Category Archives: Food & Wine

Finger Licking Good

Imagine walking the streets of Rome all morning pretending not to be a tourist and hoping to blend in while you look for that “not for tourists” spot to plunk yourself down and order another cappuccino while rubbing your feet. You know full well that ordering a cappuccino after breakfast will blow your cover with the locals, although it may just be the accent, but you have set yourself a goal of at least three a day before heading home so you need to stay on schedule.

Until now, you’ve stuck to the winding side streets with a great sense of pride in keeping off the beaten path and criss cross the main tourist routes only when absolutely necessary. You wave and blurt out a friendly “Ciao!” to the locals you meet and, thoroughly amused, they wave “Ciao!” back. You’re almost a native!

Then you turn the corner and find yourself in the midst of the tourist hoards: fanny pack zippers jingling, cackling while taking a selfie pointing at a naked statue and observing perplexed a guy dressed in orange sitting cross-legged pretending to balance a pedestal, with one hand, upon which his colleague, also dressed in orange, is seated (you can’t miss them in Rome).

You are in Piazza San Lorenzo in Lucina – smack dab in the middle of town. You are also in luck. Ciampini is right there in the middle of it all and it is full of tourists, but it is also full of Romans, because it does have great gelato, but even better “tramezzini”, if not the best in town.

Tramezzino Uova e Asparagi

Ciampini – Tramezzino Uova e Asparagi

It is said that the “tramezzino“, a triangular white bread sandwich without the crust, was invented in Turin as an alternative to English tea-time sandwiches and the word “tramezzino” (literally “in-between” with the use of the diminutive “-ino”[s] or “-ini”[pl.] suffix) was coined by the prominent Italian literary figure Gabriele D’Annunzio at the turn of the twentieth century since it was easier for Italians to pronounce.

You’ll have to summon what strength you have left to go in with your elbows wide and a determined look on your face, but it’s worth it. Think of it as a prize that you must win, as well as a fully immersive experience into what it is like for Italians to get through the day without ever forming a line. Glance at the selection of these delicious “tramezzini” sandwiches while you work your way to the register (you have to pay first, as in most places) and ask them to add a a typical Italian citrus soda called “chinotto” to your receipt to enjoy a truly authentic Italian standing lunch.

My favorite “tramezzini” at Ciampini are the “uova e asparagi” (eggs and asparagus) and the “tonno e carciofini” (tuna and baby artichoke).

Now pivot from the register and weave your way to the bar counter. Make eye contact with the guys behind the counter, they are much like children and dogs, so you must be firm and determined. Hand them your receipt and quickly list your order because they, unlike most of Italy, move very fast. You’ll probably need to point and gesticulate a bit to show them which “tramezzini” you want, but that will only make you look more Italian. Good luck and buon appetito!

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Tonic Port: Something to look forward to.

It’s another sweltering summer day here in the Northeast and a Monday to boot. So I thought I would keep it short and sweet so you could get back to fanning yourselves with a piece of paper or sticking your head in an ice bucket. Let’s say this is something to look forward to when the weekend slowly winds down in the next few days.

On my recent jaunt to Portugal, I inevitably stopped by the Douro Valley to get some Port into my system. I knew a bit about Port before I went, but it was certainly eye opening to get a run down by some of the locals as to the plethora of Ports – vintners and types. I will leave the bulk of that newfound knowledge for another time. For now I wanted to tell you about White Port.

The lesser known of the Port wines the white is perfect served chilled and even better when mixed with some tonic. I recently tried several bottles and found that so far one of my favorites is Fonseca’s Siroco since it is on the dry side (there is quite a range of sweet to dry white ports). I have walked into some of the usually well-stocked wine and spirits stores here in the city and found one or two choices at best so you may have to order it online, but it is worth it. Here is how I serve it:

 

White Port and Tonic

Take and Old Fashioned glass (aka low ball) and fill to taste with ice.

Mix in equal parts white port (chilled) and tonic water (chilled).

Squirt some lemon to bind it and drop in the wedge.

Stir and serve.

