Have you ever thought of serving a gin and tonic with a butter and anchovy bruschetta? It is called “food pairing” and is the culinary art of making new and refined combinations of food and alcoholic beverages: this is an increasingly important quality even in beach clubs, where sparkling wines, drinks and cocktails can be enriched of fruit, vegetables, spices and aromatic herbs to complement them with à la carte dishes.
The first rule of food pairing is to pay attention to the calories of the food and the gradations of the drinks, so as not to cause heaviness to your diners – especially in the restaurants on the beach, where after meals you can’t wait to take a dip. The second is to dare in the combinations, obviously experimenting them before inserting them in the menu.
An example? «The gin and tonic, with drops of lime, perfectly accompanies a simple dish of midnight summer dinners such as spaghetti with garlic, oil and chilli pepper», suggests Lucio D’Orsi, bar manager of Dry Martini in Sorrento, cocktail bar on the panoramic terrace of the Hotel Majestic in Sorrento and among the most expert sommeliers of food pairing in Italy. «Even the Martini is ideal for dinners in the summer – continues D’Orsi – in particular in the very fresh frappé version, renamed “gin-basil smash”, which is obtained by chilling the Martini to -30 degrees in the freezer to become a granita and flavoring it with organic lemon and basil peels».
Another trendy combination is gin and tonic with bread, butter and anchovies, the starter of the moment, also excellent with sparkling wines. For restaurants specializing in fish, however, the Mediterranean mackerel fillet is perfect to pair with a cup of Japanese sake, bitter orange marmalade, lemon juice and even white tea and chamomile. For more traditional dishes such as pasta alla carbonara, D’Orsi finally suggests «drinks with a high alcohol content such as bourbon or scotch enhance the flavor of pancetta, especially when combined with San Marzano tomatoes, honey, coriander or essences of pepper and chilli». And the desserts? Whether it’s ice cream or pastry, food pairing can end with small amounts of smooth spirits, from gin to whiskey.
«The consumption of wine or beer at the table is a static and rooted habit – explains D’Orsi – while combining excellent spirits with menus allows you to give infinite and new nuances to flavors with great creativity. I cook like chefs, but I use ice and play with the contrasts of spirits and bubbles. My drinks contain from 4 to 18 different components, combined with the ingredients of the foods, and each dish has its own unique cocktail. The individual essences add flavors and aromas, especially if aromatic herbs and fruit from small local crops are used. Industrial lemons, for example, are surface treated, losing their aromas. In fact, when used in drinks, it is immediately recognizable because they add a bitter taste that natural lemon does not have».
The suspicion remains that after such a dinner you get up from the table tired because the liqueurs are not easily digestible, also due to the high alcohol content. «The secret is to dose the gradations well and calculate the calories upstream», reveals D’Orsi. «In constructing a menu, the alcoholic ladder must be considered and it must be gradual. It starts with 6 degrees for the appetizer-aperitif, it goes to 12 and then to 22 degrees with the opening dishes, it reaches 30 degrees for important dishes and also closes with 42 degrees of a pure whiskey at the end of the evening. But pay attention to the doses: for spirits they must not exceed 30 grams. You don’t have to get up from the table weighed down and the balance of dishes and spirits must be very precise. We calculate a maximum of 700-800 total grams per person, including cocktails, and in this way at the end of dinner you feel light».
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