Italy

Wine & Food Killers: Popcorn Prawns with Lemon Dipping Sauce and Cantina Furlani Antico 2017

If champagne and fried chicken is an iconic high-low pairing, then it follows that pet nat and popcorn prawns should be, too. Both are crisp and buoyant – albeit in different ways – and, in this case, both zesty and lemon-scented. Both can be gulped without much hesitation; both demolished far quicker than intended. And if you’ve been blessed with a patio or a terrace or a back garden, then both also make brilliant summertime fare.

Cantina Furlani’s exceptional Antico Frizzante is made exclusively from the Nosiola grape, which is native to Italy’s Alpine Trentino region, in the country’s far north – is the kind of wine I’d like to drink on a weekly basis during the warmer months of the year.

It’s bright with acid, amply citrusy, and rounded out with a subtle pear-and-apple richness. That acid, and those perky bubbles (following a spontaneous primary fermentation, the wine ferments again in bottle thanks to the addition of frozen, unsweetened grape juice), make this a perfect foil to anything fried.

Its aromatics also make it a fitting choice alongside a wide range of seafood dishes – you could equally go with ceviche or grilled fish or octopus salad or fried squid – but I particularly like the way this wine flatters the prawns’ natural sweetness.

To complete the dish, the crispy little nuggets of prawn are served alongside a dipping sauce that's tangy with Greek yoghurt and laced with the merest shimmer of cayenne pepper. Lemon zest and lemon juice add their own acidity, and further link with the wine's own zesty personality. Altogether, this pairing is both complementary and contrasting: alike in flavour, though the Antico's carbonation and bite help counteract the fat. (Sure, you might then eat far more prawns than first intended, but who's counting?)

Popcorn Prawns with Lemon Dipping Sauce
Serves 2

For the dipping sauce:
120g Greek yoghurt
120g mayonnaise
Juice and zest of ½ lemon
½ teaspoon fine sea salt
½ teaspoon cayenne pepper

For the prawns:
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon paprika
½ teaspoon cayenne pepper
2 teaspoons fine sea salt, plus additional
1 teaspoon black pepper
70g all-purpose flour
65g corn flour
2 eggs
3 tablespoons whole milk
330g peeled, deveined prawns
700ml vegetable oil (plus additional, if necessary)

1. First, prepare the dipping sauce. In a small bowl, add all five ingredients and stir or whisk until well combined. Set aside.

2. In a ramekin or small bowl, add the garlic powder, paprika, cayenne pepper, sea salt and black pepper, and mix together. Set aside.

3. In a medium bowl, add the flour and corn flour, and whisk until combined. In a second medium bowl, add the eggs and milk, and whisk until combined.

4. Add the prawns to a large bowl and sprinkle over the spice mixture and ¼ of the flour mixture. Toss until evenly coated.

5. To batter the prawns, transfer each to the bowl with the egg yolk mixture and, using a fork, flip until lightly coated. Let any excess drip off before transferring to the remaining flour mixture. Toss until well coated, and transfer gently to a parchment-paper lined plate or tray. Repeat with the remaining prawns.

6. Meanwhile, add the vegetable oil to a large, cast-iron skillet (it should come up about 2 inches; add extra if needed). Place over high heat and heat until 180° Celsius. If you don’t have a deep-fat frying thermometer, add a tiny bit of flour; if it immediately begins to sizzle rapidly, it should be hot enough.

7. Line a large plate with paper towels and place next to the stove. To fry, add your first addition of prawns, ensuring they’re not overcrowded (you’ll need to cook yours in multiple batches); be careful, as the hot oil could splatter. Cook for approximately 2-4 minutes, flipping and rotating the prawns regularly, until the exterior is deep golden-brown and crisp. Transfer to the paper-towel lined plate and repeat. You may need to adjust the heat to maintain a constant temperature.

8. Sprinkle the prawns with additional salt to taste, and serve immediately, alongside the dipping sauce.

Claire M. Bullen is a professional food and travel writer. Our first book with Claire, The Beer Lover’s Table, is out now and available via our online shop and hopefully at your favourite booksellers. Pick up a bottle of Cantina Furlani here, and to sign up for our Natural Wine Killers natural wine subscription box, head here.

Natural Wine Killers: Bellotti Semplicemente Vino Rosso 2016 (Italy)

Piedmont is probably the most consistently premium wine region in Italy. Spread over rolling hills between Turin and Genoa, it is one of the few regions in Italy where most wines are produced following traditional DOC or DOCG rules and there are no regional IGT wines. Regions like Barolo and Barbaresco are famous for their robust, long-lived wines, which are aged for several years in barrel, requiring time to mellow. Although Barolo and Barbaresco producers may produce more accessible red wines, they tend to be polished, often with plenty of sweet oak. These are serious wines, often with serious prices.

Stefano Bellotti’s Cascina degli Ulivi stands out like a beacon, seeking to produce honest wines, made naturally and entwined in a philosophy of self-sufficient farming. Sadly, Bellotti passed away from cancer last September, aged just 59. He leaves an important legacy though, both with his wonderful wines and the manner in which they were produced.

Bellotti was a pioneer of the “Triple A” movement. Meaning Agricoltori (Farm workers), Artigiani (Artisans) and Artisti (Artists), the certification is an indication of true terroir wines, produced in harmony with nature. Bellotti was an early adopter of organic principles, way back in 1981, and converted to biodynamics in 1984.

There is a memorable scene in Jonathan Nossiter’s 2014 film Natural Resistance where Bellotti demonstrates the difference between the health of his biodynamically cultivated soils and a neighbour’s, where conventional herbicides and pesticides are used. The difference is striking: Bellotti compares it to life vs death.