It goes well with pretty much anything you are apt to serve and eat during a hot summer’s eve. It is deceptively light, but I would go easy on it since white port is still a fortified wine so it will hit you out of nowhere if you imbibed too generously and your grilled prawns are going to go from perfectly cooked to charred in no time.

 


Nausica: A Red from Sicily

I recently discovered a great red wine that I wanted to share with you. Made from the Sicilian Nero d’Avola grape, vintner Cantina Salvalai from the north of Italy has created Nausica, in their own words, has created a bright ruby red displaying notes of ripe fruit, mulberry, plum and tobacco. What is wonderful about this wine is not only how affordable it is to add to a good table wine rotation, but it really grows into a well-balanced wine a few days after uncorking it (initially most will find it a bit tart). This allows you to savor it over the course of several meals without the worry (typical of certain other reds) that it will taste a bit off if not consumed quickly. It is actually a light red, but it has enough body to enjoy it with richer fare. Uncork, pour and enjoy!

 

 


Pebbles that melt in your mouth

There is something about licorice that makes me become a little kid again. I love all sorts of licorice from the pure to the sweet and everything in between. I still buy the Haribo wheels and slowly unravel them while I eat them. I bite off the head of the licorice fish first. There are all sorts of rituals that one has especially as a kid when eating ice cream or cookies or sucking on lollipops and to each their own, of course. I was lucky enough to spend a few weeks in one of the world’s top producing licorice regions in the South of Italy and discovered yet another way in which to enjoy licorice.

Amarelli has been a licorice producer since 1731 in the southern Italian region of Calabria. They make pure licorice squares (not for the faint at heart), anise infused, mint coated and several other methods. Their packaging is still the same and is exquisitely retro. What I had never tasted before and was told is harder to find when you leave the region are their “Sassolini” (pebbles). They are anise infused licorice covered in a hard sugar coating (like Italian almond “confetti”) made to look like the pebbles common along the coast of Calabria. After the sugar slowly melts away in your mouth you are left with the savory licorice and anise flavor that lingers even when it is all gone. If you have an Italian specialty store nearby you might ask to see if they have some and if you are a licorice lover then you are in for a treat.


The Secret Super Tuscan

You probably think of a Super Tuscan as a very pricey red wine from Tuscany and you are quite correct. Tignanello, Solaia, Le Pergole Torte, Sassicaia and Ornellaia, to name a few, can each command a minimum of $100 a bottle. The Super Tuscan is not an officially recognized denomination like DOC and indeed started as a form of reverse snobbery. The DOC denomination was rolled out in the 1960’s to stop the abuse of using the names of well known Italian wine regions, such as Chianti in Tuscany, on inferior wines.

Some local producers, though, found that the rules meant to protect their reputation, actually worked against their attempts at producing superior wine with new grape varieties. So they simply ignored the strict guidelines with the foreseen result of their wine receiving the official (and pejorative) denomination of “vino da tavola” (VDT) or table wine. The vintners just shrugged and continued producing some of the most sublime wine in the world on their own terms. And so was born the term Super Tuscan attributed to wine critic and writer Robert Parker.

Even after denominations were recently refined (IGT, DOCG and DOC) to bring the Super Tuscan producers into the fold of  “officialdom”, many have chosen to stay true to their independent roots, eschewing labels other than those on their own bottles of wine.

This enological history lesson, I am certain, has left many of you wondering why I am being such a tease about these exquisite, yet very expensive, wines? I am not a sadist, I promise you. So I will reward you for getting this far by letting you in on a little secret of mine. There is a Super Tuscan out there that many choose to snob and yet it can be found for little more than $10 a bottle and has, in fact, gotten rave reviews by several top wine “connoisseurs”. I have been enjoying this wine since my time living and working in Rome a decade ago. I share this tidbit gladly with all of you because I believe everyone should experience superb red wine without losing the shirt off their back.

The name you say? Yes, of course, it is Castello Banfi’s Centine (pronounced “CHEN – TIN – AY”, in Italian) a Sangiovese, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot mix. Enjoy it as it should be with a rare steak and oven roasted potatoes with some rosemary, salt and just a drizzle of extra-virgin olive oil.

Consider this information my Father’s Day gift to all of you. You deserve it.

Cheers!