Il Cinquino di Zio Marco

A few months back when the new Fiat 500 was released in the States, we test drove it and gave it our review.  As it appears, the car that we really have our hearts set on, the Alfa Romeo Giulietta, may not make it to the States at all, or if it does it may be released as a Dodge Dart.  Nothing personal, Dodge.  But when you really want an Alfa, a Dodge Dart just won’t due.  Sergio Marchionne, are you listening?

The new Fiat 500 Abarth is now out in the States.  It’s sporty and fun, so we just may need to look into that, instead.

Here in Rome, we’ve been having fun with Stefano’s brother Marco’s original 1969 Fiat 500, affectionately known in Italy as il cinquino.  Refurbished and running like a charm, it’s Marco’s get-around car.  The only trick to driving it is knowing how to do la doppietta, a double-clutching technique that prevents the gears from grind when shifting up and down.

La doppietta works like this:

  • Press the clutch down and pull the gear into neutral.
  • Release the clutch.
  • Quickly press the accelerator up and down once or twice to bring rev up the motor.
  • Press the clutch again and gently move the stick shift into the correct gear.

Here’s our photo shoot of our evening of fun in Zio Marco’s cinquino.

Due Spaghetti’s Christmas Eve Dinner Menu, and Holiday Wine Guide

It’s snowing today, just in time for Christmas.

Christmas is white in our corner of the Earth, so the rare lack of snow leading up to the holidays has been welcomed, but is also just slightly disconcerting.  Winter simply never skips Minnesota, though; sooner or later it will come.  So, as far as we are concerned it might as well snow now, on the eve of Christmas Eve, before we are all out on the roads traveling to the homes of family and friends.  A layer of pretty white snow will brighten the landscape and bring holiday cheer.

Plus, we’ve finished wrapping our gifts, bought the groceries for Christmas Eve dinner, and selected enough wine to carry us through the New Year.  Today we will start a fire, read a book or watch a movie and wait for Christmas to come.

Due Spaghetti’s Christmas Eve Dinner Menu
We smiled today as we read the many articles about the classic Italian-American tradition of the Feast of the Seven Fish on Christmas Eve.  This tradition, sacred to many Italian Americans, is unheard of in Italy.  Seafood, however, is commonly the focus of the Christmas Eve meal in Italy, in accordance with the Roman Catholic practice of abstaining from meat on Fridays and on certain holy days.

We are preparing the following seafood-based Christmas Eve meal for our family:

Antipasto
Insalata di polpo
Octopus Salad
Crostini con salmone e arugula
Smoked Salmon and Arugula Crostini
(Prosecco Rustico, Nino Franco)

Primo Piatto
Spaghetti del pescatore
Spaghetti with Seafood
(Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi, 2010 Luchetti)

Secondo Piatto
Pesce al cartoccio
Red Snapper, baked ‘al cartoccio’
(Fiano di  Avellino, 2008 Jovis)

Contorno
Insalata di arance
Orange and Fennel Salad
Patate al forno

Oven Roasted Rosemary and Garlic Potatoes

Dessert
Parfait di panettone e zabaglione
Panettone and Zabaglione Parfait
(Moscato, Bartenura 2010)

Due Spaghetti’s Holiday Wine Guide
If you are wondering about wines to pair with your own Christmas Eve and Christmas meal, if you’d like to gift a nice bottle or two, or if you simply want to have some good wine on hand over the holidays, here are a few of Due Spaghetti’s favorites:

Sparkling Wines

Pass on the Champagne and toast to happiness and good health with an Italian Prosecco.  Produced in the Veneto and Friuli Venezia Giulia region of Italy, Prosecco is light, crisp, aromatic and dry – a more uplifting sparkling wine than its French cousin.  One favorite is Col Vetoraz Prosecco.  

Another Italian sparkling wine we enjoy is Moscato d’Asti. Sweet and light, it is a traditional Christmas dessert wine.

Finally, for a sparkling sweet red also light with overtures of strawberry, try a Brachetto or Brachetto d’Acqui.

Whites

Sure, there are plenty of good bottles of Italian Pinot Grigio.  But there are even more exciting whites, many from from central and southern Italy.  A few of our favorites are:

Verdicchio – A wine from the Marche region on Italy’s Adriatic coast; its name is derived from the wine’s slightly green hue.

Falanghina – Produced from grapes that grow in the hills surrounding Mount Vesuvius, this wine was unheard of until recently, but is quickly becoming a hit.

Fiano di Avellino – This is another favorite wine that originates, like Falanghina, from the Campania region of southern Italy.  The Fiano grape also grows in volcanic soils, and Fiano di Avellino has a very slight sparkling quality.

Insolia – This Sicilian white is also lightly sparkling, and has a fresh citrus scent.

Arneis – This white is a stand-out from the Piedmont region, where reds rule.  It’s a full-bodied but refreshing and unique Italian white wine.

Reds

Distinguished Italian Reds recognized for their elegance and quality are Amarone, Barolo and Brunello di Montalcino.  They will make a powerful impression on any table or as any gift.

Super Tuscans are also guaranteed to impress.  Super Tuscans are wines that are created when producers intentionally deviate from the standard blending requirements for DOC. and DOCG wines.  Sassicaia, Tignanello, Solaia and Ornellaia are excellent Super Tuscan wines.

