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Á la beer: Easy Italian

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Four chefs embrace the birra revival by spiking Italian fare.

by Jessica Daynor

Does the name Rich Higgins ring a bell? If not, it should: Higgins is one of just three Master Cicerones (elite-level beer sommeliers) in existence. He’s also the brewmaster at San Francisco’s Social Kitchen & Brewery, president of the San Francisco Brewers Guild and director of San Francisco Beer Week. So what’s he doing curating the beer list at an Italian joint?

For starters, it’s because the Italian joint is Delarosa, the ubercool and always-packed eatery in San Fran’s Marina disctrict helmed by Italian-born chef Ruggero Gadaldi (who also heads the kitchens at sister spots Beretta and Pesce). But it’s also because beer has suddenly found itself at home on the Italian table, replacing the Barolo that once stood stoically with mushroom risotto and edging out the chianti that veal scallopini had come to love.

“I think this renaissance in beer has been fueled by the ever-growing popularity of pizza,” says Gadaldi. “Pizza and beer are a perfect pairing, so the demand has increased.” And Gadaldi’s reacted: Now, he packs barstools with patrons alternating bites of his clam-tomato-soffrito pie with sips of North Coast La Merle from upstate California and Baladin Nora straight from his mother country.

Halfway across the country, Chicago stalwart Spiaggia now offers Italian craft beers like Birra del Borgo Re Ale pilsner on tap—the first time the restaurant’s poured draft beer in 26 years. “We’re always trying to find new, special products from Italy to bring to Chicago, and there are these beautiful, complex, delicious beers coming out of Italy that seem to take more of a chef’s approach,” says executive chef Sarah Grueneberg. “Now the beers match the artisanal quality of the food.”

Cured meat, sun-dried tomatoes, ricotta and pilsner combine in this simple pasta supper.
A fragrant doppelbock infuses lamb shanks with a taste of Italy.
Sweet fennel and a bitter dark ale harmonize in this crunchy snack.
Crunchy, beer-battered sage leaves make elevated (but easy!) bar snacks and lend texture to salads and pasta.
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