Italian Experiments Featuring Veal

I am trying not to refer to ‘old friends’ but to ‘friends of long standing’; that ‘old’ is getting too suggestive. However, among these friends of long standing are R & J who I have known since college days and had invited us to their place in Italy, just a little inland from the Riviera coast, but with a magnificent view of the Med from their large terrace.

It was a pleasure to leave the increasingly autumnal UK for a few days of really hot sun and sparkling sea (I’m writing ads already). But in Italy you can also eat and drink, with the typical Italian emphasis on simple, high quality, local produce. This tends also to include local wines which are a more mixed blessing. Here’s an example of one of J’s meals.

We started with an impressive-looking bottle ofAsti (the relatively new name for what used to be called Asti Spumante). The only guide to quality was the label which looked stylish in a carefully understated way that inspired confidence. It was a sparkling wine that smelled beautifully floral and fruity and that fruitiness carried through to the taste which was light and clean and only 9% alcohol. The only drawback was that it was a sweet wine, which would not be our first choice. We searched in vain on the front of the bottle for any indication and eventually found the word ‘dolce’ in the smallest size of print at the bottom of the back label. This was a good wine, not cloyingly sweet, but sweet in a clean fruity way, so why would they not be happy to say more clearly that it was sweet? Or perhaps we were supposed to know that Asti is usually sweet. It is, and we didn’t.

A little research reveals that it is made from 100% Moscato Bianco grapes and that it is bottled with the bubbles from the primary fermentation (unlike champagne which is bottled as a still wine and the bubbles are created in each bottle by a separate secondary fermentation). It is made in Piedmont around the town of Asti in vast quantities, little of it being drunk in theUK. We seem to prefer Prosecco, perhaps because we like our fizz dry. (Incidentally, despite that ‘secco’ in the name it was predominantly sweet until about 50 years ago.)

We started the meal with just mozzarella and figs, and you will not get better examples of either than in Italy in September. Delicious.

The veal was presented as escallops which, in the UK would be cut with a knife and beaten out thin. In Liguria we found they are cut thin with a bacon slicer resulting in 1/8” thick escallops whose texture feels better to me. These were cooked extremely quickly, served in a sauce containing lots of lemon and accompanied by roasted vegetables. Best of all we ate outside on the terrace until long after sunset.

With the meal we drank Rossese di Dolce Acqua DOC, a light local red wine. Like a lot of the reds drunk in Italy it depends on acidity rather than tannins for its interaction with food and can taste thin or sharp to the unaccustomed palate. The Italian reds that we get in the UK tend to be heavily biased towards the tannic, often spectacularly so, but Italians drink local wines, relatively young. In fact it went very well with the veal and vegetables, a notably light dish that would have been seriously unbalanced by a Super Tuscan monster. I would be unlikely to drink wine like this in a British winter – it wouldn’t go with the dishes we eat and I don’t look for acidity in winter – but on a terrace with a view of theMediterranean on a late summer evening it’s absolutely right. Thanks R & J.

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