May 11: At a reception dinner held on Sunday in Alba in Piemonte, the local dish called Fritto, an equivalent of our Pakoras, except that it is made in flour batter and salt coating vegetables like zucchini, eggplant, spinach and onions, with a different texture and taste than Indian Pakoras, was very popular and interestingly matched very well with various white wines being served from the region, writes Subhash Arora.
Fritto alla Piemontese was the most served and popular snack at the casual reception dinner where the journalists and importers from the world congregating for the Nebbiolo Prima 2011 (tasting the new, ready-to-release vintages of Barolo, Barbaresco and Roero) could meet each other and the producers informally over wines served at the Piazza (the venue would be unthinkable and banned in India, being a public place).
Fritto is the Italian equivalent of Pakoras in India, except that the batter used is flour with eggs and only salt is used for preparation and there are no chilies or spices. Made in tempura style, one can use water, sparkling water (soda) or even beer to make the batter. Although traditionally, Fritto Misto (pronounced free-tto mee-sto) implies that cut meats are coated with the batter, Fritto is made with vegetables like zucchini, eggplant, onion, carrot, artichokes, spinach, and even porcini mushrooms.
This evening saw the Fritto made with zucchini, eggplant, onions and spinach. The snack matched rather well with a crisp and dry but fruity 2009 Arneis from Battaglio, a producer in the nearby town of Vezza d’Alba. I also tried a Favorita 2009 (a grape similar to Vermentino and grown also in Roero hills in Piemonte, like Arneis) from Casetta (imported in India by Global Tax Free).
Since the event was a wine tasting opportunity, I even tried the Fritto with wines produced from international varieties- Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc that are becoming increasingly popular in Piemonte. A Rosé sparkling from Fontanafredda was equally delightful, especially with the zucchini Fritto. It was no surprise that the tomato based Risotto that followed, was downed very comfortably and deliciously well with these wines, being a classic match.
Although Piemonte is known for Barbera, Dolcetto, Barbaresco and Barolo red wines, their white wines made from the local grapes like Arneis, Cortese (used in wines from Gavi), and Favorita are equally popular as wines from Langhe and Roero hills; they are also available in India, though high taxation makes them slightly beyond the reach of most people as the daily drinking wines that they are supposed to be.
There is a case for trying these wines with Indian Pakoras as well , provided they are not made with too much of chilies in the batter made with besan (chic pea flour). Try them sometimes with Arneis or Gavi or even with Indian Sauvignon Blanc or a Rose sparkler from Sula or Zampa. Slightly sweet Chenin Blanc will work even better as it will be able to handle more chilies in the batter.
I know I have, and I can recommend white wine with Pakoras- Italian or Indian! Sometimes, it is not important to try hard to match serious food with wine. Simple pleasure of life can become more enjoyable by simply adding wine to the relatively simple snacks.
In case you would like to try making Fritto at home, I was advised by an Italian Chef that only the yellow of the egg should be added to the flour initially and a slow addition of cold sparkling wine (soda) should be preferred. White of the egg is to be added just before dipping the vegetables which should also be kept cold in the refrigerator. This adds to the crispiness. Olive oil or sunflower oil may be used for deep frying .