I stole that pasta picture from Huffington Post. Like that site, replace 'stole' with 'aggregate' and poof! It's legit.
With Italian, more simple is better. Start with staying away from Olive Garden-esque concoctions like chicken parmigiana topped with veal Milanese, emphasize one or two key ingredients, relish in the interplay between said minimal ingredients, pick a wine that brings something not present in the dish yet links up with at least one of them, and you got yourself a winner.
Cacio e pepe - cheese and pepper - is exactly that. Simple, cheap, yet utterly filling and entirely satisfying. Bringing a wine like this intensely savory Portuguese number that brings licorice to link up with the pepper and blackberry that plays right into the pecorino cheese makes for a winner.
And that's after quickly aborting a fine enough Chianti.
Something about Portuguese wine, man. It brings the delicious.
Food: Cacio e pepe with arugula and cherry tomato salad
Recipe from Saveur. Last done here with Portuguese white. It's a meal that's about $7 a plate and takes 15 minutes to make. Used cacio di Roma, pecorino romano, a small touch of ossau-iraty and parmigiano-reggiano cheese along with tellicherry black pepper (fruity black pepper that's worth every cent of its large price tag.
Make it. A chimp can make it. If you want to taste something that reinforces all the blather that Italians spew when the topic of Simple & Real Italian comes up, make this. You will end up saying, "Crap. They're right." Ever gone to Rome and want to taste what the air tastes like again? Make this. Just make it. You get the idea.
Wine: 2010 Quinta do Vallado Quadrifolia ($25 - Saratoga)
Tried a La Maialina Chianti Classico to start. Made the food taste flat. Knowing this wasn't flat food, we switched up quick-like, cracking a bottle of wine that our tasting guide (Francisco - best tasting ever) at Quinta do Vallado in the Douro said was in the pipeline when we visited in September of 2010. First time they've bottled this label, a bargain blend that ages for a year in stainless steel, no oak. A blend of 35% Tinta Roriz, 30% Touriga Franca, 15% Touriga Nacional and 20% mixed vineyards. Check out Vallado's new site here. The new addition looks freakin' gorgeous!
Oh-so savory stuff. Not a sweet touch to be found anywhere. The lack of oak is obvious, showing over-the-top fresh black fruits mixing with fancy French licorice. The joy comes in the perfectly smooth medium body, its savory confidence to give only what it wants and stays that way with the food, and a earthy, herb stem finish that was an exclamation point at the end of a great journey. We flipped for it. Just loved its Portuguese essence with every sip.
A particular wine. Very Vallado, a winery that nails the pauses between the flavors. Can't say this is a prototype of Portuguese Douro reds. Lacks the spice, smoke and broader structure. It's one of those wines that I think one would understand more after having a big cross-section of other Douro reds. It takes some of the (delicious) stuffing out of much of the rest and focuses on a bare-bones, primal feeling that Douro reds give. The Quadrifolia is a basic wonder in the best sense.
Pairing: Yes, yes and yes. Turned the meal from a dull Chianti clunk-fest into something absolutely delicious.
The food went from flat to having all these vertical levels. Took one bite and sip to realize our error, intensifying every flavor on the plate. Even the wine with the arugula salad stayed its delicious self. We love cacio e pepe with white wine, particularly a Portuguese alvarinho or an albariño. We wanted to see how a red would perform, ending up with something that will be replicated sometime in the future.
Total save, total success. Went from a dumb meal to entirely exciting.
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