Social distancing is currently the new norm.
It’s not fun being told to stay home, but that’s exactly what Americans and others around the world are being asked to do. By staying home, you are doing your part to slow the spread of the global COVID-19 pandemic.
However, playing your part doesn’t mean sacrificing all that is good in this world. Takeout still exists, grocery delivery exists and thankfully, so does wine. It may arguably be easier now to access wines from all over the world and also ones that come from nearby regions more than ever.
Many people are rightly taking advantage of wine sales to help local and global businesses that they know and love. The silver lining in all of this is that wine lovers can now enjoy and try new wines that they never have tried before. It’s a good time to be curious about intriguing wines or new grape varieties, as you have the time to sit and enjoy them.
And with that wine exploration comes the food connection. Social media is currently flooded with images of people putting their culinary skills to the test. Once you’ve whipped up a perfect meal, albeit one you may have had to cobble together with leftover pantry ingredients, it’s time to pair it with wine, either from your cellar or a new case that’s just arrived on your doorstep.
Now for those in the service industry, pairing food and wine is undoubtedly an art form, but it can also be a sincere way of connecting people through food and drink during a time everyone feels disconnected. Food and wine pairings at home will never be perfect, and while you may have to take some liberties with wine, it can provide nourishment and stimulation when you need it the most.
Below are five simple dishes that are easy to make along with accessible wine pairings for your quarantined nights indoors (or out on your patio).
This dish always sounds intimidating, but you can make a simple version of it at home using any type of pantry pasta you may have (regular, quinoa-pasta, lentil-based pasta or even homemade pasta made with flour and water).
Begin by chopping up one onion, one carrot and one celery stalk. (Should you not have celery or carrots on hand, you can do a more simplistic version without it). Sauté those ingredients together in olive oil in a large pan over medium heat. When the veggies become translucent, drop in a teaspoon of chopped garlic or a few garlic cloves. Then take a 1 lb bag of either chopped meat or turkey meat and sauté it in the pan with the veggies, seasoning liberally with salt, pepper, oregano, basil and parsley, depending on what herbs you have in your pantry.
At this time, bring a pot of water to boil and make your pasta of choice while you’re finishing your meat sauce. While the pasta is being prepared, keep checking your meat to make sure it is browning, but not burnt. When it looks cooked (about 4-5 minutes) then add in a cup of pureed tomatoes or diced tomatoes and a half cup of water and stir it together. (Other substitutions could be a can of tomato paste combined with water and/or chicken broth or even fire-roasted tomatoes for a kick).
Stir these ingredients together and bring it up to a quick boil, then knock it down to a simmer. Taste the sauce and add any additional seasonings you’d like. Strain the pasta and portion it into bowls and top it with your quick, easy Bolognese sauce. Garnish it with pecorino romano or parmesan cheese as desired.
This pasta dish is best paired with a medium-bodied Italian red (like one from Capezzana Winery in Tuscany) that won’t overwhelm the sauce but has enough bite to stand up to the bold, tomato flavor.
Cast Iron Pizza
Making pizza at home in an oven should be anything but intimidating. Whether it’s a regular, cauliflower or gluten-free pizza, you can either go with a pre-made crust (many found at Trader Joes, Whole Foods or any major grocery store) or make your own pizza crust. Great gluten-free versions include Cup4Cup pizza crust mix. For those who dare to try, flour, yeast and water are all you need to make your own crust. (There’s a great article on how to make pizza crust found HERE.)
If you have a cast-iron pan in your home, use that instead of a baking sheet to bake your crust. Preheat your oven to a hot 475 degrees Fahrenheit and add some olive oil into the pan to coat and bake the crust for about 5 minutes. Take it out of the oven and use either jarred, homemade or pre-packaged marinara sauce and top it with your favorite toppings. This is a great way to use any vegetables or meats in your refrigerator that won’t last forever.
Classic pizzas can simply include sauce, mozzarella and basil; while others can be topped with a variety of Italian meats (pepperoni, sausage, salami, etc.) or you can go the veggie route and add cooked peppers, caramelized onions, fresh tomatoes, zucchini and the like. (Here’s a great sausage pizza recipe from Bon Appetit).
When your toppings are prepared, place the pizza back in the oven for another 10-15 minutes or until the edges are golden brown. Take it out of the oven, let it cool and slice to serve. Top with parmesan cheese, garlic salt, cracked black pepper or red pepper flakes if desired.
