Monthly Archives: March 2017

Another Year in Recipes: “The Italian Vegetable Cookbook”

«Two End-of-Winter Soups

The last week of winter sent us some nasty weather as a parting gift. It has been a peculiar winter hereabouts: many days’ temperature getting up into the 60s, followed by colder spells with lots of wind, then unseasonal warmth again. It had hardly snowed at all until a late nor’easter barreled toward us, threatening Manhattan with 15” or more of snow and wild blustery winds. It was definitely a day to stay home and make soup.

I remembered there were some soup recipes in Michele Scicolone’s Italian Vegetable Cookbook that I’d been meaning to try for a long time, so I pulled my copy off the shelf and started looking through it. Aha: Celery Rice Soup – the very thing! Beloved Spouse is always eager for dishes involving cooked celery, and I had just bought a large fresh head of it.

With that incentive, he was more than happy to chop all the vegetables for the soup. He began working on the four biggest stalks of celery, then moved on to a big onion and two potatoes, while I measured out ½ cup of white rice, grated ½ cup of parmigiano, and defrosted 6 cups of homemade broth and 2 tablespoons of minced parsley.

The cooking process was simple. In a soup pot I briefly softened the onion in olive oil, stirred in the celery and potatoes to coat them with the oil, poured in the broth, and simmered everything for 20 minutes. Then I added the rice and some salt and pepper, simmered it for another 20 minutes, and stirred in the parsley. The rice had absorbed a lot of the liquid, making the soup look almost like a vegetable stew.

For lunch that day we ate big bowls of it, topped with grated parmigiano. It was a perfect consolation for a mean, snowy, sleety day: hearty, homey, and comforting, with a mild and delicate flavor of celery.

A few cold, windy days later I turned to another recipe from the same book:Pugliese-style Zucchini-Potato Soup. Its ingredients are similar in type but even fewer in number than the previous one’s: potatoes, zucchini, and spaghetti, with condiments of garlic, olive oil, and grated parmigiano.

The cooking too is even simpler: Bring salted water to a boil, add cut-up potatoes and a minced clove of garlic, cook 10 minutes, until the potatoes are tender. Add cut-up zucchini and broken-up spaghetti; cook 10 more minutes, until the spaghetti is al dente. Stir in olive oil, black pepper, and grated cheese. Serve, passing more olive oil at the table.

This minimal peasant soup was, once again, just what the weather needed. The final dressing of cheese and olive oil completed and enhanced its simple basic flavors. Beloved Spouse said it struck him as a grandmother’s soup. My only complaint was for the blandness of the out-of-season zucchini: They didn’t contribute all they should have to the mixture.

But the vernal equinox is past, Earth’s northern hemisphere is tilting toward the sun, the days are getting longer, and soon the growing season will be upon us. And if winter delivers any Parthian shots to us, I can retaliate with the rest of my two soups.

1 Comment

Filed under Uncategorized

The Return Of Gruppo Italiano

The Gruppo Italiano held its first event at Il Gattopardo Restaurant in NYC the other night. Gianfranco Sorrentino, the President and Chairman of the Gruppo Italiano, and owner of Il Gattopardo, welcomed the guests and spoke about the Gruppo Italiano’s mission. The organization is dedicated to popularizing authentic Italian cuisine, products and the Italian life style and enhancing its image in the United States through education, member restaurants and promotions.

Paula Bolla- Sorrentino and Gianfranco Sorrentino

Italian food products, wine and Italian cookbooks were on display. Appetizers were passed, always a treat when they come from the kitchen of Il Gattopardo. Red, white and sparkling wines were poured.

Gianfranco said the Gruppo Italiano strives to provide a constant flow of information about Italian cuisine and wine to member restaurants, food and wine importers and distributors, the press, culinary schools and the general consumer with a serious interest in authentic Italian food. The GI also helps fund the Giacomo Bologna Scholarship program for culinary students through a partnership with the National Restaurant Association. They plan to organize events throughout the year to support the scholarship program.

Each year the GI will organize a trip to a different region of Italy with the purpose of highlighting its history, food and wine. Invitations to join the trip will be extended to members and the press. Trips to Italy for students of the American Culinary Institute are also planned as well as hosting Italian culinary students to study in the US.

Bloomberg news reported just a few days ago that despite Italy’s current problems, the country it has the healthiest people in the world and we know why. There is no better way to eat than to follow the Mediterranean diet. The GI would like to educate members and the public about eating well and to pay more attention to the quality of the products they buy.

Maurizio Forte, Italian Trade Commissioner, spoke about the importance of authentic Italian cuisine and authentic Italian products. He also said it was very important to have an association composed of Italian restaurateurs, importers and distributers that are so passionate about Italian food and wine.

