HELLO GRAPPA

I have been a grappa drinker since the first time I went to Italy in 1970. I generally enjoy grappa after meals, but I also like it in espresso (caffé corretto), drizzled on Italian ices, in a fruit salad, with chocolate, and in orange juice on cold winter mornings. Michele often cooks with grappa.

Two years ago I was invited to Rome to visit three wineries in Lazio. The organizer of the trip was Sylvia Anna Annavini and I had a great time. Sylvia contacted me when she came to NYC and Michele and I went to dinner with her. At one point she asked if we liked grappa and I said yes and so much so that we had written an article for Gourmet magazine on Cooking with Grappa. The grappa chocolate cake appeared on the cover of the magazine. Silva was doing a promotion for Grappa both in NYC and in Italy, called “Hello Grappa” and asked if we would like to take part.A few months later Silvia invited us to Italy for Hello Grappa to visit distilleries which produce Grappa.

We visited two distilleries: the Bonollo Distillery in Torrita di Siena in Tuscany and the Mazzetti Distillery in Altavilla, Piedmont.

Giulia Di Cosimo and Maria Carla Bonollo

At Bonollo we were greeted by Maria Carla Bonollo and her daughter Giulia Di Cosimo.

Bonollo is a very large operation and the Bonollo family own distilleries in other parts of Italy.  It Italy it is against the law to produce distilled spirits and wine on the same property. So Bonollo not only makes grappa under its own label but also  for some of the best  producers  in Tuscany such as Castello Banfi.

The producers will send their pomace to Bonollo and tell them what type of Grappa they want, traditional (clear), or aged (in barrels) and the alcohol content they want for their grappa.

In the past grappa was enjoyed mostly by farm workers in the cold weather to give them energy before they went into the fields to work. It was looked upon as something only the peasants drank because it was made from the discarded grape skins after the grapes were pressed. It was a morning drink taken between the hours of 8:00 AM and 10:00 AM. Back then grappa was only made  in Northern Italy. Over the years the popularity of grappa grew and it became more expensive. Southern Italy does not have a tradition of grappa because it is too warm. It is only recently with the popularity and often high prices for grappa that wineries in Southern Italy have their grape pomace (vinaccia in Italian) turned into grappa. Grappa was first called acqua vita, water of life,

The pomace

There are 45 distilleries that produce grappa in Italy and wine producers send their pomace to one of these distilleries to be made into grappa. Pomace is the grape residue left after the first pressing when making wine.  There are over 4,000 grappa labels on the market today.

Producing Grappa

In the distillery there are 100 days of work, 24/7 from September to December. The freshest selected pomace is distilled each day. The distillation takes place in alembics using the traditional discontinuous bain marie system (steam distillation).  Grappa is very difficult to produce because pomace is a solid ingredient.

The first part of the production called the “head” tastes bad because it contains too much methane (tastes like nail polish) and is discarded. The last part is called the “tail” and contains too many impurities and is also discarded. The discontinuous method produces small amounts of high quality grappa.

There is also the continuous process of grappa production in giant stills, which produces large amounts of grappa. This grappa is more commercial and does not cost as such as the grappa produced by the discontinuous method.

At Bonollo they mostly use the discontinuous method but do make some grappa using the continuous method.

Grappa made from white grapes (especially aromatic grapes like Moscato)  have more aromas and is easier to drink than grappa made from red grapes, though grappa made from red grapes has more taste. If you are going to introduce grappa to someone for the first time it is better to chose a grappa made from white grapes as it is easier to drink.

Until about 20 years ago all grappa was made without being aged in wood and this is now referred to as traditional grappa. This grappa was clear in color and the aroma and the flavor reflected the pomace that it was made from.

Today many grappa’s are aged in barriques, mostly new and are dark in color and in many cases the wood flavors dominate.  Grappa aged in wood is considered good as an entry-level grappa because the wood mellows the grappa. Both at Bonollo and Mazzetti the aged grappa we tasted was light in color, retained the aroma and flavor of the pomace  because they used large barrels to age the grappa. 

In Italy the government comes in and puts “locks” on the grappa that is still in the distillery and has not been bottled so that nothing can be added to the grappa.

At Bonollo we tasted three grappas:

Grappa Moscato–tasting this, one can understand why this would be a good entry-level grappa. It is distinctly Moscato, with floral aromas and a hint of honey.

