Italy Is Closer Than You Think

Photo Credit: kailleyskitchen.com

In Italy two things reign supreme: family and quality ingredients. If there aren’t quality ingredients then there won’t be good food and if there isn’t family (friends and animals count in this scenario too) then there isn’t anyone to enjoy good food with. The one thing that everyone has in common is food — we all like it, we all need it to survive and we all think about it. Food is what ties us together. And at Piccolo Sogno I felt like a part of the family the minute I walked through the door.

Once I weaved my way through the dimly lit, elegantly rustic space and sat down in my chair I realized I was going on a tasting tour of Italy. Instead of focusing on one region of the country, Piccolo Sogno showcases ingredients from many provinces. They also boast an exclusively Italian wine list, and it wouldn’t be an Italian tasting tour without a glass of prosecco to start. Authentic Prosecco is made with the Italian Glera grape and I was immediately hit with notes of pear, the mark of a good prosecco.

©Nick Novelli Novelli PhotoDesign
©Nick Novelli Novelli PhotoDesign

The first stop on my culinary tasting tour was Naples. This southern Italian, waterfront city is known for many wonderful things, including their thin-crust pizza. When the Margherita Pizza arrived at our table and I took my first bite, I closed my eyes and had a moment. This crispy and impressively thin crust was perfect. Made in a wood-burning oven, the smoky flavor of the crust was unique. Topped with tomato sauce, mozzarella and basil, it was fresh, aromatic and flavorful. It was a challenge not to eat the entire pizza right then and there and call it a night. I had to exercise restraint, and I’m glad I did.

Food Images
Photo Credit: Piccolo Sogno

Next, we headed straight to the Mediterranean island of Sicily for Cecina Fritta. These thick-cut chickpea flour fries were dusted with Parmesan cheese. The flavors were complex but showcased the nuttiness of the cheese in every bite.  While my guest and I were still snacking, we ordered our next wine pairing – the Badiola Mazzei. This delicious red blend is made with mostly Sangiovese (a Tuscan wine), Merlot and a small amount of Cabernet Sauvignon. This was the ideal choice for what came next, the Burrata con Culatello from Puglia. A cheese lovers dream dish, this Pugliese, hand-stuffed mozzarella surrounded by artisan style prosciutto embodied exactly what I love about Italian cooking, the simple preparation by the chef allowed the ingredients to speak for themselves.

Food Images
Photo Credit: Piccolo Sogno

Our trip to Rome came in the form of Cannelloni. This mouth-watering baked dish featured pasta wrapped spinach, mushroom and buffalo ricotta cheese, tomato sauce and béchamel. What’s béchamel you ask? A velvety white sauce made from white roux and milk. And while this sauce is widely used in French cooking, it has Italian roots. This cheesy dish was well composed and bursting with flavor. Our extremely knowledgeable server recommended we eat our pasta with the Vino Nobile di Montepulciano Riserva, another fantastic red blend made with primarily Sangiovese.

This recommendation was very appreciated when we received our next course, the Pappardelle con Cinghiale from Tuscany. This full-bodied wine had notes of cherry and leather that complemented the spiced wild boar ragu in this wide, flat pasta dish. The spiced wild boar is braised in a red wine reduction for 3 hours at a low temperature and the flavor is impeccable. It was well seasoned, incredibly lean and satisfying. This dish was a high note.

The next dish, a Ligurian Branzino, was a masterpiece. This Mediterranean, wood roasted sea bass is presented whole and cooked in a citrus caper white wine sauce with rosemary, lemon, Sicialian sea salt and olive oil inside of the fish. From the presentation to the preparation, this was a demonstration of culinary expertise and every bite showcased its careful construction. The heightened, yet subtle flavors allowed the ingredients to shine. The piquancy was heightened by the suggested wine pairing, the Bucci Verdicchio Classico. This white wine was nutty with hints of butterscotch and vanilla, and ideal to sip on while eating such a light and delicate fish.

Photo Credit: Piccolo Sogno
Photo Credit: Piccolo Sogno

The meal wouldn’t be complete without a Tuscan trio of creamy and sweet homemade gelato (the pistachio is a must try) and crunchy Sicilian biscotti. We were also instructed that dipping the biscotti in our last pairing of the night, the Badia a Coltibuono Vin Santo del Chianti Classico would be a delicious move and it was. And while I wish I could say I was spending every other month vacationing in Italy, I am not. But having been to this country of many flavors I can say with conviction that Piccolo Sogno gives us lucky Chicagoans a taste of Italy in our own backyard.

464 N Halsted St, Chicago, IL 60642

Featured Photo Credit: kailleyskitchen.com

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