Warming weather means several things in my household. The chaotic and simultaneous packing/unpacking of the new season’s clothes; the fantasizing (and realistic planning) of our summer vacation; and the farmer’s market around the corner opening up again.
Unlike the Union Square market, our meager outpost is only open from mid-spring to early fall. But the produce is out of this world. In the summer, I switch from the heavier fare that I slave over the stove for hours to cook, to lighter vegetable-based dishes. The less our oven stays on, the cooler our apartment is. Besides that, vegetables, to me, are the flavor of warm weather.
So I must switch to drinking sangria and beer come summer, right? Wrong! Although many people are frightened by the prospect of matching vegetables to wines, it’s really a natural pairing. If you think about it, the grapes used to make the wine and the vegetables you are cooking (or not cooking) have more in common than a Cabernet and sirloin steak. You might be surprised what some of the great match-ups are, as well.
One of my favorite things to make when entertaining in the summer is an easy asparagus side dish that is great served room temperature. Using about a pound of trimmed asparagus, I heat two or three tablespoons of olive oil in a sauté pan on low heat with five thinly sliced garlic cloves. I then add four or five roughly chopped sundried tomatoes after the oil has heated the garlic. Once the mixture has cooked for five minutes, I bump the heat up to medium high and add the asparagus, cooking for another five to seven minutes. This is amazing with a New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc like the Allan Scott Sauvignon Blanc 2008 ($16.99 at Elite Wine, 558 Third Ave. at 37th St., 646-658-7548). The crisp, citrusy flavors of the wine complement the green, grassy flavors of the asparagus perfectly.
Vegetarian cuisine doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll walk away from the table hungry. If you want something hearty, a ratatouille is the perfect summer stew. Start by sautéing a chopped onion, four minced garlic cloves and a diced zucchini in a medium pot with olive oil. After everything has softened and you’ve flavored the mixture with salt and pepper, add a can of crushed tomatoes and a handful of chopped Kalamata olives. Let it simmer for a half-hour and match it with a Pinot Noir, like the Cooper Hill Pinot Noir 2008 from Willamette Valley, Ore. ($16.99 at 67 Wines and Spirits, 179 Columbus Ave. at 68th St., 212-724-6767). The acidity from the tomatoes and the natural acidity of the Pinot Noir grape cancel each other out and highlight the fruity qualities of the wine and the richness of the ratatouille.
In my book, the perfect summer pasta dish is primavera. Mine always starts with sautéing six garlic cloves with a tablespoon of red pepper flakes in olive oil over low heat. After that steeps, I add chopped summer squash and rough chopped artichoke hearts. While I’m boiling the pasta, I turn up the heat and add purple cauliflower florets, broccoli rabe and a little salt, and finish the dish by throwing in the pasta and adding a handful of grated Pecorino off the heat. This deserves a wine with a lot of fruit and personality, like the Cline Viognier 2007 ($11.99 at Beacon Wines and Spirits, 2120 Broadway at 74th St., 212-877-0028). The richness and slight fruitiness of the Pecorino matches amazingly with the full-throttle tropical fruit in the Viognier.
You don’t have to give up meat completely for summer. Where would this great country be without hotdogs and hamburgers grilling on the coals? But if you decide to lighten up with seasonal vegetables, you’ll still have plenty of drink options besides a watery beer with lime.
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