Red Shrimp and Wine Glasses

Gambero Rosso Tre bicchieriIf you appreciate Italian food and wine then you have, at one time or another, encountered the Gambero Rosso (red shrimp). Not as a center of the plate entree but as a guide to the best food travel and wine in Italy. Unlike Pinocchio who wandered into the eponymous taverna where the villainous Fox and Cat trick him into paying for their supper, this Gambero Rosso won’t lead you astray when searching for the best restaurants and award winning wines when traveling in Italy.

Originally an 8-page insert about food and wine in a 1986 publication of Italy’s Communist Il Manifesto, Gambero Rosso, the “red prawn” has become the definitive guide to the tastes of Italy. Their annual 1,000-page guide to Italian wines, Vini d’Italia, is considered by many to be the Italian wine bible giving top wines, those considered extraordinary, a three glass (chalice) Tre Bicchieri rating. Gambero Rosso markers of good taste now include Three Forks for restaurants, Three Coffee Beans and Cups for coffee bars, and Three Leaves for producers of Extra Virgin Olive Oil.

Gambero Rosso has recently established Citte’ di Gusti, cities of taste,  where demonstrations, workshops, lessons and courses are offered for both professionals and amateurs with an interest and love of Italian food and wine. Gambero Rosso opened the first Citta’ di Gusto in Rome and now has centers in Naples, Salerno, Catania, Palermo, Torino and Lecce.


The Scarlet Letter of Italy

scarletLetter and AFew letters may be as important as the letter A – the first letter of the alphabet, the first vowel, the alpha of omega, the grade we all strive for. Whether emblazoned in literary history as Hawthorne’s Scarlet Letter or branded as Apple, Apollo or Abercrombie, the letter A stands out as something special. The evocative nature of the letter A in Italy’s gastro-history is most obvious and apparent when family cooks and chefs speak of aceto (vinegar). An incredible condiment that elevates the flavor of everything it touches.

As an ancient cooking ingredient, vinegar was appreciated for its ability to season and preserve food but nowadays it is most often underrated and misunderstood. There are people who consider vinegar simply a ‘wine gone bad,’ buying generic off the shelf brands to use as an ingredient in salad dressings. However, an artisan produced wine vinegar is a culinary asset with a palate personality that can add a touch of originality to many dishes. Like wine, a proper wine vinegar reflects the terroir of the region. The best wine vinegar is made from grapes that are used to make wine. Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris, Chardonnay, Riesling are all used for vinegar production. All are deeply flavored and well worth seeking.

Producing a quality wine vinegar requires respect, tenacity, talent and a strong passion for the product. The scarlet letter A on the bottle label from the trend-setting cellars and vineyards of Pojer e Sandri  stands for an artisan aceto. Located in the Val di Cembra of Italy’s Sudtirol (TN) Pojer and Sandri  are known for producing highly acclaimed wines and notable wine vinegar.  P & S are part of a small group of Italian vinegar makers known as the Amici Acidi that have come together to save traditional vinegar production in Italy. Competing with mass-produced industrialized vinegar for the hearts and minds of consumers, small artisan producers like Pojer e Sandri continue to make an artisanal vinegar using barrels made from wood produced on their own land.  Pojersandri_RedandWhite

Lining the walls of the P & S acetaia* (ah-chay-tie-ah) barrel aging takes place over 12-18-24 months. Using a traditional slow percolating process, without mechanical intervention, the vinegars develop a depth of flavor reminiscent of a fine wine. Pojer e Sandri Aceto di Vino Rosso (red wine vinegar) from Dolomiti is made from grapes grown in the alpine valleys of the Dolomites (Negrara Trentina, Groppello, Lagrein, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir) and was listed as one of the 10 Best Wine Vinegars by Gambero Rosso, one of Italy’s most influential food and wine magazines. An aromatic and flavorful vinegar, it is ideal for making out-of-the-bottle salad dressings, marinades for grilled meats and vegetables, deglazing roasts and adding a bright tone to cured meats or stews.

Pojer e Sandri Red Wine Vinegar available at CosituttiMarketPlace

*an acetaia  (vinegar house) is a place where the vinegar is made and aged



Designer Gelato

Leonardo and Alice. These are not the names of two characters from a 14th century Italian novella or a recently discovered secret diary of Leonardo da Vinci. Leonardo and Alice are the names of two flavors of gelati at Riva Reno Gelateria on Via G.Mazzini 12 in Ferrara. With typical Italian sprezzatura ice cream becomes an art form and as such takes on a personality that requires more than a mere labeling of chocolate or vanilla.

Like a work of art people take pause, gaze and in this case take a lick and if they’re at Riva Reno Gelateria you hear comments like “You can feel the ingredients”.  The creamy, velvety texture, intense flavors and exclusivity of product have brought Riva Reno gelato many accolades including the Best Gelateria in Italy awarded by Golosaria Magazine in 2008 with more glowing reviews in Gambero Rosso, the Lonely Planet and the Michelin Guide. You can taste Leonardo (mascarpone with chocolate and hazelnut topping) and Alice (pronounced ah-lee-ch-ay) (pine nut cream with toasted pine nuts) in Ferrara or at Riva Reno Gelateria shops in Milan, Turin, Venice and Florence. Other Riva Reno specialities include Otello with chocolate, egg cream, Marsala wine, Barozzi chocolate and coffee cake, Morena a white cream gelato topped with candied sour cherries and syrup and Zafferano al sesamo with saffron cream and carmelized toasted sesame seeds. Like other gelateria in Italy, the more traditional flavors are also available. You can combine scoops of vanilla with chocolate chips(Stracciatella), pistachio, hazelnut, coffee, coconut and chocolate in a cup or a cone. Most gelateria will offer both so depending on your preference. When ordering, ask for either “una coppa” (a cup) or “un cono,” (a cone). Unlike an ice cream cone in the States, the ideal cone in Italy comes with two similar flavors (gusti) of gelato like nocciola (hazelnut) and ciccolato (chocolate). It’s also popular to order three  flavors in a single cone or cup and they don’t necessarily have to go together! 

Designer gelato reaches new heights in the Tuscan hill town of San Gimignano.  In “la citta ’dalle belle torri”, the city of the beautiful towers, there is a 13th century octagonal cistern in the middle of the Piazza della Cisterna and a gelateria that serves some of the best artisan gelato in Italy with innovative flavors like Cream of Fina® Saint (cream with saffron and pine nuts), Champelmo® (pink grapefruit and sparkling wine), Dolceamaro® (cream with aromatic herbs) and Vernaccia Sorbet made with regional Vernaccia wine. The gastronomic creations at Gelateria di Piazza are limited only by the imagination of master ice cream maker Sergio Dondoli. His cups and cones are award wining creations with names like Sangue di Bue (Blood of Ox), inspired by Sergio’s first Armani leather jacket. It was a reddish-brown oxblood color; his gelato, dark chocolate with cherry jam and chilli pepper.