Journalist John Mariani spoke about what he thinks is authentic Italian cuisine and its evolution in the United States.

John Mariani, Maurizio Forte, Paula Bolla-Sorrentino, Gianfranco Sorrentino, Charles Scicolone==Gruppo Italiano Members & Press Cocktail Reception==Il Gattopardo, NYC==March 20, 2017==©Patrick McMullan==Photo – Owen Hoffmann/PMC== ==

I spoke about the American market for Italian wine, and the importance of the small “boutique” importers and distributors that are promoting Italian indigenous grapes and artisanal wines versus industrial or mass-produced wines.

The annual membership is $50.00 to receive all of the services provided to GI members.

Contact: 13-15 West 54th Street NY, NY

Phone 212-246-0412


Leave a comment

Filed under Gruppo Italiano, Uncategorized

On Wine, Pizza and the Princess in Naples


In February, I received an invitation from an acquaintance to try a new restaurant in New York. But since I was in Naples, Italy, I responded that I could not attend. “In that case,” came the reply, “you must visit the Pizzeria Concettina ai Tre Santi. My mother, the princess, owns the building and lives upstairs.” It sounded like a great invitation but unfortunately my schedule was set and we were leaving Naples shortly so I had to decline.

I had an appointment to meet with winery owners Gilda Guida and her husband Salvatore Martusciello.

I met Gilda last year on the Campania Stories tour for journalists.

Gilda Guida

At the Pizzeria Parule in Ercolano I drank the best Gragnano, which I consider the perfect pizza wine, that I have had. Gilda told me it was her and her husbands’ wine.  Salvatore had 26 years of experience in his family winery before going out on his own. His family’s was the first winery to produce sparkling wine in Campania over 30 years ago.  Their winery is in Quarto. We had a long conversation about wine and pizza and she had invited me to visit.

Salvatore in the Vineyard

Gilda and Salvatore picked us up in front of our hotel and drove us to see one of their vineyards located on a high hill in Gragnano with great views.

Salvatore said the training system is the spalliera. He said he does not own any vineyards but has arrangements with a number of small vineyard owners in the area. All of the arrangements are based on a handshake, he said. Salvatore showed us around the vineyard pointing out where the different grapes were grown. He spoke very enthusiastically about the terroir, the native grapes and this part of Campania in particular.

After we visited the vineyard, Gilda and Salvatore suggested we go for pizza to what they consider the best pizzeria in Naples right now. To my surprise, it was Concettina ai Tre Santi (S.Antonio, S.Anna and S. Alfonso) the same place my New York contact had recommended. I could not believe the coincidence! We called the Principessa who graciously came down to meet us and took us on a tour of her grand apartments.

Ciro  at the Wood Burning Oven

At the restaurant, we met the pizzaiolo/owner Ciro Oliva who is only 24 years old. The pizzeria is not in the best part of Naples,Via Arena della Sanità 7, but Ciro has become famous because of his great pizza and his charity work for the children and needy people in his neighborhood. The place is always crowded.

Ciro brought out a succession of fritti, fried appetizers, including little fried pizzette with different toppings,

little rice balls filled with cabbage and cheese, fried pasta and fried polenta. With them we drank Salvatore’s Trentapioli Spumante Brut Asprinino d’Aversa. It was an excellent combination.

“Trentapioli “Spumante Brut Asprinino d’Aversa 2015 (Metodo Martinotti Brut) Made from 100% Asprinio d’Aversa from the tree-lined historic vineyard in the town of Casapesenna, in the Agro Aversano. The name of the wine Trentapioli comes from the thirty pegs of the ladder used to climb up to harvest the grapes

The vines are typical Alberata Aversana. In the Alberata training system, which dates back to the Etruscans, the vines grow up to 18 meters tall and are tied to tall poplar trees. The harvest is manual because ladders up to 20 meters high are used in order to reach the grapes.  The grapes are placed in 18kg boxes. The soil is alluvial, volcanic and of medium texture. After crushing, the must is immediately separated from the skins and placed in an autoclave for a second fermentation. The wine is matured on its lees in an autoclave for about 90 days and was bottled on December 3. The wine has nice citrus fruit aromas and flavors with a hint of lime, herbs and good acidity. The wine can age for 5 to 6 years.

Then Ciro made a number of pizzas for us to share using local cheeses, vegetables and meats.

With the pizza we drank Salvatore and Gilda’s Ottouve Gragnano della Penisola Sorrentino 2015. This is a slightly frizzante red wine which Salvatore likes to describe as vivace (lively). It was good as I remember it from last year.

