Casa Vinicola Zonin's Italian Culinary Experience Showcases Puglia Region With Help From Ritz-Carlton Chef Ezio Gamba

Step off the elevator and onto the third floor at the Miami Culinary Institute's main building downtown, and you come across an impressive facility. About 50 seats surround a stage kitchen where some of the city's finest culinary practitioners and educators lecture on the art and science of fine dining.

This past week, members of the media, foodies and fellow chefs were invited to the complimentary, invite-only August edition of the Italian Culinary Experience, presented by MCI, Cioppino restaurant and winery Casa Vinicola Zonin. CVZ is Italy's largest privately-owned company, with 11 wine estates in seven regions for a total of over 10,000 acres. August's featured wines came from the Masseria Aletmura estate in the heel of the boot Puglia, paired with a delectable five-course meal prepared by Cioppino at Ritz-Carlton Key Biscayne executive chef Ezio Gamba.

"The uniqueness of these events from featuring a different wine region

with Zonin properties to selecting a different restaurant partner, the

most exciting part is having our guests enjoy this experience by being

transported to Italy even for an afternoon through the beauty of wine

and food," said Pietro Morelli, marketing director of Casa Vinicola

Zonin USA.

The first course (above) was a traditional bruschetta prepared using perfectly grilled ciabatta bread topped with heirloom tomato, garden basil and aged pecorino cheese. The dish reminds Gamba of his grandparent's farm growing up in Bergamo, Italy.

"Even though it was a small farm," Gamba said, "my grandmother was able to prepare a lot of different kinds of dishes."

The freshness of the ingredients used in the appetizer suggested they were just picked from a local farm. Gamba sources most of his ingredients locally, and brought all the ingredients with him from the hotel for all five dishes. To go with the appetizer is CVZ's most popular wine, Prosecco.

Next came the insalatina di seppie with burrata e carciofi, a steamed cuttlefish (above) draped in artichokes, lemon zest micro celery and burrata, a fresh Italian cheese made with mozzarella and cream. Paired with the dish, and going nicely with the main ingredient was a white wine called Fiano. The creaminess of the burrata cheese reminded us of ricotta cheese and complemented the crispiness of the artichokes and micro celery.

The first of two main entrees (above) featured a freshly-made pasta called orecchiete. Orecchiete has the consistency of gnocchi, but its disc shape captures the flavor from the pork sausage and tomato sauce it was prepared in. The red sauce came with a rose wine called Rosato. This isn't your wife's white zinfandel, Americans' most popular rose wine, which in comparison seems watered down and void of color and aroma compared to Rosato.

The final of two main courses was a perfectly cooked lamb dish called sella d'agnello. "With lamb, I like to cook it until almost grey on the inside, but slowly," said Chef Gamba. The taste and consistency of the lamb suggested a sort of medium well temperature and complemented the fried zucchini blossom that topped it. The zucchini blossom was similar to a tempura batter, perhaps a sign of Gamba being influenced by his Chinese wife. The wine that came with the dish was the Sasseo Primitivo, a dark red with a crisp taste. The wine paired with the final course, desert goat, cow and sheep cheeses, had a much stronger aroma and deep flavor in comparison.

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