Text: Yvonne Wang
It’s been a year since the pandemic. The past year has changed our habits a lot, from all sorts of cleaning, sanitation, working shopping patterns, and even face mask sourcing. This transformation applies to almost every aspect of our life. Meanwhile, such changes are more or less reflected in my dining habits. And it seems the austere simplicity and relaxing dining style of Italian cuisine fits my mood of re-dining out now.
The all-time favourite Italian dry-cured ham, with prosciutto di Parma as one of the most famous categories. What makes this thin-sliced ham so seductive is its salty savoury flavour with the little fat that melts in your mouth. This unique nuttiness and sweetness make it a wine-friendly antipasti. As long as it’s a refreshing white, such as a crisp Sauvignon Blanc or a bubbly Prosecco can match. With Parma as the city in Emilia-Romagna, it is ideal to pair with Noelia Ricci Bro Bianco Forli' from the same region. This beautiful white is made from 100% Trebbiano and aged on lees for 4 months. Citrus in aroma, juicy white peach, almond with a comfortable aftertaste.
Spaghetti alle vongole
Traditionally, Italian starts the first warm dish called primo after the antipasti. As primo is not meat focused, so pasta or risotto is quite commonly served. The essence of this classic spaghetti alle vongole a.k.a clam spaghetti, is very much relies on the natural salinity of the fresh clams, perfected cooked al dente pasta, and highlighted with parsley. All you need is a glass of young, crisp, fruity unoaked white wine such as Pinot Grigio or Soave. Otherwise, the minerality of Pio Cesare Gavi di Gavi is also a perfect match with shellfish.
Another starchy staple option is risotto. It is cooked with Parmesan cheese traditionally. Together with the porcini mushrooms makes this dish a creamy earthy nutty flavour. Best to go with a creamy white or a high acidity light bodied red to balance off the stuffed feeling. For the white I’ll recommend the Frescobaldi Benefizio Pomino Bianco Riserva. A bottle within 3-5 years back vintage is even better with its candied fruit and gentle spices developed over time. While a young Nebbiolo is a classic pairing with porcini, let’s not forget the Sicilian red. Gulfi Rossojbleo is a Nero d'Avola. High in acidity and fragrant with moderate tannins to balance the creamy cheese.
Finally, to my beloved Osso buco! The veal shank is slowly braised with tomato, mixed vegetables, bay leaves, white wine and broth, and served with polenta or risotto. It is rich in flavour, succulent and tender in texture. The wine needs to be rich enough like Barolo or Barbaresco from Piedmont to go with. Otherwise, a Chianti Classico Riserva, or take my advice and grab a bottle of the Casanova di Neri Tenuta Nuova Brunello di Montalcino. This 2015 Brunello has been aged for 48 months, salty, rich in minerals, black fruit and firm tannins. It plays a good complementary role to the tomato sourness and rich juicy meat.
Pizza is a popular takeaway item during the pandemic, but can’t compete with the freshly baked in the stone grill at the restaurant! No matter how “localized” the pizza toppings being tweaked, I still love the traditional Naples Pizza Margherita the most. With red tomato, white mozzarella, and green basil, perfectly display the Italian national flag colours. Simply get a bottle of fragrant light bodied Chianti. Or the Frescobaldi Alie Rosé to kill the hot and humid Hong Kong summer!