“Have yourself a merry little Christmas
Let your heart be light
From now on, our troubles will be out of sight” – written by Hugh Martin and Ralph Blane (listen to the original Judy Garland version HERE)
For my Christmas post this year, I thought it would be fun to imagine the perfect holiday dinner based on some of the amazing dishes that I have been able to enjoy in Italy. I am leaving the dishes of Osteria Francescana off the list because you cannot just pull one or two dishes off of that menu – the whole evening is an experience that must be enjoyed in total.
So, sit back with me and let’s plan the meal.
We must begin any festive holiday meal with some bubbly – don’t you think? Let’s share a glass of the 2014 Lambrusco di Sorbara D.O.P. “RITO” from Azienda Agricola Zucchi.
It is dry and medium bodied with deep, concentrated flavors of raspberries or pomegranates. It has a pleasant bouquet and a fine pink frizzante that can fade fairly quickly. I will serve it at 55 degrees F.
Hosteria Giusti in Modena has a specialty known as Gnocco Fritto con Salumi tipici which is classic regional antipasti that I first tasted based on recommendations of a Modenese friend living in San Diego.
Small rectangles of dough are deep fried into crispy air-filled pillows and cloaked with paper-thin slices of prosciutto, lardo and mortadella. The gnocco must be hot enough to melt the lardo. They are reminiscent of sopapillas that we have eaten in New Mexico except sopapillas are usually drizzled with honey and served for dessert. In Modenese homes, baskets of gnocco are cooked for all-day family parties and served with cured hams or salumi as a primi piatti and later with fruit and honey for a dolci.
Before the primi piatti, we should replenish our wine. For the pasta course(s) I will open a 2008 Brunello di Montalcino from Poggio Antico. This is one of the more modern Brunellos – fruit forward and dense with a spicy finish. The wine has an elegant, dry body with bold fruit flavors and high acidity. It will make the perfect foil for our upcoming butter and egg-rich pasta.
With all of the amazing pasta in Italy, it is simply too difficult to narrow the choice to a single choice so why not go for two? There is nothing to say we have to empty each plate (but I probably will).
Classic Tortellini in Brodo from Trattoria Battibecco in Bologna could really be considered a soup course. Tortellini, stuffed with meat, is served in a golden broth made from capon (with some beef in the broth as well). The scent alone will leave you weak in the knees. I have eaten this specialty in several places but this one was unquestionably the best in my experience – rich broth, nutmeg-spiked tortellini, the resilient chew of a lifetime!
Equally vital for our perfect holiday dinner is my favorite pasta dish from Piemonte, Tajarin al Burro con Tartufi. Tajarin is a thin, flat noodle that is hand sliced to less than 1/8″ wide and is made only from 00 flour and egg yolks. It is widely available in Piemonte but I am partial to the example we enjoyed at Trattoria della Posta in Barolo. There, Chef Gianfranco Massolino used 30 egg yolks per kilo of flour (Osteria Dell Arco in Alba uses 40!), giving the pasta a luxurious taste, a silky texture, and a stellar golden color. The pasta is tossed in butter and topped with a very generous serving of white truffles. It is an ethereal dish – probably the best pasta dish that you will ever eat.
We are planning a rich meat course braised in Barolo, so it stands to reason that we would pick a Barolo to go with it. I have picked a 2011 Reserve Barolo from the Cannubi vineyard of Flli Serio & Battista Borgogno located in Barolo. The 2011 is full bodied and refined with beautiful elegance, balance, and minerality.
Almost all Piemonte secondi are meat and that suits me just fine. I have no hesitation in picking Brasato di Vitello al Barolo (Veal braised in wine – see my recipe HERE). This veal dish is from Osteria dell’ Arco in Alba. Its thick slices of the roasted shoulder of veal are noted for being fork-tender with distinct and complex flavors from being marinated and slow roasted in Barolo wine. It can possibly be considered an emotional experience.
To finish this incredible meal, let’s return to Hosteria Giusti and share a deep, dark Budino al Cioccolato. This is a chilled dessert that is similar to smooth chocolate mousse and will be served in a martini glass. The Budino has a bittersweet, intense flavor and is finished with a dusting of good quality cocoa powder.
Before espresso, we should relax with a 2008 Vin Santo di Montepulciano from the Poliziano Estate. Vin Santo was historically used to warm up a passing stranger on his way down from the hills, celebrate some happy event, or make a toast on a Sunday after a special meal. The grapes are dried for about four months and the wine is then kept for about seven years in cask – a lovely wine and a stellar finish to an outstanding meal.
While I unabashedly possess an appetite for an abundance of food and wine, there is also an ever-present desire to share the joy that we all hold within us. It is somehow easier to access and act upon in the days before Christmas and into the New Year.
I wish you all the joys of this happy season!