Trapani is a province in the island region of Sicily in Italy. The northwestern part of the province is rugged in comparison to the south. The province also includes the archipelago of the Egadi Islands, the volcanic island of Pantelleria, which is the largest in Sicily, and the Stagnone Islands. The Egadi Islands consist of three main islands, Favignana, Levanzo and Marettimo and two islets, Formica and Maraone. The coast is one of the most impressive in Italy and comprises valuable naturalistic spots with its seafront full of cliffs and stacks alternating with beautiful beaches.
Marsala, a town in the province of Trapani, is the home of Marsala wine. Marsala became known when the English began their explorations for commerce and trade. As the legend goes….
In 1770, a violent storm forced a British ship to take shelter in the harbor of Marsala. John Woodhouse, a merchant, disembarked and went into town to sample the wine in one of the humble taverns. Although more accustomed to the liqueur wines of Spain and Portugal, his palate detected their similarity to the local Marsala wine, prompting him to risk purchasing a considerable consignment of wine (blended with alcohol to withstand the journey) to take to his native land to sound out the market. The response was positive, the merchant set up his own company in Marsala. A second English merchant, Ben Ingham, a connoisseur of fortified wines, gradually improved the wine’s quality by using carefully selected blends of different grape varieties.
In 1833, the entrepreneur Vincenzo Florio, bought up large areas of land between the two largest established Marsala producers and set out to make his own vintage with a more specialised range of grapes. At the end of the 19 century, several more wine-growers joined the competition, including Pellegrino (1880). After the turn of the century, Florio bought out Ingham and Woodhouse and retained the two labels.
Marsala is registered as a DOC wine (a State-designated label of controlled quality); this means that production is restricted to an exclusive area around Trapani and a collection of additional vineyards in the provinces of Agrigento and Palermo. Only grape varieties with a high natural sugar content are used to make Marsala: these, once pressed, are left to ferment before being blended with ethyl alcohol to produce the different types and flavors of Marsala. Relative to the sugar content, Marsala may be categorised as dry, semi-dry or sweet. Its main denomination, however, is relative to the length of time it is left to mature: Marsala Fine (1 year), Superiore (2 years), Superiore Riserva (4 years), Vergine (5 years) and Vergine Riserva (10 years). Dry Marsala is usually served as an aperitif, while the sweeter forms are drunk as a dessert wine.
Marsala was traditionally served between the first and second courses. It is now also served, chilled, with Parmesan (stravecchio), Gorgonzola, Roquefort, and other spicy cheeses.
Marsala is a fortified wine – this means alcohol is added to it. This also means that, just like you can keep an open bottle of vodka or rum on your shelf, you can also keep an opened bottle of Marsala around. Just keep it in a cool, dark area.
Cooking with Marsala
Should you use – sweet or dry Marsala – in a recipe? Do you like sweet or savory chicken dishes? Are you even going to notice the subtle difference? You might not even be able to taste any difference since both are going to taste “like Marsala”. So make your recipe one time with the sweet and one time with the dry, and see if you can even notice any difference.
Garlicky Marsala Mushroom Sauce
This sauce can be served over cooked pasta, folded into an omelet, served with pan-fried chicken breasts or over cheese grits (polenta).
- 5 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided
- 1 pound white mushrooms, caps quartered
- 1 pound shiitake mushrooms, stems discarded, caps quartered
- Salt and freshly ground pepper
- 4 large garlic cloves, 2 thinly sliced and 2 minced
- 1 medium shallot, thinly sliced
- 1 1/2 teaspoons minced rosemary
- 1/2 cup dry Marsala wine
- 3 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
- 6 Kalamata olives, pitted and coarsely chopped
- 2 tablespoons minced chives
In a very large skillet, heat 2 tablespoons of the olive oil. Add the white and shiitake mushrooms, season with salt and pepper, cover and cook over moderately high heat for 5 minutes, stirring once. Uncover and cook over high heat, stirring once, until the mushrooms are browned all over, about 3 minutes.
Add the sliced garlic, the shallot and rosemary and cook, stirring, until fragrant, about 2 minutes. Add the Marsala and cook until evaporated, about 30 seconds. Add the vinegar and cook, stirring, for 30 seconds. Stir in the minced garlic, chives, olives and the remaining 3 tablespoons of olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Cover and keep warm.
