Grateful for Local Vintners and Seasonal Foods (#WinePW)


Each month a group of food and wine writers participate in the Wine Pairing Weekend, an on-line forum in which each of us creates a special food/wine menu around a particular theme.  For November, we’re talking about The Feast Nearby:  Grateful for Local Vintners and Seasonal Foods.  If you’d like to join the conversation, follow the #WinePW on Twitter this Saturday, November 12th at 11:00 am EST.  It’s always good fun, with plenty of banter among those who show up.  Our host this month is Camilla Mann, who has a wonderful blog called Culinary Adventures with Camilla.  To add to the festivities, Camilla has gone above and beyond the normal duties and secured a sponsor – Melissa’s Produce – who graciously provided us with a cornucopia of seasonal fruits and vegetables to get our creative juices flowing.  With the holidays just around the corner, we can all use some inspiration for the dinners and parties on the calendar. melissas-produce-logo

Thanksgiving is just a couple of weeks away – scary thought, isn’t it?  So take your stress level down a notch, and avail yourself of the super-delicious recipes and wine-pairing suggestions put forth by our group of foodies and wine aficionados.  Here’s a preview of what’s on the menu for Saturday’s chat:


Tradition with a Twist:  Cooking far from Home

I’ve subtitled my post for #WinePW because for me, the idea of “local” produce or wine is – how shall I say – complicated.  First of all, I live in South Florida, where the only local wine I could find was made with blueberries.  And no, I am not going to write about that!  Local produce is less of a problem, but extends mainly to citrus and tropical fruit.  We do have strawberries, but not until mid-winter.  South Floridians exist in a strange sort of monoseasonal produce dystopia, where fresh fruit and vegetables are always available, regardless of the calendar.  Lots of fruit from South America, vegetables from Mexico and, if we’re lucky, the occasional summer peach from New Jersey.  You can always get your hands on the fresh stuff, but it usually comes off the back of a refrigerated truck.

As a person, it’s hard to define local, too.  Over the last 25 years I’ve been a human tumbleweed, living all over the country: I was born in North Carolina but spent my youth in Wilmington, Delaware, where both of my parents grew up.  Then I was off to Northern California for a bit, followed by Los Angeles, Baltimore, and finally Washington, DC, where I put down some temporary roots.  Ten years ago I pulled up stakes and decamped to Florida, where I think I’ll be for a while.  Where, then, is home?  Everywhere and nowhere.

But when it comes to the holidays, I always yearn for the dishes my mom and grandmother made:  roast turkey and ham, mashed potatoes, vegetable gratins, fruit desserts, and Stuffing.  Yes, it gets a capital letter because it is and always has been my favorite holiday item.  When I took one look at the box of goodies sent by Melissa’s Produce, I felt like I was back in my grandmother’s kitchen, getting ready for the feast.


Chestnuts, parsnips, winter squash, lady apples, persimmons, and more – what a bounty!  It inspired me to create a hybrid menu – one that takes advantage of the fresh, local fish that is always available here, and, thanks to the winter vegetables I’d been sent, complements the traditional dishes of my youth.

What About Wine?

As I mentioned above, no blueberry wine for me.  I’ve taken a different tack for this #WinePW.  Over the past couple of months, I spent a lot of time preparing to take the Italian Wine Professional certification exam.  That meant becoming familiar with some of the more obscure (at least for me) Italian grapes, tasting them, and learning how to pair them with food.  (Italy has more than 500 native varieties, in case you were wondering, and many of them grow only there.)  Whenever I came across a bottle that intrigued me, I’d buy it.  When my husband and I went to New York, I took advantage of the opportunity to scour the well-stocked shops for more bottles, using most of my suitcase’s capacity to bring them back to Florida.  So you might say I’ve got a few weird Italian wines lying around, just waiting for an occasion.  November’s Wine Pairing Weekend was it.

Here is the line-up –

White Wines:

2013 Claudio Mariotto Pitasso Timorasso DOC ($34.99 retail; 14.5% abv)

From the Colli Tortonesi in eastern Piemonte, Timorasso was on its way to extinction before winemaker Walter Massa single-handedly brought it back to prominence.  It makes a crisp, high-acid wine with aromas of peach, citrus, and white flowers, and can be quite full-bodied.  The Pitasso was all that and more – elegant and balanced, and not overwhelmed by the alcohol.  It reminded me of a Pfalz Riesling that has been at the gym every day for the last 6 months (a compliment, in my opinion.)


2013 La Torrazza Erbaluce di Caluso DOCG  ($17.99 retail; 12% abv)

I’ve discovered I have quite a thing for Piemontese white wines.  Arneis is one of my favorites to pair with fish dishes or a cheese plate, and now I’ve got to make room in my wine fridge for Erbaluce.  Its wines are floral, with lovely notes of green apple and lemon.  How had I never sampled it before?  My mistake, soon to be corrected, I assure you.


2012 Azienda Agricola San Salvatore Calpazio IGP Paestum Greco ($27.99 retail)
I’ll just quote from the label:  “Grab this, get some buffalo mozzarella, and go for it. Exuberant wine, harmonious, with great body and length. Notes of peach, apricot, honey and citrus aromas; very typical of this variety cultivated by the sea.”  Each time I taste Greco, I like it a little more.  This one certainly didn’t disappoint, with its rich fruit and mineral profile.  Calpazio is the name of a local mountain, at the foot of which lie the San Salvatore vineyards, which are biodynamically farmed.


