Sicily with Escopazzo
MIAMI, FL – Last week, once again, the clever and fun marketing team at Casa Vinicola Zonin, led by the ever-lovely Jelena Meisel and the ever-amusing Pietro Riccobono, staged an outstanding Italian food and wine demonstration. This time the Chef del Giorno was a woman I’d been dying to meet: Giancarla Bodoni of Miami’s celeb hotspot, Escopazzo. The region: Sicily. (Search on hashtag #ZoninICE on Twitter for some cool tweets and pics from the event.)
Bodoni has been doing the authentic Italian cuisine thing in Miami for quite some time. I actually believe she’s a big part of the reason we’re seeing this current trend with so many upscale Italian restaurateurs (like Marco Stabile’s Toscana Divino) opening new hotspots here. Bodoni and a few others helped pave the way. Grazie Dio because authentic Italian food and wine are my passion, and I was starting to feel, when I moved here in ’06, that I needed a microscope sometimes to find it.
In fact, until I found the folks at Casa Vinicola Zonin through their partner The Italy-America Chamber of Commerce, Southeast, I’d been wondering where exactly the passion for L’Ambiente del Vino Italiano was here in Florida. Now, I’m happy. I’ve found it. Of course, it’s not just Italians that share the passion here, nor are only Italians creating some of South Florida’s best authentic Italian cuisine. Seems the passion is shared by many people with diverse ethic backgrounds. It’s inspiring to see people embracing the food, from the country where my father was born, as an art form. Anyone that has spent time in Italy already knows this, but it’s taken some time to change U.S. perceptions about Italian food.
This was the first chance I’ve had to meet the new President of the Italy-America Chamber, Nevio Boccanera, who spoke to the group about the importance of perpetuating and protecting (from fraudsters) authentic Italian food and Made in Italy products.
Our other event sponsor Tomson Hospitality Boutique was represented by V.P. of Sales, Tommaso Cardana (check their website to hear a really beautiful Italian song). They supply very cool plateware, utensils and industrial kitchen and cooking gadgets to many upscale restaurants and hotels.
For this demonstration “art form” was really a most-apt description for Giancarla Bodoni’s creations. I was delighted to learn that she was (and still is) a visual artist before she became a chef. (Especially because the other kind of writing I do is about art www.fineartnotebook.com.) For me the greatest Italian chefs are those — like my idol, Massimo Bottura — who elevate it to art. It’s evident that Bodoni is exactly this type of chef.
Let’s begin with this photo of her Aperitivo, served with a fizzy, delightful glass of the heavenly goodness known as Zonin Prosecco (c.$15). Now when I hear the “pop” of those bottles I’m already smiling. Bodoni’s accompaniment: Salt-Cured, Herb-and-Balsamic Marinated Swordfish Carpaccio with Arugula and EVOO. Fitting for Sicily, known for seafood, and also for the current popularity of crudo, raw seafood dishes, here and in Italy. Isn’t this lovely?
It was just as delicious as it was pretty. I guess the closest description is “Italian” sushi. Very flavorful, tender fish. The EVOO Bodoni used was a perfect complement, very flavorful. She explained they have their own label, which they import from Umbria.
From our Aperitivo, we moved on to our Antipasto of Grilled Mediterranean Octopus Panzanella. It was an octopus, herb and olive mixture on crostini. My neighbor, Hubert Harriman, a wine advisor and educator in Miami, hit the nail on the head when he asked Bodoni how she got the octopus — a notoriously chewy, tough fish — to be so tender. She explained that she poaches it for a while beforehand. It was really a delightful flavoring and our wine pairing, Insolia, was the perfect partner. I’m not as big a fan of white wines, but I loved this one.
Pietro Riccobono explained that the producer of the day’s wines, Principi di Butera, did not have many whites because there aren’t many white grape varietals in Sicily. He guided us through our tasting explaining about this slightly sweet, balanced wine with a nice bouquet and hints of apricots. I was genuinely surprised to learn about the $15 price tag. I guessed the $20-$30 range, so this is really a good buy. You can find Insolio at ABC Wines.
Our next course, was Primo, first. For this Bodoni prepared Eggplant Stuffed Paccheri with Tomatoes, Capers, Scamorza and Mozzarella. They were almost too pretty to eat, neatly arranged in pairs that were standing erect on Bodoni’s perfect light marinara sauce and tied with an herb twine.
Our wine pairing for the Paccheri is one of my favorite everyday Italian reds: Nero D’Avola. This 2010, again from Principi di Butera, complemented Bodoni’s lovely sauce ( I really liked her sauce!) nicely.
Our second course, secondo, which is always traditionally a meat course, was Braised Lamb with Parsnip, Leek, Potato and Scallion. Again, Hubert hit it when he remarked that parsnips are such a great veggie that we never seem to get enough of. Bodoni’s lamb was very tender and flavorful and the bed of vegetables she chose accentuated the lamb’s flavors. Now is a good time, too, for me to comment on the fact that Escopazzo was one of the first “local” restaurants in Miami, meaning that they rely on local, seasonal ingredients for their menu. Nationally, “local” is very trendy and omnipresent now (think Dan Barber of Blue Hill at Stone Barns), but this wasn’t always the case. Bodoni was way ahead of her time in embracing the local (and also organic!) concept.
The wine here was a very pleasant surprise for two reasons: 1.) I’d never had or even heard of it before 2) It’s not available yet in the U.S., so we got to be among the first to taste it. This red table wine is called Symposio. I fell in love with it on the spot, so I almost jumped out of my seat when I realized I had the “blue tape” on my chair and won a bottle to take home. It’s great stuff. This is the blend: 65% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Merlot and 5% Petit Verdot. Look for it soon onU.S. shelves.
Bodoni surely saved the best for last because our dolce, dessert, course transported me to that realm where chocolate achieves heavenly status and I’m left trying to figure out if there will ever come a day when I can eat freely and not gain weight (I’ve been wondering this since 12). Bodoni served us a Chocolate Ganache with Crème Anglais and Amarene Cherries (see photo at top of post). It was one of those desserts that only a master chef can create – somehow managing to be simultaneously light and decadently rich. Our accompaniment was the best Nero D’Avola I’ve had to date: Principi di Butera, Nero D’Avolo, Single Vineyards 2008. This was my favorite wine of the day. It was just robustly flavorful and light – just like the dessert, so a perfect pairing.
So, concluded another superb demo graciously staged by those smarties at Casa Vinicola Zonin, who are doing the Miami community a wonderful service by educating food writers like myself about the joys of Italian food and wine pairing so that we, in turn, can share these discoveries with you our dear readers.