Wednesday, September 30, 2009

A journey through Basilicata

Dinners at Vini are always a journey through different regions of Italy.

Understanding the different cuisines of the world or its regional differences is really “a look of the world through the kitchen window” as my book “Around the world in eighty dishes”, a book published in 1956, so writes in its foreword.

Expect plenty of surprises, pleasant surprises at that.

The night’s dinner at Vini had its focus on the cuisine from Basilicata. Basilicata is located in the South of Italy. It is a poor region and its cuisine mostly makes use of the products of the land and of the meat as fish and seafood is scarce in the region.

The chilli and peppers are present in the region’s cooking. It was once used to counter illnesses such as Malaria but has since found a permanent place in the distinctiveness of Basilicata’s food.

My best friend and I had a ball of a time eating and drinking at Vini last evening. It was good in every sense of the meal. The ambience, the company, the wine, and most importantly every course of the meal.

The antipasti platter started off our meal on a good note: buffalo mozerella was served with chilli jam. Sounds like a strange pairing but in fact, it worked really well. Sugna (flavoured pork rind and fat with herbs and salt) was served with crosini; this used to be a staple of the sheperds. Pan fried mandolin potatoes with baccalĂ  (salted cod) was a real delight. It didn’t feel heavy on the palate. The deep fried assorted vegetables (Snake beans, broad beans, chick peas, aubergine, zucchini) with tiny morsels of cheese encrusted with really light batter could most probably give the boring salad a completely new face lift.

The Italian wine that was paired with the antipasti platter was a light, crisp, a touch of spiciness was really a pleasure to drink especially with the food.

Antipasti- Buffalo mozerella with chilli jam, baccala and potato, fried vegetable, sugna with crostini

Primi (first course) was farro ( a type of grain which has similarities to barley) is served with the tiniest but sweetest cherry tomatoes, zucchini and shaved ricotta salata (A type of dry, salted sheep’s milk cheese). This was really unusual and makes an interesting eat but at the same time, it was an enjoyable dish with all the flavours intertwining together, with the slightly chewy farro. This was served with an Italian merlot, a little heavy for a merlot but works perfectly well with the dish.

Farri cherry tomatoes with zuchini, ricotta salata

Main was roasted pork shoulder, braised pork, with a thin long strip of pork crackle. This was really good! The roasted pork was bursting with flavours and aromas yet it was so tender. The pork crackle (I say is even better than that at Aria!) was pure heaven. It crackles the moment you bite into it, the way it should. The sides were roasted peppers with almonds, simple and unassuming. The wine pairing ( Canneto Aglianico 05’) for this course, the only wine from the Basilicata region as we were informed, was a very acidic wine with deep tannins. Very rich and strong on its own but seems to mellow down with the richness of the pork.

Organic roast pork shoulder, cannelini beans

Dolci is the course that I look forward to all the time. We were served a slice of ricotta lemon tart with drizzle of honey and fried rosemary. I had to get over my initial shock at the rosemary and dessert combination. It worked perfectly well for me. The smoothness of the ricotta with that hint of lemon, a flaky pastry base, lightly sweet honey with the sharpness of the rosemary. That rounded off our dinner.

Dolci, ricotta lemon tart, honey and rosemary

The exploration of a small slice of Basilicata has ended along with the dinner. My desire to experience the little pockets of Italy and the rich diversity of their regional cuisine has been refuelled.

While to travel around Italy may be a distant dream, I know that I always can fall back on books and Vini for a little journey or two into the kitchen windows of Italy.

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