2014 Jankara Vermentino di Gallura DOCG  ($21.99 retail; 14% abv)

Vermentino di Gallura is Sardinia’s only DOCG wine.  Produced in the northeast corner of the island, it is surprisingly full-bodied and rife with tropical fruit flavors that are balanced out by crisp acidity and a touch of saline on the finish.  A delightful wine that I hope to drink more of!



Red Wines:


2015 Terre Bianche Rossese di Dolceacqua DOC ($30.00 retail; 13% abv)

This Rossese comes from the Ligurian Riviera just east of Italy’s border with France.  Vineyards here enjoy the sandy, seaside soils and the company of olive groves that dot the landscape.   The wine itself is exotically aromatic, with notes of rose and spice, and seems to me more of a robust rosé than a typical Italian red wine.  It’s not for everyone, I guess.  Truth be told, this is my second go-round with Rossese, and it just doesn’t float my boat.  Not a bad match with food, but there are many other wines I’d choose before this one.


2015 Gianni Doglia Grignolino d’Asti DOCG  ($16.00 retail; 12.5% abv)

Grignolino is my current wine crush.  How had I never tasted this variety before?  It’s such an odd character: a pale, red-orange color of medium intensity but oceans of aromas floating out of the glass; high levels of acidity and tannin; lots of juicy red fruit.  I was totally perplexed by this wine at first.  What exactly was it trying to be?  If you’ve never tried it, I will explain it this way:  remember the sweetest kiss of your life – soft, delicate, intoxicating – and imagine it ending with a tiny little bite on the lips.  That’s Grignolino, and I’m totally infatuated with its red-berry kiss and teasing bite of tannin.  Try it – you’ll see.


The Dishes – Meal #1

I had so many beautiful ingredients to choose from, thanks to Melissa’s Produce.  For the first meal, I bought a stunning piece of swordfish that was caught by a local fisherman just off of our coast.  It needed no dressing-up, so I baked it “naked,” with just a little salt and pepper and a sprinkling of fresh dill.  A squirt of lemon juice before serving brought it all together.  To accompany the fish, I made herbed mashed potatoes and a salad.  But not just any salad!  On a bed of arugula I fanned out thinly sliced pears and persimmon, with a few shreds of Manchego cheese.  I made a simple vinaigrette of roasted pumpkin seed oil and sherry vinegar, salt and pepper, and tossed roasted pistachios over top.  It made for a stunning presentation.  The persimmons were the stand-out ingredient, for sure, pairing especially well with the Timorasso.  Overall, I found the Vermentino to be the best match with all the components of the meal, but the Grignolino found a very willing partner with the swordfish.



Meal #2

The second meal put the gorgeous red-and-green lady apples to good use.  I’d never cooked with them before, but figured pork would be a good match.  I made a quick glaze of Dijon mustard, honey, chopped rosemary, olive oil, and salt and pepper and cooked the pork with the lady apples.  Very easy to execute, and very delicious, to boot!


To accompany the pork I lopped the tops off of two carnival squash, seeded them, and pre-roasted them.  While they roasted, I made a vegan stuffing for the squash with parsnips, potatoes, chestnuts, and brown rice.  They turned out beautifully and would make a lovely main dish for the vegans at your holiday table.

I loved the full-bodied Greco with the stuffed squash.  It really highlighted the earthy flavors of the vegetables and provided a nice citrusy lift to the dish.  The pork worked with everything.  I even liked the Rossese with it!  But my favorite was, you guessed it, Grignolino.

Here’s the pork recipe, which I adapted from Stacy Snacks Online:

For the squash stuffing, I peeled, chopped, and parboiled three parsnips.  Then I sauteed 1 small yellow onion, 5-6 chopped white mushrooms, and the parsnips until tender and the mushrooms had given up their liquid.  Season as you like.  Then I mixed in a cup of cooked brown rice and about a cup of chopped, pre-cooked chestnuts.  Carrots would be a pretty addition, as would pomegranate seeds, or even red lentils.  Stuff the pre-roasted squash with the mixture and bake at 375 for about 20 minutes.

The Snack

After preparing the squash, I had all these beautiful seeds left over.  While I’d never roasted my own pumpkin or squash seeds before, I decided to try it.  I took my recipe from Oh She Glows a vegan website with some really easy, tasty ideas.  It directed me to boil the seeds for 10 minutes, drain them, and dry them.  Then toss with olive oil, salt and pepper, and the seasoning of your choice.  I picked smoked sweet paprika.  Spread them evenly over a baking sheet and roast at 350 for ten minutes.  Remove from the oven, shake or stir, and bake for 10 more minutes.  They were awesome!  My husband and I ate them right out of the pan, and even put some on our salad.  Easy, healthy, and delicious.


I hope the posts from this month’s Wine Pairing Weekend have inspired you to create some special new dishes for your own holiday dinners.  I, for one, am looking forward to reading through all of the posts later today – there’s sure to be something that tickles my fancy and gets me back into the kitchen.  And I’ve still got a few weird Italians lying around, looking for something to do.  Italian wines, that is!

Note:  I received the beautiful produce featured in my recipes free of charge from Melissa’s Produce.  It was also free of any expectation that I write a nice post, or any post at all, about it.  The wines, the opinions, and all the rest are my own.


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