A number of years ago, I visited Valdobbiadene, a picturesque town north of Venice, nestled in the hills of the Alps. I remember the bus ride, winding through narrow roads shaded by magnificent chestnut trees that occasionally allowed glimpses of the valleys, hillside vineyards, and scattered towns. Church towers seemed to be at the top of every hill, with bells that rang out at lunchtime, calling workers in from the vineyards. This was years before Valdobbiadene was formally recognized as the home of the highest quality Prosecco wines in Italy, but it’s always been the most important commune of Italy’s best-known sparkling wine. It’s a lovely place to visit, particularly if you’re fond of endless flutes of bubbly at every corner.
I also remember an amazing meal that ensued after our waiter basically took control of our apparently wrong-headed ordering attempt and just began bringing us the foods he thought was should have. (I highly recommend this scenario in Italy, by the way — it has never disappointed me.) There was a Venetian-style agrodolce (a kind of sweet-and-sour treatment) radicchio antipasto. Wedges of Ubriaco — a locally-produced, firm and crumbly cow’s milk cheese that is soaked in Prosecco. Thin, crispy breadsticks full of sesame seeds. And a marvelous dish featuring deeply colored ribbons of radicchio-flavored fresh pasta. Oh, and several bottles of Prosecco from beginning to end.
I thought about this meal again recently after being asked to help with pairings for an all-bubbly dinner, which led me to make a version of the pasta dish last night to pair with a bottle of Prosecco. It’s dead simple, with a few knobs of creamy Gorgonzola melted into a quick sauté of chopped radicchio and onion. The whole thing can be accomplished in the time that the pasta is cooking, and the results are richly satisfying. Cooking radicchio this way brings out a caramelized cabbage-y sweetness that adds depth to the familiar bitterness. And the Gorgonzola Dolce is perfect here — creamier and milder than other forms of Gorgonzola.
Prosecco might not be the first wine you would think of for this dish, but trust me — the contrast between the inherent bitterness of the radicchio and the blue tang of the cheese, with the freshness of the Prosecco, is really delightful. The wine brings out the best in the sauce ingredients and also gives a refreshing, cleansing brightness that sends me back for another forkful.
Mionetto NV Prosecco Brut Treviso ($15). Great value here, with fig, white peach, and touches of mineral and wildflower honey. Fresh and drinkable. Find it!
Recipe: Penne al Radicchio e Gorgonzola
8 ounces whole wheat penne
4 ounces Gorgonzola Dolce, in pieces
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1/2 large head radicchio
1/2 small white onion, chopped
a good slosh of Prosecco, about 2 tablespoons
freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano
Bring a large pot of water to a rolling boil. Salt generously, add pasta, and cook according to package directions.
While pasta is cooking, cut out and discard the core of the radicchio, then roughly chop the leaves. There should be about 1 1/2 cups. Heat the olive oil in a large skillet over moderate heat. Add the radicchio and chopped onion and a pinch of salt. Cook until the radicchio and onion are softened, add the wine and continue cooking until reduced.
Just before the pasta is ready, add the Gorgonzola to the pan, remove from the heat and stir until cheese melts into a creamy sauce. Drain the pasta and add to the skillet, stirring to combine. Correct seasoning if needed; serve immediately, sprinkled with freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano. Serves 2.