Con senso–Grappa Chianti Classico is a typical traditional grappa and I really liked it.

Consenso Grappa riserva aged in legno di rovere(oak), acacia, frassino(ash and ciliego(cherry).  The grappa was light in color for one aged in wood. It had a certain smoothness to it but was still grappa.

The Mazzetti Distillery founded in 1846 is in the town of Altavilla in Piedmont. We were welcomed  by Elisa Belvedere Mazzetti and we went with her to the their grappa store and tasting room. You can visit here and have a cafe, perhaps a cafe corretto and purchase many different types of grappa.

After she took us on a tour of the distillery and explained how they make grappa,

They only use the discontinuous method for making grappa  because, she said, this produces the best grappa.  Then she said they also distill the tail again, getting rid of all the impurities and   making a different line of grappa.

Claudio

Claudio Galletto of Mazzetti led us in a grappa tasting and discussed the idea of entry-level grappa. Both here and at Bonollo they believe in the idea of entry-level grappa to introduce the younger generation to grappa.

Collezione line Grappa di Moscato — it is easy to identify grappa di Moscato by its distinctive aroma.

Grappa IN Incontro — Barbaresco and Barolo — an aged grappa light in color made from pomace of the Nebbiolo grape

7.0 Grappa Di Ruche 100% Cru– this is produced as an “entry level grappa” and it is aged in barriques. The 7 stands for the 7 generations of distillers at Mazzetti and the 0 for the zero kilometers it takes for the pomace to reach the distillery. It is a very soft grappa.

Riserva Gaia Mazzetti Grappa Cuvée Extra Aged Moscato and Cortese. This was a little darker in color and had much less of the Moscato characteristics.

At Mazzetti they used different style classes for the traditional and aged grappa.


Segni Grappa Riserva– aged for 5 years in barrels made from 6 different woods. oak, chestnut, ash, cherry, mulberry and juniper.

It is aged the shortest period of time in the juniper barrel because it has the strongest flavor. The juniper barrel is the last and smallest barrel in size since some of the grappa has evaporated over the years. This is one of the best-aged grappas that I have ever tasted. I liked it so much that I purchased a bottle because it in not available in the United States. The bottle is being held for me in Rome and I will pick to up next month,

Collezione Line:

All were traditional grappas and very good. We drank wine with lunch and just has a small taste of the grappa

Grappa with Lunch

Grappa di Arneis, Grappa di Barbera, Grappa di Barolo, Grappa di Ruche

At  Bonollo we tasted the grappa after lunch with dessert.  At Mazzetti we tasted grappa alone, and accompanied by dark chocolate and hazelnuts, which was sensational.  Then we had lunch, with each of several courses paired with a different grappa.  It was a unique experience.

 

 

 

 

 

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Tasting the 2015 Vintage at Domaine Antonin Guyon

One of my favorite producers of Burgundy is Domaine Antonin Guyon, a family-owned winery started by Antonin Guyon in the 1960’s. The estate in the Cöte d’Or is controlled and operated today by Antonin’s sons Dominique and Michel. Last year at a tasting in NYC, I met Hombeline Guyon, the daughter of Dominique, who along with him manages the day to day operations of the winery. Hombeline said if I was in Burgundy I should visit the estate.

Soon after the tasting Michele and I made plans to stay in Beaune for a week. The Guyon estate is only a short taxi ride from Beaune so we contacted Hombeline and made an appointment to visit the winery.

It was a beautiful fall day when we arrived at the winery and were greeted by Hombeline. She showed us around the winery and then we went for a tasting of wines from the 2015 vintage.

Hombeline said that 2015 was not only a great vintage but a remarkable one in Burgundy.

Hombeline said that they have 47 hectares of vines producing wines from 25 different appellations. The domaine owns vines around the hill of Corton.  The southern limits are in Gevrey, Meursault in the south, the Cötes Nuits in the west and the Chorey-lès-Beaune in the east.

Hombeline

She said that all the grapes are picked by hand from the first selection (triage) of the vines. Some of the pickers are regulars and have been coming for 25 years. They want to get the grapes to the vat-house within 30 minutes of picking.

