Italian cooking has reached an unparalleled level of prestige in the United States over the past few decades. We’ve been in love with classic Italian-American dishes like spaghetti and meatballs for generations, and now we’re adding to our repertoire with traditional dishes from the Old World, as well. Here are a few of my favorite Italian foods and wines to go with them for your next celebration of Italy and its cuisine.
Antipasti: Vegetable Crudo with Bagna Cauda and Prosecco
Italian meals are best when they begin with small bites to awaken the appetite and prepare the palate. For your first course, I would suggest crudo (raw) vegetables served alongside a traditional sauce in the Piemonte region of Italy called “Bagna Cauda” – literally translating to “warm bath.” Start by cutting up a variety of seasonal vegetables like carrots, celery, fennel, zucchini, broccoli, radishes, or kale – whatever you can find fresh – and arrange them on a platter or in individual bowls. The sauce is made by mixing olive oil and butter with anchovy and garlic. Serve warm in a central bowl like fondue or in individual cups. You should also have some crusty bread on hand. Your guests can dip their vegetables in the sauce and use the bread to catch any stray drops. This sauce is addictive; even if you don’t like anchovies, give it a try. It’s not fishy at all and will provide an authentic and delicious start to your meal.
Pair this course with Italy’s rising star of sparkling wine: Prosecco. Made from a local grape called “Glera,” Prosecco provides the elegance of a sparkling wine at a great value. Flavors of apple, pear, and ripe peach accented by tart lemon notes will refresh your palate and enhance your appetite for the remainder of the meal.
Primi: Fettuccine with Shrimp, Garlic Butter Sauce, and Pinot Grigio
The second course in your meal should feature a pasta. There’s no need to overthink your pasta course. A simple fettuccine with shrimp and garlic butter sauce will satisfy your guest’s cravings and provide an elegant pairing opportunity for Pinot Grigio.
Start by melting a generous portion of butter in a large saucepan over low heat. Add crushed garlic and minced shallot and cook, stirring often, until softened. Stir in a handful of parsley and a pinch of black pepper to finish. Cook your shrimp by searing it in hot vegetable or grapeseed oil until it turns pink, then add to your sauce. Meanwhile, bring a large pot of generously salted water to boil and add your fettuccine. Cook for the minimum amount of time as directed by the package. When the pasta is just finished, pour a small amount of the pasta water into your pan with the shrimp and sauce. The pasta water contains gluten and will help the sauce bind to the noodles. Strain your pasta and add it to the pan. Toss or stir until the sauce thickens and sticks to the noodles. Add a generous handful of shredded parmesan cheese and serve immediately.
Pinot Grigio has earned a place among the most loved white wines in the world. Its subtle tree fruit flavors, light body, and dry finish allow it to pair beautifully with dishes that might otherwise be overwhelmed by more aggressive wine. More and more small producers are working with this grape in the northeastern Italian regions of Friuli and the Veneto to produce elegant, distinctive wines that help to redefine what can be achieved with this varietal.
Secundi: Pork Chops Braised in Tomato Sauce with Barolo
Multi-course meals can be difficult to pull off at home without the benefit of a restaurant-sized staff to help with cleanup and service. Help yourself out by making one of your courses ahead in a slow cooker or dutch oven. Pork chops braised in tomato sauce will make a perfect main course that you can prepare ahead of time, so you’re not juggling too much during the actual meal. Sear the outside of the pork before adding it to a tomato sauce and cooking on low heat. You can garnish the dish with fresh basil, a pinch of cheese, some black pepper, and a drizzle of olive oil as you add it to individual plates.
This hearty dish is the perfect opportunity to showcase one of the kings of Italian wine: Barolo. Made from a grape called “Nebbiolo,” Barolo comes from the northwestern corner of Italy and features strong tannins, tart red berry and cherry flavors, and a myriad of complex notes like dried herbs, pipe tobacco, cedar, and baking spice. The wine and food will play brilliantly off of one another and leave your guests in awe.
Dulce: Pineapple Tarte Tatin with Vanilla Ice Cream and Moscato
After such a hearty meal, your guests will be ready for something vivacious for dessert. A pineapple tarte tatin will provide a lively finish to the evening. Cook pineapple juice with sugar and spices until it thickens, then pour over pineapple slices arranged in a baking dish. Top with puff pastry dough and bake for about fifteen minutes until golden brown. Turn the tarte over to serve alongside ice cream.
Moscato is made from the famous dessert wine grape known in much of the world as “Muscat.” In the Piemonte region of Italy, it finds one of its lightest and most refreshing expressions – sweet but slightly effervescent and low in alcohol. Moscato tastes like fresh peaches and pineapple, with flower and honey notes. It will complement your final course and bring your meal to a satisfying and delightful conclusion.