Rosso: A taste of Italy

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Sometimes you feel like eating Italian food but not just any Italian food. You are looking for something special, original yet authentic: Italian cuisine with a twist! All you need to do is head straight to the Four Seasons Hotel in Riyadh and ask for Rosso.

Rosso’s menu takes you on a gastronomic tour of Italy but it also embodies all the qualities of Italy’s cuisine. The food reflects its classical simplicity, elegance, and tradition combined with creativity.
Though I was surprised to find a very American Caesar Salad leading the list of cold starters, I was immediately focusing on the remaining items: a Lobster Tartar with potato cream and two of my favorite beef dishes, “Bresaola” and “Beef Carpaccio”.

Valtellina, a region to the north-east of Milano, is famous for its beef. “Bresaola” is beef which is salted then air-dried. This delicious beef has a wonderful deep ruby color. It is sliced thinly on a large plate and generally sprinkled with oil and lemon juice. Rosso serves this sweet and aromatic beef accompanied with a crown of melon and aragula topped with a balsamic vinegar reduction.

“Carpaccio di Manzo” consists of thin slices of beef tenderloin served with fresh arugula leaves, shaved parmesan cheese and a lemon oil dressing. “Carpaccio” is a fairly recent dish. It was invented by Mr. Cipriani of the famous Cipriani Hotel in Venezia, in the honor of the painter Carpaccio, contrasting the red of the meat and the color of the dressing.

The pasta selection includes some creative dishes like Chestnuts Pappardelle with Duck Ragout flavored with vanilla oil and the Pumpkin Agnolotti with Prawns in a shellfish cream sauce or a more classical Tagliolini with Genovese Pesto, Tomato Fondue and Salmon Scallop.

“Tagliolini” is Florence’s name for the thin ribbon pasta called ‘trenette’ in Genoa. And “pesto” is a Ligurian or Genoese specialty par excellence. The soul of “pesto” is basil. Pesto is not difficult to make but it must be done properly. Basil leaves are crushed carefully with salt and garlic, then you add some grated Parmesan and olive oil drop by drop until you achieve the right thickness. The last ingredient is pine nuts or walnuts which must be crushed so thoroughly that they are perfectly integrated in the smooth creamy sauce.

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The selection of risottos is equally tempting. The sea food risotto is made with calamari, mussels, prawns, seaweed and sea urchins. “Risotto alla Contadina” is all about eggplant, fresh tomato, Italian herbs with chicken but how about an orange flavored Parmesan risotto with short ribs!

Whatever your choice, remember that a risotto must always be creamy yet firm to the bite. It is essential that the rice is cooked al dente on the inside. Such a risotto is called “all’onda”, a wavelike risotto and it means that the risotto should never be too dry, but rather creamy, wavy, “ondoso”.

Risotti can be made with almost everything: sea food, frog’s legs, chicken livers, meat and vegetables: spinach, asparagus tips, beans, fennel, potatoes, mushrooms, cabbage and even with grapes. This last risotto is called “risi co’ la ua” made with fresh Malaga grapes which is not a dessert because it is made with garlic, oil, parsley and grated Parmesan.

I like the choice of meat and particularly the parcel of beef stuffed with buffalo mozzarella, cherry tomatoes, black olives and basil. “Scaloppine” a Milanese specialty is also included in the selection. “Scallopine” is an exception to the rule that Milanese dishes are cooked slowly and it is the way this thin slice of veal is cooked which makes it so tasty. The veal is pan-fried over a high flame for a few minutes to sear the meat quickly and lock the juices inside, so the interior remains tender and juicy. There are endless ways to serve scaloppine, Rosso suggests one of my favorite which is “Al limone” that is marinated in oil and lemon juice and cooked in its own juices, to which the marinade is added before the meat dries.

Incidentally, Rosso also serves pizza. Eaten all over the world, pizza in fact became a national symbol in the 1890’s, after the unification of Italy. Basil was then added to tomato and cheese to imitate the three colors of the Italian flag. This tricolor pizza was named “La Margherita” in honor of Queen Maregherita of Savoy, Italy’s first queen. Now known as Margarita this pizza is the most widely eaten worldwide. The choice of pizzas includes naturally the Pizza Margarita and also Pizza Norvegese which comes with mozzarella, aragula leaves, cherry tomatoes and smoked salmon as for the Pizza Fattoressa it is served with fresh mushrooms, artichoke, slices of turkey, hard boiled eggs, mozzarella and tomato sauce.
I love the selection of desserts and went straight for the “Hazelnut and White Chocolate Semifreddo”. Semifreddo is an Italian word which means half frozen. It is made with whipped cream which gives it a fluffy texture similar to a frozen mousse. Semifreddo is definitely softer and less frozen than ice cream. It melts quickly in the mouth leaving only the lightest and airiest of sensations which feels like a pleasant tickle of winter to chase away the heat.

“The Black Berry Bavarois” served with a salad of mixed berries and a mint lime sorbet is also regal. A “Bavarois” is basically a cold dessert made from an egg custard stiffened with gelatin, mixed with whipped cream and the black berry puree.

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The “Tiramisu” is served with an unusual crispy crust and a chocolate sauce. This sweet literally means “pick me up” or “lift me up”, perhaps referring to the large number of calories in it!

Last but not least the Cassata Siciliana on the menu is not the ice cream but a version of the traditional Sicilian cake consisting of a sponge base, combined with a rich cream of ricotta cheese and candied fruit.

Rosso celebrates Italian cooking bursting with flavor, color and fresh ingredients. The dishes reflect Italy’s great culinary diversity from Bologna and Milano to Liguria’s pungent pesto sauce, a superb balance of basil and olive oil, including Sicilia’s renowned Cassata Siciliana!

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