Cleaning a wine barrel in the cellar

At the curerie there is second triage on the sorting table. Then the red gapes are completely destemmed and placed into large, temperature controlled, open-top wooden fermentation tanks. There is about one week cold (10-12C) maceration, one week at a maximum of 30C and one week of post–fermentation maceration. Twice daily pigeoge takes place (in the purest Burgundy tradition) before gravity sends the wine to barrels in the cellar below. 50% of new oak is used for the grand crus and less for the other reds. She made the point that they were moving away from new oak for all their wines.

For the whites, the grapes are whole pressed with a relativity light touch of the pneumatic press, the juice then settles and is racked in the barrels. The wine remains on the lees for as long as possible with a weekly batonnage. The wine is bottled after 12 months, with the exception of the Grands Crus Charlemagne and Corton Clos du Roy, which stay in barrel for about 18 months.

Before we began the tasting Hembeline said she likes to taste the red wines before the whites.

Gevery-Chambertin “La Justice” 100% Pinot Noir the soil clay and limestone. Long fermentation for 20 days takes place. Aging in oak barrels, 30% new, and estate bottled after 18 months. This is a round and well balanced wine, rich and complex with hints of cherry.

Savigny lès Beaune “Les Goudelettes” 100% Pinot Noir. The soil is clay and limestone. Aging in oak barrels, 15% new and estate bottling after 15 months. This is a well balanced elegant wine with hints of red fruit. This wine can last for another 8 to 10 years.

Chambolle – Musigny “ Les Cras” 100% Pinot Noir the soil is clay and limestone. There is a long fermentation of 20 days. The wine is aged in oak barrels, 30% new and estate bottled  after 16 months. The wine has hints of violets and red cherries with a silky texture. It has a very long finish and a very pleasing aftertaste.

Pernard Vergelesse 1er Cru-Sours Frètille 100% Chardonnay. Soil is white marl.The wine has hints of citrus fruit notes with a touch of hazelnuts and mineral notes.

Meursault Charmes 1er Cru “La Charmes Dessus” 100% Chardonnay. The soil is white mais. The wine is aged in oak barrels 30% new and estate bottled after 15 months. This is a rich tasting wine with notes of honey. Hombeline said the wine can last for a least another 10 years.

After the tasting she offered me one of the open bottles to take back to the hotel to drink. I picked the Savigny-lès-Beaune and we enjoyed it with pate in the hotel.

Last month the Wine Media Guild held a Burgundy tasting and I was able to taste the Savigny-lès-Beaune again. It was drinking even better than I remembered and it is a bargain at about $40.

 

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Le Morette Winery and Lugana DOC

Sometimes on a press trip I visit so many interesting wineries that I do not have enough time to write about all of them. In September I visited Lake Garda on a trip sponsored by Vignaioli Veneti,  a newly-formed organization of over fifty of the Veneto’s top small producers. One of the wineries I was very impressed with was the Le Morette-Azienda Agricola Valerio Zenato Winery.

The winery is based in San Benedetto di Lugana , in the thin belt that divides the southern bank of Lake Garda and Lake Frassino, which is an important naturalistic site and natural reserve. Gino Zenato founded the winery over 60 years ago and in 1981 the management of the farm was taken over by his son Valerio. His sons Fabio and Paolo today manage the winery.  Fabio greeted us at the winery and he took us on a tour of the vineyards.

Fabio Zenato

Fabio said that the area of production of the Lugana DOC wine reaches out towards the southern bank of Lake Garda, in the towns of Peschiera del Garda, Sirmione, Desenzano del Garda, Pozzolengo and Lonato.  There are 30 hectares of vineyards on three different estates, two in San Benedetto di Lugana, and one near Sirmione.  All the vineyards are on clayish soil. Everyone agrees that the best grapes come from the area close to the lake which has the most clay.

Fabio added that the company was first a farm for wine shoot production, intended for viniculture, and the nursery branch of the farm continues with the production of wine shoots. It was Valerio who began the production of high quality wines.

Fabio did a tasting of the wines.

Lugana DOC “Mandolara” 2016 made from 100% Turbiana grapes from the La Mandolara vineyard on a narrow strip of land on the shore of Lake Garda. The training system is guyot, double and short modified and there are 3,500 plants per hectare. Harvest is by hand in the second half of September. After a very soft crushing, vinification takes place in temperature controlled stainless steel tanks and the wine remains in the bottle for at least one month before release. This is a fresh fruity wine with hints of apple and peach and a touch of bitter almonds in the finish. The name of the wine comes from a particular protected species of wild ducks which nest in Lake Frassino.  The ducks are the symbol of the farm. We also tasted the 2012 and 2009.