Other lesser known Italian reds that we like are:

AglianicoAglianico is the name of a black grape from the south of Italy that produces a deeply hued and intensely flavored red wine.  Two to look for are Aglianico del Vulture and Taurasi. These wines have yet to attract widespread attention, but it is only a matter of time.

Primitivo – The Primitivo is a parent grape to Zinfandel, and comparisons between Primitivo and Zinfandel abound.  This is an economical, pleasant and out-of-the-ordinary Italian red.

Lagrein – Made from grapes grown at the foot of the Swiss Alps, this powerful red from Italy’s Alto Adige region is making a come back.

Here’s to cold nights, warm friends, and good drink to give them!

The Due Spaghetti Holiday Gift-Giving Guide for Italian Cooks

Ah, there is nothing like the holiday season to bring joy, cheer and elevated cortisol levels due to the tension and stress of battling traffic and crowds while trying to complete your Christmas shopping.

As bad as it is here in the States, nothing compared to trying to move around Rome during the days before Christmas.  During le feste, as the holidays are called in Italian, people and automobiles fill the roads and sidewalks of the Eternal City, and even making your way through an intersection takes skill and determination.

We used to manage it, maneuvering our little Nissan Micra through the crowds, getting in and out of parking spots so small that only inches separated you from the cars in front and behind you.  Typically, we’d no more finish all of our shopping and Stefano’s father would slip us a 100 mila lire bill and ask us to go and pick out something nice for Stefano’s mom on his behalf!

To help you finish your holiday shopping without needing to venture outdoors at all, we’ve assembled the Due Spaghetti Gift-Giving Guide for Italian Cooks. All of the items have met our standard for authenticity and usefulness, and most can be purchased online at our Due Spaghetti aStore.

Pour yourself a glass of wine and have a look. 

Must Have Italian Cookbooks

The Silver Spoon
Called Il Cucchiaio D’Argento in Italian, The Silver Spoon is the most comprehensive and authoritative collection of recipes from all regions of Italy.

Often referred to as the “bible” of Italian cooking, It is a must-have for all Italian kitchens.

First published in 1950, it has been updated several times.  Be sure to buy the new edition, with a red cover.

Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking
Author Marcella Hazan is to Italian cooking what Julia Child is to French cooking.  She provides not just recipes, but also detailed information about the ingredients, techniques and traditions of Italian cooking.

And, Hazan is attentive to ensuring that dishes can be prepared in an American kitchen with locally available ingredients.

Made in Italy: Food and Stories
Michellen-starred chef Giogio Locatelli, of London’s Locanda Locatelli, writes about the food of his native Italy with passion and intelligence.

The sophisticated but re-creatable recipes are interspersed with Locatelli’s endearing tales of local traditions and childhood memories, making this a pleasant read as well as an invaluable culinary resource.

Useful Kitchen Tools

Microplane Graters

Inspired by woodworking tools, these amazinggraters outperform all others.  Grating hard cheeses like Parmigiano and zesting lemons becomes simple.  Our favorites are the Classic Zester/Grater and the Coarse grater with attachment.

Imperia Pasta Maker
Stefano’s mom rolls out her homemade pasta and cuts it by hand, just like his Nonna did.  Most of us would never get around to making pasta at home if we held to this standard, though.  With the Imperia homemade pasta maker, lasagne, fettuccine and tagliatelle turn out perfectly, and with an attachment or two you can even make ravioli.

Bialetti Stovetop Espresso Maker

Skip the expensive espresso makers, and join the millions of Italians who use the stovetop Bialetti Moka Express to make espresso at home.  They come in many different sizes, but at Due Spaghetti we recommend the 3-serving version.  We begin each day with espresso from ours.

Tasty Edible Gifts

Pocket Coffee
Despite its English name, this delightful confection surprisingly has not taken hold stateside.  A dark chocolate candy filled with rich liquid espresso makes for a perfect afternoon pick-me-up.  A great stocking stuffer for chocolate and coffee lovers!

Panettone
This classic Italian Christmas cake originated in Milan, but is now a hallmark of the holidays across all of Italy.  Candied lemon, citrus and orange zest and raisins give the light, airy cake a fragrant citrus quality.  At our house, we enjoy it for breakfast as well as for dessert.  Some Italian delis in the U.S. have begun selling artisan panettoni, but if you cannot find one, they can be ordered online from Italian producers such as Bauli.

Balsamic Vinegar of Modena

Called Aceto Balsamico in Italian, good-quality balsamic vinegar is a staple in Italian kitchens.  It’s not worth skimping on quality – look for balsamic vinegar from Modena, aged at least 12 years, but better yet 25.  It’s delicious with olive oil over salad, or drizzled on fresh strawberries in summertime.

Or…An Iconic Italian Car

The Fiat 500
Originally produced as a post-WWII economy car, the Fiat 500 became enormously popular in Italy and throughout Europe, and is now an icon of Italian 20th century design and culture.  Fiat brought the 500 back in 2007, exactly 50 years after the debut of the original version, and it launched in the U.S. market in 2010.  The sporty Abarth model, already on European roads, will be available to order here in the U.S. in February 2012.  Due Spaghetti officially test drove the new 500c convertible recently.  Expect a post on this sometime soon, but in the meanwhile let it suffice to say that this little car is a gem of Italian style design and a joy to drive.