Delhi’s Italian Connection – Part III

Conchiglie Puttanesca, Italia
Conchiglie Puttanesca, Italia

This is the third and last part of a series of articles on Italian food and it’s presence in Delhi. Read parts one and two here.

Wines, another subject of recently renewed interest in the capital, go very well with Italian food and can usually be paired quite easily even if one only knows the basics of pairing or is a new wine drinker. Considering most Italian dishes only use a few ingredients, pairing wines becomes a fairly quick exercise if one follows the basic tenets of wine and food pairing. Remember, there are no hard and fast rules and don’t fall prey to social pressure when selecting your wine. If you like the way the wine tastes, and the way it pairs with food that’s the wine for you, regardless of the gurus may say.

  • Match subtle foods with subtle wines and highly flavoured foods with bold, strong wines.
  • Pair fatty or rich foods with dry, crisp, acidic or wines high in tannins.
  • Drink acidic wines with acidic foods.
  • Do not match creamy foods with acidic wines.

At the end of the day however, Delhi does boast of some very good Italian restaurants. Diva Piccola, probably the newest of the lot, though with an enviable pedigree, is one of them. A tiny restaurant that describes itself modestly as a Trattoria, Diva Piccola serves food that tries hard to adhere to the Italian maxims of simple cooking using fresh, local ingredients. The results are well worth the trip to Hauz Khas village. Ritu adds, we are still not at the same levels as London or Istanbul or even Shanghai for that matter, where every neighbourhod has its local Italian, but I will say that today a guest in Delhi doesn’t need to drive miles just to eat their bowl of pasta.

Spinach Flan, Blooms
Spinach Flan, Blooms

Another great place to try Italian food in the city is Italia. Located in DLF Promenade Mall, Vasant Kunj, Italia offers al fresco, fine dining and casual seating options with food that you’ll remember for a long time to come. One of the best Italian restaurants in the city, Italia is a part of the Park Hotels. Chef Anurudh Khanna, Executive Chef, The Park commented, While pizzas remain the mainstay for Italian food in the city, the current trend is on wood fired thin, crust pizzas. Foodies in Delhi today want to try healthy salads and antipasti as starters with light dressings and marinades with the flavours of fresh herbs like basil, parsley and oregano. While risottos appear to have taken a back seat in menus all over, pastas are still much loved. Hand-made pastas are gradually gaining appreciation too. Having said all of that, awareness is lacking in people about the true meaning of Italian cuisine that I think time will shortly overcome.

La Piazza at the Hyatt Regency, one of the stalwarts of the Italian food scene in Delhi is still going strong with crowds thronging to partake of their very popular buffets and a la carte dining options. -Alessandro Sandrolini, Chef de Cuisine at La Piazza remarks, I have to say people are more aware about Italian food now than before, perhaps because people are travelling more now. Guest expectations are higher than before but on the other hand restaurants too now have more options in terms of imported products and those of higher quality. We try to make a difference at La Piazza by serving authentic Italian food. Despite being a casual dining restaurant, the food at La Piazza is flavoursome and uses the best products available.

[box] Popular Italian Cheeses Demystified

Most of us love the aromatic sprinkling of grated parmesan on our platters of pasta or enjoy a hunk of cheese grilled with our steaks. Here’s a quick rundown on popular Italian cheeses and what they’re made of. Many Italian cheeses like Parmigiano-Reggiano follow stringent labelling standards controlled by the European Union. Including the better known PDO or Protected Destination of Origin, only cheeses that satisfy certain geographical and manufacturing criteria may use certain monikers. For example, only cheese produced in the provinces of/near Parma, Reggio, Emilia, Modena, Mantova and Bologna may be labelled as ‘Parmigiano-Reggiano’.

  • Parmigiano-Reggiano, also called parmesan, is probably the best known Italian cheese in the world and possibly the most preferred hard cheese worldwide too, originated in the Emilia-Romagna region. Made using cow milk and aged for a minimum of 12 months, this cheese is available in varying degrees of ripeness.
  • Mozzarella di Bufala, is a fresh cheese made only using milk from the water buffalo. Local tradition insists the water buffaloes be ‘happy’! This cheese isn’t aged and due to its composition, usually eaten the same day as it is made. It lasts longer when sold in vacuum packed contained with whey. It originated in the Campania region.
  • Gorgonzola is a versatile cheese that can be smooth, firm or crumbly and always has a ‘bite’ from the veins of fungus that penetrate the cheese. A fairly strong cheese that’s protected under Italian law, Gorgonzola is made from the milk of cows and goats, the latter lending the cheese a saltier flavour than versions made using cow milk.
  • Pecorino, another protected and quintessential Italian cheese is made using ewes milk and is a hard cheese that shaves beautifully. Originating in the Marche region of Italy, the ‘foja de noce’ variant of this cheese is wrapped in walnut leaves and aged for several weeks, which gives it its distinctive flavour. [/box]
Lamb Shank, Italia
Lamb Shank, Italia

Sanjay Keswani, former Executive Chef and currently Operations Director at the Eros Hotel managed by Hilton says, Italian cuisine is much more than pasta, pizza and Tiramisu. It’s more about high quality olive oil, prosciutto and parmesan cheese; fresh, high quality ingredients, cooked as simply as possible with uncomplicated flavours. It’s about retaining and enhancing the inherent flavour of the ingredients, be it meat or vegetables, rather than creating a complex dish with many spices and herbs. Also this cuisine is closer to home food than any other and most dishes can be easily created in an Indian home.

Finally, we can broach the topic of Italian desserts. Italians love their desserts, just like we do. The dulce finale, a sweet finale to the meal is considered to be quite important and chefs give it their complete attention whether at home or in a restaurant. You’ll find desserts from southern Italy to be sweeter than their northern counterparts and northern desserts to be far more elegant than their southern counterparts. Think of fruit salads seasoned with sugar and flavoured with vanilla, orange juice and amaretto (Macedonia Fruit Salad), pears poached in red wine with cinnamon and sugar (Pere al vino rosso), strawberries marinated with sugar and balsamic vinegar (Fragole all’aceto balsamico) or fruits gently crystallized in sugar each with magnified flavours (Frutta candita). The much loved Tiramisu cannot of course be left out. Traditionally made using sponge fingers, strong espresso, mascarpone, double cream and chocolate, Tiramisu, literally meaning ‘pull me up’ originated in Tuscany and is a much loved dish featuring on menus all across the globe, New Delhi being no exception.

Italian food, its simplicity being in direct contrast to most Indian cuisines is still one of our favourite international cuisines, penetrating even the smaller towns where one would least expect to find Italian dishes on a menu. Given our attraction to new foods, it is but a matter of time before we fully appreciate Italian food for what it is and revel in the uncomplicated flavours and textures it’ll bring to our tables.

Overhead photo: Fettuccini with Smoked Chicken and Asparagus, Italia

Sid Khullar

Sid Khullar is the founder of Chef at Large, a blog that began in 2007. He enjoys cooking, writing, travelling and technology in addition to being a practising Freemason. Health and wellness is a particularly passionate focus. Sid prefers the company of food and animals to most humans, and can be reached at sid.khullar@chefatlarge.in.