Lugana DOC “Bendictus” 2015 100% Turbiana from the area of Lake Garda. Grapes are hand harvested and only the best grapes, the ones that get the most sunlight, are selected. Harvest takes place in the middle of October, later than the grapes used for Lugana Mandolara. After the harvest the grapes remain in contact with the must for 24 hours at a controlled temperature. Part of the must is fermented in tonneaux oak barrels and a portion of the wine is aged for 6 months in tonneaux oak barrels. This is a more intense wine with hints of exotic fruits and a touch of spice. We also tasted the 2007. Fabio said they are using less new oak in the 2015 than they did in the 2007.

Lugana DOC Riserva 2013 made from 100% Turbiana cultivated and selected from the estates vineyards with the highest clay content–over 40%. Vinification is in temperature controlled stainless steel tanks after a brief maceration. There is a slow fermentation using natural yeasts and then aging on the lees for 12 months. A small portion of the wine is aged in tonneaux. This is a complex and elegant wine with a natural mineral quality.

There is much confusion over the Turbiana grape which was aka Trebbiano di Lugana.  Fabio always  referred to his wines as being made from the Turbiana grape.

All of the white wines can age.

We also tasted the Bardolino Classico Chiaretto 2016 made from 55% Corvina, 35% Molinara and 10% Molinara. The vines are cordon trained and there are 3,800 vines per hectare. Manual harvest takes place the last week of September. It is aged for a minimum of one month before release. Maceration on the skins lasts for 12 hours. The wine has hints of peaches and strawberries with a touch of violet.

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Pizza with Roberto Caporuscio: Tipo 1 and Tipo 00 Flour

On the evening of our planned tasting at Keste Pizza & Vino Bleecker Street comparing pizzas made with Tipo 1 flour to Tipo 00, I made sure to arrive early so that I could have an opportunity to discuss the differences in the flour with the master pizzaiolo, Roberto Caporuscio.

Roberto is now using Caputo Tipo 1 flour, which the company describes as follows. “It is an historic flour by aroma, color and flavor. It has a high protein index of 13 and is made from a perfect selection of the best variety of grains with all the richness of wheat germ. Type 1 is suited for direct and indirect dough making with a longer rising time.”

Roberto pointed out to me that the dough made from Tipo 1 is slightly beige in color because the flour contains specks of wheat germ, while Tipo 00 is completely white.

“Tipo” refers to the fineness of the milling.  Tipo 00 is the finest grade of flour milled in Italy and has a consistency and color similar to fine white powder. It is made from soft wheat with a 12.5% protein content. Since 00 has less protein it contains less gluten. And it makes dough that is easier to stretch.

Tipo 1 is less refined because it contains a greater amount of bran, the outer part of the grains of wheat, as well as the wheat germ. Tipo 1 is packed with fiber, mineral salts and vitamins. Roberto said it has a higher nutritional value and therefore it is better for you,  lighter and easier to digest. He also likes it because it can ferment and rise longer than Type 00.

He also said that Tipo I  has about 80% hydration ratio and Tipo 00 has about a 60% hydration ratio. The ratio is the amount of water to the amount flour in the dough. This effects how the pizza rises in the oven.

Roberto said that up until the 1960’s pizza in Naples was made with Tipo 1 flour because they did not have the milling techniques to produce 00. Once they did, they switched to 00. This may be the why Caputo calls Tipo 1 “historical flour”.

I asked Roberto if he would mix the flours to make the dough for his pizza. He said never, one or the other, no mixing.

When everyone arrived Roberto asked if we were ready for the pizza challenge and we all said we were. There were 6 of us, the perfect number for pizza. Roberto said he would make one pizza Margherita using Tipo 1 and one using Tipo 00. Our job was to guess which was which and decide which we liked better.

Tipo 00

We tasted the first one and had some discussion and then tasted the second one. Without much effort, we all guessed correctly which was which and we all liked the one made with the 00 flour better.

