outer leaves removed, broken into 1¼-inch florets (1 lb/450 g)
• 1 medium red onion, peeled (6 oz/170 g)
• 5 tablespoons olive oil
• 1/2 teaspoon finely chopped rosemary
• 7 eggs (scant 1 lb/440 g)
• 1/2 cup basil leaves, chopped
• 1 cup all-purpose flour, sifted
• 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
• 1/3 teaspoons round turmeric
• 5 ounces coarsely grated Parmesan or another mature cheese
• Melted unsalted butter, for brushing
• 1 tablespoon white sesame seeds
• 1 teaspoon nigella seeds
• Salt
• Black pepper
Preheat the oven to 400ºF/200ºC.
Place the cauliflower florets in a saucepan and add 1 teaspoon salt. Cover with water and simmer for 15 minutes, until the florets are quite soft. They should break when pressed with a spoon. Drain and set aside in a colander to dry.
Cut 4 round slices, each 1/4-inch thick, off one end of the onion and set aside. Coarsely chop the rest of the onion and place in a small pan with the oil and rosemary. Cook for 10 minutes over medium heat, stirring from time to time, until soft. Remove from the heat and set aside to cool. Transfer the onion to a large bowl, add the eggs and basil, whisk well, and then add the flour, baking powder, turmeric, Parmesan, 1 teaspoon salt, and plenty of pepper. Whisk until smooth before adding the cauliflower and stirring gently, trying not to break up the florets.
Line the base and sides of a 9 1/2-inch springform cake pan with parchment paper. Brush the sides with melted butter, then mix together the sesame and nigella seeds and toss them around the inside of the pan so that they stick to the sides. Pour the cauliflower mixture into the pan, spreading it evenly, and arrange the reserved onion rings on top. Place in the center of the oven and bake for 45 minutes, until golden brown and set; a knife inserted into the center of the cake should come out clean. Remove from the oven and leave for at least 20 minutes before serving. It needs to be served just warm, rather than hot, or at room temperature.
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Tuesday, October 14, 2014

City Wonders and Roscioli

When an email arrived in my inbox asking me if I'd like to take a complimentary City Wonders tour of Rome, I had mixed feelings. I was just about to leave for the eternal city, so the timing was perfect, but having lived there and visited dozens of times, I was skeptical. Would I just be revisiting some of the places I was already familiar with, or would I be learning something new, I wondered? As it turns, it was a little of both, and a great way to spend a couple of hours. City Wonders offers tours in many cities besides Rome - Paris, London and even New York, for instance. And within each city, it offers several different kinds of tours. I chose the food and wine tour (no surprise) and expected to be traipsing around the city sampling foods from different restaurants and shops where I might have already eaten.
Instead, what followed were two hours inside a private wine-tasting room at Roscioli, a legendary food purveyor whose shop and restaurant on via dei giubbonari I'd passed innumerable times. The evening went by in a flash, as Alessandro Pepe, one of Italy's best-known and respected sommeliers, educated us on the many varieties of Italian wine and what paired best with each.
The "rimessa" as the room is called, is the perfect place for small gatherings of wine and food tastings, just around the corner from the restaurant and deli.
In all, we tasted six different wines, from Sicily to Friuli.
We started the evening tasting buffalo mozzarella from Paestum, and burrata from Puglia, two places I had just visited on my month-long trip to Italy and where I ate plenty of both of these cheeses. They're usually not paired with wines, Alessandro said, but if they are, choose a light white wine, like a fiano di Avellino or a greco di tufo.
We tried a Greco di Tufo with the label of Alexandros. The wine takes its name from the village of Tufo, south of Naples. But tufo is also the name of the grape variety and the volcanic soil that gives the wine a strong mineral finish. However, 90 percent of the wines called Greco di Tufo don't actually come from the village of tufo, Alessandro said.  
This pesto from Liguria was  also a delicious accompaniment to the wine.
I was too busy eating and drinking to get shots of all the wines and foods, but one of my favorite (and surprising) pairings was this tuna from Sicilian producer Tre Torri, that was matched with a luscious red wine - a nero d'avola - also from Sicily and the cantina Marabino. The tuna had been aged for two years in extra virgin olive oil and stood up well to the nero d'avola, whose grapes are grown in a volcanic soil, giving it a "salty" taste.
We ate pistachio-flecked mortadella paired with a bubbly lambrusco from the producer La Battagliola. Forget about what you might remember about those treackly lambruscos first imported to the U.S. in the 1970s. This is different, offering a much fresher taste, and the perfect palate cleanser to accompany the richness from the fatty mortadella it was paired with. The Italians have been making sparkling wines long before Champagne came on the scene, Alessandro said. A sparkling lambrusco was mentioned in 1567 by Andrea Bacci, the personal doctor of Pop Sisto V, he said.
Speaking of old, we also drank a montepulciano from Contucci winery, the oldest winery in the world, dating back 1,000 years, Alessandro said. Of course, most of the vines are from 20 to 45 years old, he said, and are planted in the red "pietra rossa" soil that gives the wine its plummy, earthy flavor.  This wine was paired with salumi made at the Antica Corte Pallavicina, near Parma, an artisanal producer of cured meats that I wrote about in a blog post here.
My favorite wine of the night was this barolo from the Le Langhe area in the Piedmont region, a wine I had previously tasted in Piedmont. It's an explosion of flavor in the mouth, with a roundness and perfect balance of fruit and tannins.
"For me, (France's) Burgundy and (Italy's) Langhe are the only two wine regions in the world, in the sense that vineyards and geography were designed upon the soil composition, and not based on the properties. So when you look at the map, this actually tells you something about the type of wine you might find in each," Alessandro said. This bold wine was paired with an equally bold food - a parmigiano reggiano vacche rosse cheese aged 36 months. Talk about a marriage made in heaven….
We left the Rimessa Roscioli thoroughly pleased with our food and wine tasting through Italy and would recommend anyone to contact City Wonders, if this is indicative of their tours.
Of course, this tasting only whetted our palate to eat at Roscioli's restaurant, so we rounded the corner and sat at a table next to the deli counter, where a heaping bowl of burrata cheese tempted us.
 But it was pasta we succumbed to, namely this plate of rigatoni alla carbonara.
 And this decadently rich pasta alla carbonara.
 We were too sated to order dessert, but Roscioli provided us with these treats gratis - buttery shortbread cookies and meringues with a rich chocolate dipping sauce.
Grazie mille City Wonders and Roscioli and Alessandro.
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