Ottouve Gragnano della Penisola Sorrentina DOC Made from 60% Piedrosso, Aglianico, Sciascinoso and 40%, Suppezza, Castagnara, Serbegna, Olivella and Sauca. That is why the wine is called eight grapes. Salvatore said it was a tribute to the lesser known grapes of the area. The training system is espalier.

The vineyard is at 300 meters. For 2015 the harvest began on September 24th and ended on October 8th. The grapes were hand harvested into boxes of 20kg. After destemming and crushing, maceration with the skins lasts for 5 days, soft pressing of the grapes in a pneumatic press  and fermentation in temperature controlled tanks at about 20C

The 2015 vintage was bottled on December 1st. The wine should be served chilled and should be drunk within two years after it was bottled. This is the perfect pizza wine but it also goes with many other southern Italian dishes. It is only 11.5% alcohol. This is a  wine with light foam when poured, hints of strawberry, red currants and a hint of spice.

 Salvatore also produces :

Settevulcani Falanghina dei Campi Flegrei DOC

Settevulcani Piedirosso dei Campo Flegrei DOC

Ottonove Lettere della Penisola Sorrentina DOC

 After having a very enjoyable time, making new friends, sightseeing, eating pizza and drinking wine, we did not have enough time to taste these wines.  I guess I will just have to return again.  But Salvatore and Gilda had one more surprise for us. They took us to visit their vineyard in the Campi Flegrei called Foglie di Amaltea.  It overlooks a large volcanic lake though they do not currently produce grapes there.

Leave a comment

Filed under Asprinio d'Aversa, Cantina Salvatore Martusiello, Ciro Oliva, Concettina ai Tre Santi, Gragnano, Gragnano OttoUve, Otto Uva

Excellent Article in the Washington Post on Wine Critic Daniele Cernilli

Italy’s go-to critic confirms why America’s embracing his country’s vino

Columnist, Food March 11  The Washington Post

Searching for value, variety and excitement in wine? Look to Italy — or so says Daniele Cernilli.

Cernilli is the author of “The Ultimate Guide to Italian Wine 2017,” and a longtime champion of the wines of his native country. The Roman was one of the founding editors of Gambero Rosso, the leading Italian food and wine magazine that grew out of the Slow Food movement in the 1980s. Wine lovers around the world know Gambero Rosso’s “tre bicchieri,” or three glasses, as the highest rating an Italian wine can receive (at least in Italy).

“Italian wines are the new wave for high-quality wines for Americans,” because there are many with high quality for the price, Cernilli told me during a recent industry and consumer tasting at the Mayflower Hotel sponsored by the Wine Scholars Guild. The tasting included about 50 wines that were top scorers in his new guide.

“Quality is higher than Spain, but in price we are lower than France,” Cernilli said, explaining Italy’s appeal to value-conscious consumers.

Those consumers should look for wines from Campania, he said. “The wines there are improving in a tremendous way. It’s the Tuscany of the south.” He praised Campania for its local grape varieties such as fiano and greco di tufo, as well as wines made with international varieties.

At 62, Cernilli looks every bit the rumpled oenophile, with a wine-softened smile lifting his double chin, and a paunch coaxing out his shirttail. (Believe me, I know the look.) He is congenial, but he bristles at the mention of Gambero Rosso, which he left in 2011 to create his own website,

When a winery representative offered a taste of a Chianti Classico during the event, saying, “It got tre bicchieri,” Cernilli waved it off and pointed to another wine.

“I created tre bicchieri,” he said. “I know what it has become. It’s all politics.

“I am too romantic to be in Gambero Rosso today,” he continued. “It is more modern and commercial. They gave 450 tre bicchieri last year. That’s too many high awards. They also do more than 50 events worldwide each year. In my day, we did three.

“I want to be a publisher, not a promoter,” he said.

So in addition to his website, Cernilli has self-published his third annual guide in Italian (and second translated in English) as a counterpart to Gambero Rosso’s annual Guide to Italian Wines, which he edited for more than two decades. In that respect, he is not unlike other prominent writers, such as Wine Spectator’s James Suckling or Wine Advocate’s Antonio Galloni, who have tried to leverage their own reputations independent of the publications that made them famous. It is available for $20 at Eataly in New York and will soon be on Amazon. (Amazon chief executive Jeffery P. Bezos is the owner of The Washington Post.)

This might be a good time for this book. Americans are buying more Italian wine than ever, according to the business news website Il Sole 24 Ore. Italian wine exports to the U.S. market last year topped 1.8 billion euros (about $1.9 billion), up 6 percent over 2015. That was a volume increase of 4 percent.