Tipo 1

The consensus was that the 00 pizzas had a lighter, puffier crust and better flavor. They conformed to our idea of what Neapolitan pizza is supposed to be and the dough complemented the toppings. The Tipo 1 pie was very good , but we all preferred the 00 pies.

Roberto also made some excellent pizza for us using Tipo 1 as follows: 

Fontina Valle d’Aosta, porcini mushrooms and prosciutto

 

Stracciatella (mozzarella), anchovies, fresh lemon and basil

Figs, stracciatella and caciocavallo

Padrino pizza made with mild soppressata, Ragusano cheese, Gaeta olives and a drizzle of chili oil

Napoletana pizza made with tomato, anchovy and oregano.

It was a very interesting and informative evening and thanks to Roberto for taking the time to speak to us and  make all of the pizza himself!

 

 

 

 

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Fennel Recipes from the Italian Vegetable Cookbook

Three Fennel Recipes

I keep forgetting what a versatile vegetable fennel is. I tend to think of it as raw spears nibbled to clean the palate between the main course and the cheese – a position it occupies admirably. But cooked fennel is also an excellent companion to many fish and meat dishes – a fact of which I was reminded recently when turning the pages of Michele Scicolone’s Italian Vegetable Cookbook.

There I found three recipes for fennel: one roasted, one braised, and one baked. I thought it would be interesting to make them all in a short time, to see how the differences would affect the results.

A bulb of fennel with its long feathery shoots can be a very pretty thing, but on the day I wanted to try the first recipe, the ones in local stores were looking fairly ratty. But fennel is a sturdy vegetable, which doesn’t seem to suffer much from age and handling. A useful characteristic!

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Roasted Fennel with Potatoes and Garlic

Michele’s headnote for this recipe begins “Every time I prepare this, I wish I had made more. Everybody loves it, and it disappears fast.” Now, that’s a lot for a simple dish to live up to, so I was slightly skeptical. We’d see about it.

My faithful knife man cut half of that big fennel bulb into ½-inch slices (I saved the rest for the next recipe), and he also cut a ½-pound Yukon gold potato into ¼-inch slices. I spread them all on an olive-oiled baking pan, brushed them with more oil, and added salt and pepper.
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The pan went into a 425° oven for 20 minutes, after which I took it out, turned over the vegetables, sprinkled on a minced garlic clove, and roasted for 10 more minutes, when the recipe said they’d be tender and browned. Tender they definitely were, but not even remotely as brown and handsome as the book’s photograph showed.
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I wonder if my oven is running too cool. Still, it was dinner time, so out they came. And you know what? They were scrumptious. We both loved them, they disappeared fast, and I wished I had made more.

Golden Braised Fennel

A few days later I made the second recipe, which as almost as effortless as the first. The second half of that big fennel bulb, also in ½-inch slices, went into a sauté pan with melted butter.
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I sauteed the pieces for four minutes on each side, until they were just beginning to brown, then poured on a little water, added salt and pepper, covered the pan, and cooked it very gently for 20 minutes. About half-way through, I checked and added a little more water to keep the fennel from frying. Then I sprinkled on two tablespoons of grated parmigiano, covered the pan again, and cooked for another minute, until the cheese melted in.
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This was also a good dish, simple and homey. It tasted mostly of pure fennel – vegetal and lightly liquoricey. It was meltingly soft from the moist cooking, with just a hint of richness from the cheese.

Creamy Fennel Gratin

This recipe’s headnote calls it one of Michele’s favorite ways to eat fennel. It’s more elaborate than the others but not at all difficult or time-consuming to make. I was able to get a better-looking bulb of fennel for it than I had for the other recipes. (Too bad I had no use for the attractive feathery fronds!)

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The fennel was to be cut in ½-inch thick wedges and parboiled until almost tender. My wedges came out rather thicker than that, so they took 10 minutes, not the suggested 5.
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Drained, sprayed with cold water, and patted dry, the wedges went into a buttered baking dish; were topped with butter bits, heavy cream, freshly ground black pepper, and grated parmigiano; and baked for 20 minutes at 400°.
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The fennel wedges absorbed almost all the cream, making them plump, lush, and velvety. The light crust of the butter-browned cheese was a good textural contrast. I think this would be an excellent dish to serve at a dinner party, alongside a broiled or roasted meat or chicken.

Three recipes, all tasting deliciously of fennel, but each sufficiently different to occupy separate flavor and utility niches: Nice!

