Slow Fish – The Challenge of Sweet Asti Spumante With Anchovies

Mauro Ricciardi faced a tough challenge: come up with a savory dish to pair with sweet, sparkling Asti Spumante.
The chef of Locanda delle Tamerici, a Michelin-starred restaurant and inn on the coast near La Spezia, was cooking today at Slow Fish as part of the Theatre of Taste demonstrations, and was set the task of preparing a dish to match a specific wine, La Selvatica Asti DOCG, made with Moscato grapes by Romano Dogliotti. High in sugar, low in alcohol, with a lingering aftertaste, it is a wine more normally paired with a dessert.
He was already set on fresh anchovies, which are much fished in the Mediterranean off the Ligurian coast, but he needed to come up with the rest of the dish.
“At first I tried experimenting with fruit,” explained Ricciardi as he cooked, “but it didn’t work at all. Then I was thinking of fried artichokes and I came up with a good fritto misto with artichokes and clams. But I wasn’t convinced.”
Finally he settled on aromatic, thinly sliced fennel, topped by anchovy filets and cooked briefly in a very hot oven. The fennel formed a kind of salad with clams and mussels, marinated with the Moscato, fresh ginger, tarragon, cilantro, almond and lemon oils and a touch of mustard seed. An emulsion of clam and mussel juice with olive oil finished off the dish.
The audience and the moderators, Nicola Perullo of the University of Gastronomic Sciences and Barbara Schiffini of the Slow Food Cinque Terre Convivium, agreed that the pairing was highly successful, the oiliness of the fish, aniseedy fennel and salty shellfish playing off well against the sweet, perfumed wine.
“I like to take risks,” said Ricciardi. “In my restaurant I don’t want to give you a baked sea bass that you could prepare just as well at home.”

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