I’m blaming Stefano Manfredi’s fabulous gnocchi gnudi. And his crostini con caprino e ‘nduja.They’ve turned my head. I’ve got Paolo Conte playing on my iPod and Italy on my mind.

With one eye (perhaps one-and-a-half eyes) on the circulating trays of canapés, I chatted with Signore Manfredi at the launch of Sydney’s Crave food festival on Tuesday — held at his Ballarestaurant at Star casino.

Of course, the chef and Sydney Morning Herald food columnist had to tell me about his recent trip to Italy. As he told stories about orange wines, bubbly pizzas and single beds and I ate too many of his hot little spinach and ricotta gnocchi dumplings dripping in burnt butter and parmesan, I decided that I need to go to Italy soon. I’m studying my credit cards.

In the meantime, I feel it’s my duty to pass on what he had to say:

* The main part of Manfredi’s trip was to wine fairs in Verona — Vinitaly, Viniveri, and VinNatur. It’s clear what the trend is: it was the first year that Vinitaly had a dedicated organic wine pavilion while the latter two are focused on “natural wines” (“Many (natural) wines I taste grossly offend my senses,” Sydney Morning Herald wine writer Huon Hooke wrote in a recent article.)

Manfredi tasted four or five hundred wines in a few days at the fairs before drinking more wine — touring the Carso wine area in the Friuli–Venezia Giulia region bordering Slovenia in the far north of Italy. Tiny vineyards, sometimes less than a quarter of a hectare, and wineries using back-to-the-future techniques. “The producers we went to see are some of the most avant-garde producers in the world of wine,” says Manfredi. They make their white wines as though they were reds, fermenting them with skin contact. And, instead of stainless steel, they use ceramic amphorae for fermentation and ageing.

They’re called “orange wines” — a reflection of the colour in the glass — and have “this array of flavours which includes tropical fruits, stone fruits, flowers, citrus, beeswax, smokiness…”

Says Manfredi: “If you look at the cutting edge of winemaking in the world, the orange wines are pushing the boundaries of what your perception of a white wine is.”

I’m off to further damage my credit card: the Australian wine importer Lario brings in an “orange wine” from the producer Vodopivec — the Vitovska Classica (vitovska is the grape variety). I’ll let you discover the full catastrophe of the price. I can’t bring myself to type the numbers in.

* Manfredi gave his liver some rest at the tail end of his trip, investigating pizzas in Rome. What we know to be Italian pizza — the single plate wonders from the likes of Pizza Mario in Surry Hills, Lucio Pizzeria in Darlinghurst and I Carusi in Brunswick with their thin bases and minimalistic toppings — is in fact Neapolitan pizza. Roman pizza is called “pizza a taglio” or “pizza alla Romana” and has a dough with bigger “bubbles” from greater yeast development and is presented on large rectangular trays. Choose your square and it’s reheated.

One of the greatest exponents of Roman pizza, the “celebrity baker” Gabriele Bonci, will be one of the star guests at the Crave festival’s World Chef Showcase (October 6 and 7). Bonci’s hole-in-the-wall restaurant, Pizzarium, is considered to be the best pizza restaurant in Rome. It might not be flash to look at but is fantastic, says Manfredi. Toppings feature ingredients such as wild greens, interesting local cheeses, artichokes and wild asparagus and the pizza trays are cooked in conventional deck ovens. “It’s the avant-garde pizza of Italy but has a long tradition,” says Manfredi, who admits to be considering whether there’s potential for a pizza alla Romana restaurant in Sydney.

* Manfredi, who is working on a tome on Italian regional food (to be released at the end of 2013), left it until the last minute to book his accommodation in Rome. The only option he could find was a … wait for it … a convent. He recommends Santa Emilia de Vialar (conveniently within walking distance of Pizzarium). Deal with the nun-sized single beds and seek your breakfast elsewhere and he says you’ll find the spartan rooms with a view of the Vatican’s dome — for around 50 euros a night — brilliant and brilliantly central. The convent also has a stunning garden.

Thanks for the travel tips Signore Manfredi… now can you share the canapé recipes in a future Spectrum column?


Reporter, Sydney Morning Herald

The nunnery gardens with a view to the Vatican. 

Postcards from Rome-The nunnery gardens with a view to the Vatican