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Pizza with Roberto Caporuscio and Tipo 1 Flour

About a month after returning from Naples, I went with some friends to Keste Wall Street for pizza.  Roberto Caporuscio, the owner and master pizzaiolo, wasn’t there when we arrived, but we ordered a few pizzas.  As I ate, I realized that something was different.  The pies did not taste the same as the last time we were here. Everyone agreed with me.  Had the ingredients changed or was it because the pizzamaker was different?

When Roberto arrived I told him that I thought the pizzas were different. He said he changed the type of flour. In the past he he used  Type Double Zero flour but now he uses  only Type 1 flour.  Roberto said he believed that Type 1 flour was healthier because it makes a lighter pizza that is more digestible. We made a date to come back again and Roberto said he would be sure to be there and would personally make all the pizza for us using Tipo 1 flour so that we could give him our opinion.

We went to Keste this week and Roberto was  already there.  I went to watch him make the pizza.

He showed me the dough and I noticed it was a very light beige and it had tiny specks in it. Robert said the specks were wheat  germ because Type 1 flour is less refined than the pure white Double Zero.  The wheat germ is what adds to its nutritional value.

Robert made the following pizzas for us using  Caputo Tipo 1 flour:


Bianca Romana focaccia filled with mortadella, pistachio cream and caciocavallo cheese

Pizza Pasquale (Pizza Fritta), named after Pasquale Torrente, master chef at Ristorante “il Convento” because of his skill in frying. The dough was deep fried using a special sunflower  oil containing rosemary. The fried crust is topped with homemade stracciatella cheese, anchovies and fresh lemon.

Rodi the topping is a spread made with anchovies, and white bread soaked in limoncello, with slices of lemon, basil and buffalo mozzarella

Regina Margarita made with buffalo mozzarella, tomato sauce 

Pizza Noci and Zucchine, topped with a spread made with walnuts and  mascarpone with baby zucchini and smoked buffalo mozzarella

Padrino mild soppresata, cacciocavallo ragusano, chili oil and Gaeta olives.

Even though some of the combinations on the pizza did not look like they would work they were all excellent. The problem was with the margarita pizza.  After I explained this to Roberto he invited me back again this time to Keste and Vino on Bleecker St. He would make one Margarita using Type 1 flour and one using Type 00 and we would have to guess which was which and which one we liked better. He would also more thoroughly explain the difference between the two flours. I am always up for a pizza challenge.

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Celebrating the Art of Neapolitan Pizza in NYC

“Tu Vuò Fa’ il Napoletano- Facce de Pizza” comes to NYC to celebrate the art of the Neapolitan pizzaiuloi as UNESCO’s Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.

The idea for the event came with the recognition by UNESCO of the art of Neapolitan pizza making and was developed with the Association Verace Pizza Napoletana (AVPN).

In the photo art expert  Francesca Silvestri, Antonio Pace, President of VPNA, Peppe Mele, the VPNA delegate to the US and Elizabetta Cantone journalist, Co-Founder and CEO of Dress and Dreams.

The event was organized by journalist Elizabetta Cantone of Dress in Dreams Movies and Culture with the support of MiBACT- Direct Cinema. The events took place on April 16th at Ribalta Pizzaria, April 17 at NYU Casa Italiana Zerilli-Marinò center and April 19 at Song’e Napule Pizzeria.

Cantone said these events intend to show the art of the Neapolitan Pizzaioli through the many films that feature pizza.

Chef Pasquale Cozzolino of Ribalta

I attended the event at Ribalta, which has a large screen.  We saw clips from American and Italian movies with pizza in all its forms being made and eaten.  There were clips from” The Gold Of Naples” and “Fast Times at Ridgemont High” just to mention two very different movies.

Cantone said that pizza in the past was a dish of the poor but today it is considered a gourmet dish prepared with the best ingredients.

I spoke with Pasquale Cozzolino the Pizzaiolo and Chef of Ribalta about his style and in particular the flour that he uses for pizza, which is a subject of great interest to me.,

In Naples many pizza places will list the source of all the ingredients to show they are only using the best ones.

Along with Pasquale some of the pizza was made by Rosatio Granieri from Rossopomodoro in NYC.  I tasted the pizza margherita, pizza marinara and another with cheese and sausage.

 

 

 

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