Southern Italy, from Campania to Calabria, is home to much of what we know as Italian cuisine. The warm, sunny climate yields San Marzano tomatoes, cauliflower, peppers, eggplant, olives, figs, citrus fruits, arugula and more. Mozzarella and ricotta cheeses, lamb and seafood are also enjoyed at the Southern Italian table.
Gary: While the wines of north and central Italy are well known, the wines of the south, despite its being a major production region for more than 4,000 years are, with the exclusion of Marsala, still relatively obscure to the average consumer. Wine was already a strong industry when the Phoenicians arrived in 2000 BC, and the Greeks called the region “the land of wine.” With a warm-to-Mediterranean climate, rich soils and even some hillsides and coastal sea breezes to help moderate extreme temperatures, Southern Italy produces wines that are ripe and flavorful. Don’t be afraid to experiment and try new varieties; you might find a new favorite among the wines from this area and they complement the south’s regional dishes perfectly.
Pizzerias dating back to the 18th century still operate in modern Naples, although the word “pizza” goes back to 997 AD. This particular pizza was popular long before the owner of Naples’ Brandi Pizzeria named it in honor of Italy’s 19th-century Queen Margherita. The colors of the Italian flag are represented in the tomatoes, cheese and basil.
Purchased pizza dough
Extra virgin olive oil
12 oz fresh mozzarella cheese, thinly sliced
2 lb peeled, seeded and sliced Italian plum tomatoes
1 TBS minced fresh basil, plus more for garnish
Salt, to taste
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmigiana Reggiano
Preheat oven to 450°F. Stretch or roll the dough to fit into a lightly oiled pizza pan. Brush dough with olive oil, then evenly cover with mozzarella, leaving a 1/2–inch border around the edges. Cover the cheese with the tomatoes, sprinkle with basil and dust with 1/4 cup Parmigiana Reggiano. Bake about 15 minutes or until crust is golden brown and cheese is melted. Sprinkle with remaining Parmigiano Reggiano cheese and garnish with basil.
Gary: This classic pizza is light yet flavorful, and versatile enough to serve with either white or red wines. Try a Grillo from Sicily for its bright fruit and crisp flavors. If you can find any Rosé
made with the Negroamaro grape from the south, or a Salice Salentino, they would be another lovely accompaniment. For a red with acidity and lighter body, try the Piedirosso from Campagnia, named for the red roots of the vines. Primitivo, a red grape which is thought to be Zinfandel, can be found in value bottlings that are softer and more approachable than premium releases.
Gnocchi di Spinaci e Ricotta (Spinach Ricotta Gnocchi)
Although gnocchi are thought to have originated in Northern Italy, they are now made in Southern Italy as well, particularly with ricotta cheese rather than potato. Here the little dumplings are served simply with melted butter but they are especially delicious when accompanied with sautéed Italian sausage, sweet red bell peppers, mushrooms and onion.
1 bag fresh baby spinach
16 oz whole-milk ricotta
2-1/4 cups flour
1/4 cup freshly grated Parmigiana Reggiano
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp nutmeg
Melted butter, Parmigiana Reggiano for garnish
Rinse spinach. Place in a large pot with water still clinging to leaves. Cook on high 1-2 minutes until wilted. Drain. Place in dish towel and wring to squeeze spinach dry. Chop spinach and set aside.
In large bowl, stir ricotta with wooden spoon until smooth. Add spinach, flour, cheese, eggs, salt and nutmeg. Stir to form dough. Turn out onto large floured cutting board. Divide into 4 equal portions. With floured hands, knead each until smooth. Roll between hands to form each into a rope about 1-inch in diameter. Cut into 1-inch pieces.
Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add gnocchi and gently boil about 6 minutes. Serve with butter and cheese.
Gary: This dish leads to a crisp, flavorful white wine due to the elegance of the Parmigiano and ricotta cheese. Should you serve the gnocchi with sausage, look for a red wine choice.
For white wines the Lacryma Christi or Coda del Volpe grape from which Lacryma is produced (“tail of the fox”), the floral Fiano di Avellino and mineral-earth-tinged Greco di Tufo are all crisp, rich and excellent examples of the south. Grillo from Sicily is also a very pleasantly aromatic, crisp white, as is Vermentino with its citrus and earth overtones.