This cast iron pizza dish is best paired with a light-bodied Spanish Red or Rose. Consider something Grenache-based or a Rioja blend from a producer like Lopez de Heredia.
…with Creamed Spinach and Smashed Potatoes
If you have fresh or frozen steak, this is a great meal to help clean out some of those frozen or canned items like spinach and potatoes that you have at home. Take whatever meat you have handy and make sure it’s defrosted and out of the fridge for about 20-30 minutes before cooking. Season generously with salt, pepper and any additional seasonings you may have on hand (season mixes like Old Bay or McCormick’s steak seasoning are great to use here).
Take a bag of frozen spinach (or broccoli would also work) and sauté it in a frying pan with a little olive oil and garlic. Season with salt and pepper and add a ¼ cup of water to it and continue to stir. Then take some type of creaming agent which could be whole milk, regular milk, half and half or even a generous amount of pecorino cheese, and then fold it into the spinach until it becomes a creamy texture.
As for the potatoes, take 2-3 large potatoes of any kind, clean them and give them a rough chop and be sure to leave on their skins. When they’re in nice rough cubes, put them in a pot with water and bring to a roving boil until they are fork-tender. Drain them and put them back in the pot. Here is where you can get creative with whatever seasonings you have on hand and smash them down with a fork and add items like grated cheese, fresh herbs or even a dash of leftover cream that you used for the spinach.
The steaks can be prepared in a variety of ways depending on your home set up. You can either bake, pan fry in a cast-iron skillet or even barbecue the steaks. For those who will be pan-frying, make sure your pan gets to a high temperature (about 5 minutes) and that your steaks are patted dry with a paper towel and then seasoned.
Drop the steaks into the pan and sear it until it is easily moved, (which could be about 3-4 minutes), before flipping to the other side. Make sure your cooking space is well ventilated, open windows or use the vent fan above your stove as this method of cooking steak will produce a lot of smoke. When it is cooked to your liking, let the steak rest for 10 minutes before serving alongside your spinach and potatoes. For an added bonus, whip up a side wedge salad with bacon bits for the ultimate steakhouse experience.
Pair your steakhouse meal with a big red from either Bordeaux, Amador County or Napa Valley.
…with lemon and capers with green beans and iceberg salad with a light honey Dijon dressing
Frozen wild-caught salmon that are individually wrapped are wildly available in places like Trader Joe’s and Costco and other specialty fish stores. If you happen to have some pieces on hand, this dish can be made within 20 minutes. Take the frozen fish out of their packages and season them to your liking. Heat a pan with olive oil and garlic and drop the fish in skin side down. Add in some capers and fresh lemon or lemon juice and flip the fish in about 5 minutes. Let it cook for another 5 minutes or until your liking.
Grab some green beans (either canned or frozen) and sauté them in olive oil, a little butter and garlic and season lightly with salt and pepper.
For a nice salad to compliment the meal, take whatever fresh greens you have on hand (either Iceberg, Boston Bibb lettuce, mixed greens, etc.) and create your own homemade Dijon honey mustard. In a small container mix together two teaspoons of olive oil, a splash of white wine vinegar, a teaspoon of crushed garlic, one teaspoon of Dijon mustard and a teaspoon of honey. Season it with salt and pepper to taste and whisk together. Pour over your salad and toss rigorously.
Pair your grilled salmon dish with a dry to medium-dry white wine from the Finger Lakes or a Pinot Noir from Santa Barbara County.
At Home Hearty Veggie Bowl
This is a great vegetarian, clean-out-your-pantry dish. To build your bowl base, use either brown rice, white rice, quinoa or a mix of brown rice and quinoa. Either microwave or make it on the stovetop and pour a healthy portion into the bottom of the bowl. Next, include a portion of your favorite canned beans like black or pinto. You can top it with frozen, canned or fresh veggies (peppers and onions work well here) that you can either leave raw or sauté lightly with olive oil. Top with sliced avocado, salsa, sour cream, shredded cheese, hot sauce or whatever else you may have lying around that can add that sense of umami to your bowl.
Pair this delectable veggie bowl with a lighter-bodied red from Washington State.
Excellent and fun read. These are our favorite go-to meals presently. Now I know what wines to pair then with. 🙂
These are all great comfort meals (especially during these tumultuous times) – so thank you for the pairing ideas! I love Pinot Noir with salmon (and pretty much anything else) but you have inspired me to make sure that I keep exploring other grapes during dinner. Haven’t had a steak in a while and am thinking that I might pick up an Argentinian Malbec for that. Cheers!