Maggiano’s Little Italy’s Rigatoni D (Marsala)
This dish was named after its creator, David DiGregorio, Executive Chef at Chicago’s Clark & Grand St. restaurant. David and his team spent about 3 months perfecting the Marsala Cream Sauce to compliment chicken.
- ¼ cup balsamic vinegar
- 1 ½ cups sliced mushrooms
- 3/8 cup Spanish, yellow or white onion, diced ½”
- 1 tablespoon fresh garlic, finely chopped
- 2 cups cold low sodium chicken broth
- 1 ½ tablespoons cornstarch
- 2 cups rigatoni pasta
- ¼ cup olive oil
- 1 lb chicken breast, boneless, skinless
- 4 tablespoons butter
- ½ cup dry white wine (Chardonnay)
- ¾ cup sweet Marsala wine
- 2 cups heavy cream
- 1 tablespoon Kosher salt
- ½ teaspoon black pepper, freshly ground
- 2 tablespoons fresh basil, chopped
- 3/8 cup Parmesan cheese, grated
Preheat the oven to 450°F.
On a 12 X 18 cookie sheet or tray, mix the diced onions, mushrooms, finely chopped garlic and balsamic vinegar together until all the ingredients are evenly mixed and coated. Bake for 15 minutes until the mushrooms are a deep brown color and almost all the liquid and moisture has evaporated. Set mixture aside.
In a medium bowl, combine the cornstarch with the cold chicken broth with a whisk. Set aside the mixture.
Prepare pasta as directed on the box to the al dente stage approximately 10 minutes before you plan on cooking the entire pasta dish. Drain pasta in a colander, shake out excess water, then toss in an 8 quart bowl with half of the olive oil.
Cut the chicken into pieces approximately 1” long x ¾” wide. In a 12”-14”.
In a pan or Dutch oven. heat the remaining olive oil and butter until melted and the butter begins to lightly brown, add the sliced chicken and cook for approximately 3-4 minutes until a light golden brown color is achieved.
Immediately add the white wine to the sautéed chicken, cook until the wine evaporates, add the Marsala wine and reduce by half, then add the cold chicken broth/cornstarch mixture, bring to a simmer. Then add the heavy cream, kosher salt, black pepper and the roasted mushrooms, onions. Bring to a simmer and allow the sauce to thicken.
Add the cooked rigatoni and simmer for 2 minutes. Finish the pasta and sauce with fresh basil and grated parmesan cheese.
Sage Meatballs with Marsala Wine Sauce
- 1 pound ground beef
- 2 tablespoons freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
- 1/4 cup soft unsalted butter, divided
- 1 1/2 tablespoons fresh sage leaves (about 20 leaves), very finely chopped
- Salt to taste
- All-purpose flour for dredging
- 1/4 cup sweet Marsala wine
In a large bowl, combine the meat, Parmigiano, half the butter, the sage and salt until they are very well blended, using your hands. Form small meatballs about 1 1/2 inches in diameter using cold wet hands to keep the meat from sticking. Roll the meatballs in the flour and set aside.
In a large skillet, melt the remaining butter over medium heat, then cook the meatballs until brown, 7 to 8 minutes. Shake the skillet often so they don’t stick.
Remove the excess fat from the skillet with a spoon and discard. Once the meatballs are brown, pour in the Marsala wine and continue cooking until it is almost evaporated, about 2 minutes. Serve immediately.
Strawberry, Mascarpone, and Marsala Budini
Budini is Italian for puddings or parfaits.
Makes 6 servings
1 8-ounce container mascarpone cheese
- 6 tablespoons sweet Marsala (preferably imported)
- 3 tablespoons whipping cream
- 3 tablespoons sugar, divided
- 3 cups sliced hulled strawberries (about 15 ounces)
- 2 1/4 cups coarsely crumbled amaretti cookies (Italian macaroons; about 4 1/2 ounces)
Combine mascarpone, 3 tablespoons Marsala, cream and 2 tablespoons of the sugar in medium bowl. Stir gently until well blended.
Combine strawberries, remaining 3 tablespoons Marsala, and 1 tablespoon sugar in another medium bowl; toss to blend. Cover mascarpone and berry mixtures; refrigerate 30 minutes.
Place 2 tablespoons crumbled cookies in each of 6 champagne goblets. Divide strawberry mixture with juices among the goblets.
Top berries with mascarpone mixture, then remaining cookies. Cover and chill at least 30 minutes and up to 2 hours.