My husband doesn't so much collect wine as he does enjoy drinking it. And we both enjoy bringing together wine, food and friends. So when he said he wanted to open a magnum of a particular 2004 cabernet sauvignon, I was all over it. I love parties and menu planning, gathering a good mix of people and the good mix of ingredients and flavors. But this is a big wine, not to mention a big bottle, and it presents certain issues.
It would go well with roast lamb, says my husband, an omnivore. True, it's a traditional wine pairing, but I am not traditional. More to the point, I'm vegan, and to a vegan, them's fighting words. Some of our omnivorous guests have especially asked for a vegan meal. This was a throwdown and I was not going to lose.
I say vegetables go with every wine, but true wine aficionados would not agree with me. There are, they assert, astringency issues with foods including green salads, artichokes and asparagus, so even a splendid sauvignon blanc, when paired with them, taste like vinegar. I've been able to choke it down just fine, but this isn't about me. It's about pleasing my guests, or since I tend towards bar-raising, knocking their effing socks off.
This is a wine made for chillier temps, but my husband is ready for it now and wants to serve it for a summer gathering -- a Miami summer. Eggplant, lentils, mushrooms are earthy, rich, umami, meaty, even. They call up the notes that chime well with a cabernet. But like the wine, they're better suited for fall and winter, being heavier and let's be honest here, brown. Part of food's delight is its visual appeal. Brown food is often delicious but not always delightful to the eye. A summer dinner shouldn't make you seek hibernation.
The cuisines of Turkey and Morocco have sunny flavors and simple ingredients that seem just right to me in summer. They can go very well with wine, just not this particular wine. Well, everyone should have such troubles.
Surely there's a vegan dish or twenty that could stand up to an assertive cabernet with its notes of blackcurrant and cocoa even on a Miami summer night. I consulted some of my excellent sommelier friends and chef friends. They looked at me pityingly. Or recommended heavy, brown food. I thought to go back from whence the wine comes, calling upon the cuisine of the Mediterranean, noodling over options. In the meantime, I had dinner to make.
I'd soaked some farro overnight, and used it to make my cheaty version of risotto adding sundried tomatoes, broccoli and basil. Farro is a Mediterranean ancient grain of some oomph. It cooks up to something that tastes and looks like risotto, with a totally risottoesque texture, yet requires none of the crazy-ass stirring and can be done in less time. Eureka. I had not only that night's dinner but the answer for a chewy, luscious dish worthy of a cabernet, yet lighter than your usual risotto bomb and pretty on the plate, too.
Once I had that, the whole meal came together in my head -- a starter of farinata, that sexy, Med chickpea pancake, an excellent suggestion from the Gourmet Vegan. I'll offer it with my sultry red onion jam, both of which are in my book "Feeding the Hungry Ghost." Will also serve up Ivy Manning's terrific recipe for vegan mushroom pate.
Next up, farrotto with sundried tomatoes, broccoli and basil, roasted vegetables with romesco and an arugula salad with oranges. Almond cake and fresh berries for dessert. And lashings of cabernet. It's a mad Med menu for a party I will actually be able to attend rather than spend sequestered in the kitchen. It's seasonal, it's sassy. It's cabernet-friendly and compassionate. Everybody wins. Particularly the lamb.
Bring on the wine, I say. Cheers.
Farrotto With Sun-Dried Tomatoes, Broccoli and Basil
Soaking farro overnight (or all day) makes it cook up quicker and creamier.
1 head broccoli, chopped into bitesized pieces, both florets and stems
2 cups farro
4 teaspoons olive oil
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 dried red pepper, crumbled, or a pinch or two of red pepper flakes
5 or 6 sun-dried tomatoes, packed in oil (about 1/4 cup), chopped
4-1/2 cups vegetable broth
1/2 cup white wine
sea salt and fresh ground pepper
2 tablespoons nutritional yeast (optional, but adds a nice cheesy note)
1 bunch fresh basil, leaves torn or shredded
Pour farro into a sieve or strainer. Rinse with cold water and drain. Pour into a bowl and cover with cold water. Leave for 6 or 8 hours (or overnight).
In a large pot, steam broccoli until barely tender and still bright and happy green, about 8 minutes. Set aside.
Empty the pot and you can use it to cook the farro. Heat oil over medium high heat. Add the garlic and red pepper. Cook, stirring occasionally, until they sizzle and turn fragrant, a few minutes.
Add the farro and stir, letting the grains toast and get a nice gloss from the oil.
Pour in the vegetable broth, stir in the sun-dried tomatoes and bring to a boil.
Cover and reduce heat to low. Simmer for about 15 minutes, then add the wine and stir. Cover for another 15 minutes or until the farro has grown nice and plump and creamy, absorbing most of the liquid.
Gently stir in the basil and season with sea salt, pepper, and nutritional yeast, if you're adding.
Add broccoli just at the end to heat through.
Serves 6. Recipe doubles easily, all the more fitting if you're serving it with a magnum of wine.
Keeps covered and refrigerated for several days. Reheat gently just before serving.