Prosecco, the inexpensive and charming — if rarely compelling — sparkling wine, led the charge, with 2016 sales up 28.5 percent over the previous year.

With more than 500 grape varieties, Italy offers a lifetime of wine adventure and exploration. Cernilli’s book guides us, region by region, through the top producers as rated by him and his contributors. Wineries are evaluated from 0 to 3 stars, with their top wines scored on a 100-point scale. Wines that score 95 or higher receive an additional stamp of approval: Cernilli’s visage, dubbed a “DoctorWine Face” — his personal guarantee of the wine’s quality. Inexpensive wines that show extraordinary value are denoted by a thumbs-up symbol, the universal social media positive review. Cernilli and his team also named their best red and white wines of the year, as well as winery and winemaker of the year.

Cernilli may have written the “ultimate” guide to Italian wine, but it isn’t an exhaustive one. The book includes nearly 1,000 wineries and about 2,500 wines. Some wineries familiar to U.S. wine lovers are conspicuous by their absence, such as Alois Lageder in Alto Adige, the cult winery Radikon in Friuli and Tenuta delle Terre Nere on Sicily’s Mount Etna.

“We choose wineries by the quality of their wines year by year,” Cernilli told me. When wineries don’t perform as expected, he leaves them out rather than writing a bad review, “out of respect to their history and international image.”

“The Ultimate Guide to Italian Wine 2017” is a valuable reference, engagingly written in an Italian accent. Let Italy’s foremost wine critic introduce you to the exciting variety Italy has to offer.

Leave a comment

Filed under Daniele Cernilli, Uncategorized

Checchino dal 1887- Dining like the Romans

Checchino dal 1887

 Via di Monte Testaccio 30  


Open from 12:30 to 15:00 and from 20:00 to 24:00     

Closed Sunday night and all day Monday

The Mariani Family has owned the restaurant Checchino dal 1887 since it opened in 1887.

Francesco and Elio

Francesco and Elio

Francesco Mariani takes care of the front of the house while his brother  Elio is in the kitchen and their sister Marina handles the accounting. Considering the wine and the food, it is the best restaurant in Rome with over six hundred wines from Italy and all over the world.

IMG_9791 The wine is stored in a cellar that was dug into Monte Testaccio, a hill made from broken amphorae, which dates back to Ancient Rome.IMG_9856

The slaughterhouses of Rome used to be located across the street and the restaurant still specializes in innards and other spare parts, which the Romans called the quinto quarto, or fifth quarter, which the poor people used to eat.

Michele and I first came here over 30 years ago and return every time we are in Rome, which is very often. There is an outdoor space but we prefer to sit inside.

Usually when we arrive, Francesco will make some wine suggestions for me, saying something like “I have the 1971 Fiorano, or the 1971 Torre Ercolana or the 1983 Colle Picchione, which one do you want.”img_2876

This time he proudly announced that the restaurant has a new plate Buon Ricordo plate in honor of the 130 anniversary of the restaurant and the 35 year anniversary of the Unione Ristoranti Del Buon Ricordo. Restaurants that are members of this collectors club give you a colorful souvenir plate if you order a certain traditional dish on the menu. Checchino’s new plate features Bue Garofolato, a beef pot roast cooked in a tomato sauce accented with cloves.

Michele then got up to look at the plate that was hanging on the wall and I knew what she was going to order it.img_2785

I started with the Assaggio di Fagioli e Cotiche, pig skin and borlotti beans cooked with tomato. This dish is so good, so intense, that I cannot resist!img_2790

Michele had the Artichoke alla Romana to start,img_2787

then the Pasta e Ceci, a thick chick pea and pasta soup flavored with rosemary.img_2788

Bucatini all’Amatriciana is my favorite pasta dish and as they say “nobody does it better”. I always order it here.img_2789

Fegato di vitello ai ferri,  thin slices of grilled veal liver, very flavorful and tender, was my main course and as a side dish I had an Artichoke alla Romana.img_2791

For the secondo Michele had the Bue Garofola, the piatti dell buon ricordo, served with cabbage braised with fennel seed.img_2784

We drank the 1971 Torre Ercolano and Francesco said it was the last bottle.img_2792

I finished with warm Apple Cake topped with Vanilla Gelato.

A week or so later, I invited Daniele Cernilli, aka “Doctor Wine,” author of The Ultimate Guide to Italian Wine 2017, and his wife Marina Thompson to lunch at Checchino. I have to go there at least twice when I am in Rome and found out it is one of Daniele’s favorite restaurants and that he has been going there since 1979–even longer than Michele and I. We had great lunch along with a bottle of 1983 Colle Picchione



Filed under Uncategorized