Emilia-Romagna. A region known for mortadella, prosciutto, culatello, lardo, and all other forms of salted, dried or seasoned pork. With all that beautiful cured meat, not to mention the local cheeses, I suppose the locals had a dilemma on their hands. How to transfer this delicious pork or cheese product into their mouths? What vessel would be light and crispy enough to enhance the natural richness of this meaty goodness, but could also be rich enough to stand on its own? And then God said, “Let there be Gnocco Fritto.” At least that’s how I like to think the birth of the Gnocco Fritto occurred.
I have a small obsession with these tasty little squares of fried dough. While living in Bologna I sampled a spectrum of Gnocco Fritto- and they are not all created equal! Like most simple things, there are still infinite variations and subtleties: the type and temperature of oil used for frying, the salt level, the crispy-to-chewy ratio etc… Outside of Emila Romagna, I have recently found the most perfect version of them all. In San Diego, California.
Bencotto Italian Kitchen is the product of Guido Nistri and Chef Fabrizio Cavallini. These Italian transplants are finally bringing some authentic Italy to San Diego. It comes as no surprise (especially if you’ve ever tasted Chef Fabrizio’s Gnocco Fritto), that said Chef is from Emilia-Romagna. Hence, it also follows logically (and to my ultimate happiness) that served alongside the perfectly executed Gnocco Fritto was a plate that looked like this:
Paper thin slices of some of the most delicate and savory cured meats this side of the Atlantic ocean. I was eating at Bencotto with a couple of friends, one of whom has ordered this same dish so many times Guido actually came over and told us he was ordering us another dish just so that she would try something else. This dish, unsurprisingly, was also amazing:
Fried, stuffed zucchini blossoms… perfectly crisp and bursting with delicious, oozing cheese.
What would be the perfect wine pairing to such a rich and hearty meal? In my mind there is no better match than another local Emilia-Romagna jewel than Lambrusco. Lambrusco is that fizzy red wine every American seems to associate with a very sweet, cloying 1980’s jingle, “Riunite on Ice… that’s nice!” But please understand- there is so much more to Lambrusco than this! Don’t underestimate the spectrum of this grape- nor the power of a fizzy red wine to elevate various fried foods! For another (and more educated) opinion of additional fizzy red (and white) wine varieties, check out this review by Tracie P. from Do Bianchi Wine Selections.
A Riunite Lambrusco night-light? Why not!?
By nature Lambrusco isn’t necessarily a serious, ponderous wine- it’s supposed to be fun! Lambrusco is fresh, aromatic and easy-drinking. This is the party-girl of the Italian wine world- she’s all dressed up and ready to go! The versions I like the best tend to be very on the dryer side, with a lot of acidity. My favorite producer is Fiorini, a family from the foothills of the Appenine mountains near Modena called Fiorini. Alberto and Cristin Fiorini are a wonderful sister & brother duo who produce some stunning wines, and whose family has also been producing world-class basalmic vinegars in the local artisan tradition for many generations. These people are passionate about Emilia-Romagna, and most importantly, about Lambrusco!
I love that immediately on the Fiorini website it is apparent that Lambrusco is as much about food as it is about wine. Lambrusco is a wine “… which has always graced our tables to accompany the most simple and traditional dishes, from “tigelle” (Emilian flatbread) to ravioli, from boiled pig’s feet to salami and cured lard.” This is what is so special about Italy, and about Emilia-Romagna specifically. There’s no identity crisis when it comes to eating and drinking- everything is local, time-honored and simply makes sense. If you’re going to enjoy the local cuisine, why wouldn’t you pair it with the local wines?
Please, promise me, if you’re ever faced with a plate of the most perfectly fired Gnocco Fritto, accompanied by and equally perfect plate of salumi, you will curb any instinct to order a glass of California Zinfandel, and instead consider a glass of Lambrusco. Now that’s nice!