The Semplicemente Rosso speaks very much of life. Sealed with a crown cap, it demonstrates humility. It is not pretending to be anything it is not. A blend of Barbera and Dolcetto, it is fermented and aged in large oak vats for 11 months. There are no added sulphites, and the wine is not fined or filtered. It is raw and edgy, packed with intense black cherry and cherry kernel aromas. The palate is punchy, with fresh acidity and grippy tannins. There is some volatile acidity in there, but not at the expense of the cherries. In short, it is delicious.

Now the weather is getting warmer, lightly chill this wine to emphasise its freshness. Pour yourself a glass and toast to Signor Bellotti.

Claire Bullen’s food pairing: Duck ragu pappardelle or French-style sausage and lentil casserole

Paul Medder is a freelance wine educator and wine expert. He occasionally tweets @PaulMedder. To sign up for our Natural Wine Killers natural wine subscription box, head here.

Wine & Food Killers: Linguine Bolognese and I Vini di Giovanni Rozzo 2017

There’s nothing like grim weather and Seasonal Affective Disorder to strip you of your tolerance for ostentation. February is the time of year when the rustic prevails, when warm and honest food, like this recipe, really comes into its own.

One caveat: this isn’t your typical Bolognese, though it might be the most classical one you’ve ever made. (Caveat #2: spaghetti may be traditional, but I prefer slightly thicker linguine, which stands up better to hearty sauces.)

The woman behind this timeless recipe is the late grande dame of Italian cooking, Marcella Hazan, who had very strong feelings about how to make Bolognese properly. For instance: do not even think about putting garlic in this Bolognese. Bacon is not needed, rosemary is not invited. And though you might assume red wine would be best in the sauce (it’s best alongside – more on that in a bit), if Marcella says white, you use white.

This Bolognese has no shortcuts: if you want yours to taste like it was made by an Italian nonna, you need to cook like one. This is simmer-all-day sauce, the perfect Sunday project, a study in the art of patience, a fragrant rebuttal to instant-gratification. You’ll need a solid seven hours to make it; in an ideal world, you might even refrigerate it overnight and eat it the next day to allow its flavours to deepen further (this is recommended, though not required).

When it finally comes time to eat, it’s wise to go with a wine that’s similarly humble and enriching. I Vini di Giovanni’s Rozzo – made by an actual Umbrian shepherd named Giovanni Mesina – certainly qualifies. Made with 100% Sangiovese grapes, absent any added sulphur, it is pungently barnyardy when first poured, but after decanting and swirling, notes of cherry and a mellow fruitfulness come to the fore. Its tannins are serious and grippy, which makes it a wine that especially benefits from the companionship of some pasta.

Together, they won’t banish your SAD, but the act of stirring sauce for the better part of the day still has a way of making the world feel less dire.

Linguine Bolognese
Very slightly adapted from Marcella Hazan
Serves 4-6

1 tablespoon vegetable oil
45g (3 tablespoons) unsalted butter
1 small onion, finely diced
1 celery stalk, finely diced
1 medium carrot, peeled and finely diced
350g (¾ lb) beef mince (ground beef), preferably 15-20% fat
Fine sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper
235ml (1 US cup) whole milk
1/8 teaspoon nutmeg, freshly grated
235ml (1 US cup) dry white wine
1 400g (14oz) can whole Italian plum tomatoes in juice
500g (1.1 lbs) linguine, spaghetti, or similar pasta
Parmigiano Reggiano

1. In a large pot or Dutch oven, add the vegetable oil, butter and onion, and turn the heat to medium-low. Cook the onion gently for roughly 5 minutes, stirring frequently, until it is softened and translucent.

2. Add the carrot and celery, and stir to coat. Cook for roughly 3-4 minutes, or until slightly softened. Add the beef mince and sprinkle over a large pinch of sea salt and several good grinds of black pepper. Using a fork, delicately break up the meat and toss until it is finely crumbled. Cook until it has just lost its raw colour, but not until it is darkened and dried out.

3. Pour in the milk and grate in the nutmeg. Continue to cook over medium-low heat, stirring occasionally, until the milk is fully evaporated – this process can take up to an hour. (Don’t be tempted to raise the heat and boil it off faster; slow cooking makes the meat incredibly tender.)

4. Next, add in the white wine and repeat the same process, slow cooking over medium- low heat until completely evaporated.

5. While the beef mixture is simmering, prep the tomatoes: remove the whole plum tomatoes from the can, reserving the juice, and roughly chop. When the wine is fully evaporated, add both the chopped tomatoes and their juice, and stir to combine.

6. Turn the heat to low. Cook for a minimum of 3 and up to 5 hours, stirring occasionally, until the sauce is thickened and rich. To prevent it from drying out or burning during the cooking process, add water at 125ml (1/2-cup) intervals, if needed. Season to taste, generously, with salt and pepper.

7. When you’re nearly ready to serve, bring a large pot of water to the boil and salt generously. Add the pasta and cook according to package instructions until al dente. Drain, and return to the pot. Add the Bolognese sauce and toss lightly to combine.

8. Divide the linguine Bolognese between plates or bowls, and top generously with freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano.

Claire M. Bullen is a professional food and travel writer, a beerhound and an all-around lover of tasty things. Follow her on Twitter at @clairembullen and look out for our book together, The Beer Lover’s Table, launching in March 2019. These recipes accompany our Natural Wine Killers natural wine subscription box - sign up to get yours here.