Benjamin Mitrofan-Norris on May 26, 2016 0 Comments Take a stroll down any major high street in the world, from Chicago to Carcassonne, Budapest to Brisbane, and you’ll find at least one Italian restaurant. Indeed, it was the Italians who brought the concept of informal restaurant dining to most countries across the globe, with simple trattorias popping up in city centres throughout the 19th and 20th centuries. They were nothing short of a revelation for many urban residents, more accustomed to stuffier, more formal eateries with high prices to keep away the rabble, and formalities such as dress codes and such. Before long, the Italian restaurant was an institution, wildly popular and pulling in punters off the sidewalks with the rich and inviting fragrances of garlic, oregano and freshly baked pizza dough. In the USA – especially in New York – the Italian immigrants who tumbled in their thousands off the ships into Brooklyn took it upon themselves to establish a national cuisine for a new world. The newly established New Yorkers were inventive, savvy and had sharp business minds, and opening casual restaurants and eateries, bakeries and bistros was an easy way to secure family and ethnic ties, make a few much-needed dollars, and maintain memories of the old country. However, as has happened elsewhere in the world (namely with the Indian population in the UK), the vast majority of the immigrant Italians were not chefs, with little or no formal restaurant training or experience – simply memories of Nonna’s kitchen, of home-cooked meals. Furthermore, the ingredients available in the new world were clearly a little different from those at home, and the result of this was a new, hybrid cuisine, borne of ingenuity, naivety, the demands of a new, multicultural audience and a bolshy, American irreverence for tradition. Italian-American dishes were born, and from them, much of the world followed. Thankfully, the key Italian-American dishes pair brilliantly with classic Italian wines, so next time you’re looking for some rustic comfort food at home, or if you’re dining out with friends, you can use these basic pointers to help you make brilliant pairings. Back then, these dishes would have been drunk with cheap, probably quite nasty table wine, brought over in vast quantities from Italy or produced in the newly established vineyards around New York State, but nowadays, we have the benefit of choice, and can afford to be a little more selective! 1. Spaghetti with Meatballs Perhaps the most classic and iconic Italian-American dish, spaghetti and meatballs is dominated by an acidic/sweet tomato sauce, all rich, deep flavors held in a filling, hearty sauce. Essentially, this dish is very similar to spaghetti bolognaise, and many other Italian dishes – the combination of tomatoes, herbs, garlic and ground meat (served with a mountain of starchy, slippery spaghetti) is always going to be a winning combination. With this type of combination of flavors, you really need to be looking for a wine which can stand up to the dominating tomato sauce, while not overpowering the subtler notes of the herbs, etc. Big, juicy, medium bodied reds are probably going to do the job the most effectively, and nothing too elegant or refined. To be honest, you can’t go wrong with one of the newer Chianti Classico wines, as this region has gone to great lengths over the past decade or so to overturn the negative reputation they garnered in the 1970s and 80s. They manage to express the right balance of flavor, fruit-forward character and rusticity that pairs beautifully with a hearty home dish, like spaghetti and meatballs. If you can’t get a good Chianti Classico, then anything based on Sangiovese grapes will probably do just fine. 2. Chicken Parmigiana (other other chicken / cheese based dishes) This dish actually has its origins in a far healthier one, back in Italy. The original parmigiana recipes call for eggplant, not chicken, and there is less of an emphasis on melted cheese over there, too. In the US, however, chicken parmigiana is a guilty pleasure – breaded, fried chicken, coated in tomato sauce, piles of stringy, stretchy melted mozzarella and finished off with a sprinkling of hard Italian cheese. This is one of those dishes that simply has to be eaten with a glass of wine, the oiliness and greasiness of the ingredients call out for something to cut through them and refresh the palate between forkfuls. When it comes to pairing wine with this dish, there are a couple of directions you could go in. You could stick again with the medium-bodied red wines of Tuscany, which will pair nicely with the tomato and the savoriness of the breaded chicken, but this is perhaps a little too predictable. Better perhaps to go for a full-bodied white wine, such as the delectable Verdicchio wines from Marche, or for a fun alternative, something like a sparkling dry Lambrusco. 3. Fettuccine Alfredo (or other butter / cream / cheese based pasta dishes) Possibly the king of comfort foods; Fettuccine Alfredo was brought over from the homeland right at the beginning of the twentieth century, and was quickly simplified into a fast, homely meal to be wolfed down at the end of a long day’s work. Like Carbonara, the emphasis is on the buttery, creamy sauce and the cheese, and as such, it needs a wine which can cut through the fats and cleanse the palate while not interrupting the soft flavors of the dish. For this, the fruity sharpness of a decent Pinot Grigio is usually fine, but this particular grape varietal has fallen out of favor in recent years due to proliferation of big-branded, lower quality bottles hitting the market. That isn’t to say there aren’t any good Pinot Grigio wines out there, only you may have to look a little harder to find them. If you want something a little more refined and sophisticated, go for a white Burgundy, which can break the heaviness and richness of the dish, or one of the Chardonnays from northern Italy – these have a pleasant, soft butteriness of their own which pairs marvelously with the sauce, while enough stringency and bite to lift this simple dish to something quite remarkable.