Thursday, October 9, 2014

Sicilian Spice

By Liza B. Zimmerman

This Mediterranean island is geographically closer to North Africa than mainland Italy. The climate can be scorching hot but is moderated by cooling breezes, high-altitude vineyards and mineral-rich volcanic soils in some cases. Great winemaking and serious investments have upped the ante on the area's overall wine quality enormously in the past decade.

The area is justifiably famous for its delicious Marsala, such as Intorcia, which is great as an aperitif and post-prandial pairing with caramel-based desserts. An added plus about this dessert wine is that it can stay open for weeks, like some Ports, without oxidizing. That makes it great to serve in restaurants, and at multiple dinner parties.

However, many other regions are producing some splendid, dry wines. Many of them are made from local grape varietals such as Inzolia, Greganico and Nero d'Avola. More and more delicious, and well-balanced, blends are ending up on the U.S. market. Many of them integrate local grapes with international ones like Syrah and Chardonnay with fantastic end results.

Food Pairings
What is so exciting about some of the latest Sicilian wines to enter the U.S. market is their fine balance of acidity and fruit and generally low alcohol levels. It makes them great partners with food, particularly all kinds of seafood and smoky dishes like long-simmered eggplant.

The bright minerality of the local whites mixes so well fresh octopus and hunks of lobster stirred into al dente bowl of pasta. I was lucky enough to have some of the best seafood in my life at the seaside restaurant and hotel Da Vittorio in Menfi, on the coast between Agrigento and Marsala.

The smokiness of the local Nero d'Avola also pairs beautifully with long-simmered eggplant dishes, often-flavored with salty and chewy local capers. The island's Nero d'Avilas have also become more interesting as we see more of them blended with other local grapes, such as Nerello Mascalese (which also produces some nice roses).

Here's my take on that delicious pasta:

Pasta allo Scoglio
Scoglio means rocky coast so this dish contains all the delicious fresh seafood that comes from it.
6 servings

5 tablespoons olive oil
3 garlic cloves, minced
3/4 teaspoon dried, crushed peperoncino (red pepper)
12 ounces cleaned squid, bodies cut into 1/2-inch-wide rings, tentacles left whole
1 1/4 cups dry white wine
3 cups chopped, fresh tomatoes
2 pounds small littleneck clams, scrubbed
1 pound mussels, scrubbed, debearded
3 10-ounce uncooked lobster tail, shelled, meat cut into 1-inch pieces
8 ounces uncooked large shrimp, peeled, deveined
5  ounces scallops
3 tablespoons chopped fresh Italian parsley
1 pound linguine (only use real Italian pasta produced in Italy)

To make the dish:
Heat the olive oil over medium heat in a large pan. Add the garlic and crushed red pepper; stir  for one to two minutes. Add the squid and sauté it for two to three minutes. Add wine; simmer until liquid is reduced by half. Add the tomatoes with their juices and bring the dish to a simmer over low heat for half an hour.
While the sauce is cooking, add the clams and mussels with a tablespoon of olive oil in another pan and cook them until they open, usually about five minutes. Set them aside in a colander and drain them.
Add the lobster, shrimp and scallops to the tomato sauce and simmer it for a minute. Add the clams and mussels from colander and simmer it for another minute. Add the parsley and a tablespoon of olive oil.
Meanwhile, cook the linguine in large pot of boiling salted water for two minutes less than is written on the package. Stir the pasta over a low flame into the seafood sauce and serve hot.

Cheers from DrinkUpNY!

Liza Zimmerman has been writing and consulting about wine and food for two decades. She is principal of the San Francisco-based Liza the Wine Chick wine writing, education and consulting firm. She has worked on staff and freelance at national magazines such as Wine Enthusiast, The Magazine of La Cucina Italiana, Wine Spectator, Where SF and the Examiner. She currently contributes to Cheers, Wine Business Monthly and the Examiner, among others.

Zimmerman focuses on demystifying wine and transforming it into a tool for business and networking for companies all over the country. Past clients include Genentech, Roche and IBM.

She has visited all the world’s major wine regions and is one of select few in the U.S. to hold the Diploma of Wine & Spirits (D.W.S.), the three-year precursor to the Master of Wine.

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