Ciceri e tria ai frutti di mare, at once classic and creative

Paolo and I sat down for dinner at about 9 p.m. last night at La Quinta Stagione in downtown Lecce where this fantastic, creative take on the classic ciceri e tria (chickpeas and long noodles) reminded me of what Tony always says: “For Italian food to be authentic, it must be a balance of the classic and the creative.”

The photos simply do not do justice to Chef Franco Tornese’s deft hand.

That’s the amazing chef Franco (standing) with Cataldo Ferrari, vineyard manager at Paolo’s family’s winery Cantele.

WARNING: CONTAINS EXTREME OFFAL (More awesome stuff I ate in Puglia, part II)

Tracie P and I still haven’t had the chance to travel to southern Italy together. (We’ve made three trips to Europe so far, one to Paris and the Loire Valley, one to Tuscany and Piedmont, and most recently to Friuli and the Veneto.) As much as we’ve enjoyed our Italian sojourns, she’ll often gently lament the fact that in the north and in central Italy, meals tend to focus around meat dishes. (Anyone who’s ever been to Piedmont knows that the classic meal consists of raw chopped veal, veal with tuna sauce, and then long noodles with ragù…)

The south — as Tracie P often pines — is all about vegetables, a culinary culture due in part to the fact that the climate and terrain of southern Italy (and Apulia in particular) are ideal for the cultivation of vegetables and in part to the fact that the south has never enjoyed the accumulation of wealth as has the north. (Did you know there are more pigs and Ferraris pro capite in Emilia than anywhere else in the world? Go figure!)

On that Monday evening in mid-February when I dined with Paolo and company (at one of the few decent places to eat on a Monday night there, La Vecchia Lecce — no website, not even a Google page), the meal began with a medley of vegetables, including the classic fave e cicoria (above), puréed fava beans and sautéed green chicory served together.

Next came zucchine.

Artichokes.

Eggplants.

Ciceri e tria, chickpeas and flat noodles (one of the most fascinating dishes, IMHO, in terms of its linguistic and cultural ties to antiquity, but more on that another time).

Then came barley with seafood. (Does anyone know the proper name of this dish? I bet Food Lover Kathy does!)

I loved how spicy peppers macerated in olive oil were served as a relish: each diner can “heat up” their food (served family style) as desired. Needless to say, I did my best impression of James Brown, as Tracie P likes to tease me (Eh, what can I say? Jews sweat when they eat!)

The only meat dish we ate that night were turcinieddhri. Don’t let the anemic lettuce and tomato fool you: these lambs intestines stuffed with lambs liver, heart, and lung were delicious.

Thanks again, Paolo!

Want your wine to last? Drink good wine (Gianni Brunelli Brunello di Montalcino)

Above: The 2004 Gianni Brunelli Brunello di Montalcino Riserva is one of the most stunning and memorable wines that Tracie P and I have tasted so far this year.

One of the most frequent questions I get when I lead consumer and educational wine tastings (and I’m leading one next week in Houston, btw) is the following: what’s the secret for conserving wine in the bottle once you’ve opened it? (and the corollary how long is the wine good for?)

My number one answer and secret? DRINK GOOD WINE! And the most important element in the wine for its longevity once opened? ACIDITY! (I know that my wine sisters and brothers will agree with me on this one — just think of the 1978 Barbera by Angelo Gaja that we opened a few years ago at Alfonso’s pad).

As a whole, Americans have been trained by the Military-Industrial Complex to drink wines with LOW acidity, high alcohol, and concentrated jammy fruit — wines that have a short shelf life and wines that won’t last long once opened. (Sorry to sound like a broken record!)

But when you buy and spend some time with wines with healthy acidity, you’ll find that the wines will last longer — much longer — once opened. Wake up, America! It’s time to smell the coffee good wine!

Above: With much lighter tannic structure and body, the acidity in the 2008 Rosso di Montalcino kept the wine alive for no fewer than 3 days — no refrigeration, no pumping, no nothing… just the cork that the bottle was born with.

Truth be told: when Tracie P and I opened a bottle of 2004 (not an easy vintage in Tuscany despite what some would have you believe) Gianni Brunelli Brunello di Montalcino Riserva the other night, we drank the whole bottle between the two of us at the dinner table. It was a Saturday night, we were staying in, and this bottle — with GORGEOUS, stunning acidity, brilliant fruit, and lusty alcohol held in check by pancratiast tannins — was simply irresistible. (This and the bottle below were given to us in Austin by the lovely Derryberry and Shaw families of Austin, the former bottling as a gift to thank us for Tuscany recommendations, the latter a gift from my virtual friend Simone whom they visited in Lucca.)

But when we opened a bottle of 2008 Rosso di Montalcino by Gianni Brunelli to pair with some ciceri e tria (chickpeas and long noodles) that Tracie P had prepared on weeknight/schoolnight, she had just one glass and I had two. Not only was the wine fantastic that night (and great with the creamy chickpea gravy) but a third glass was great even the next day… and a fourth and final glass vibrant and juicy even the following day.

Not rocket science… just common sense and great wine… :-)

Laura Brunelli recently visited the U.S. and Notable Wine wrote a great post about it here with video. Also, a must read: Avvinare’s remembrance of Brunelli is one of my favorite posts on her excellent blog.