Friday, July 27, 2012

Rainy Summer Night Still Life

I love eating seasonally, and summer is certainly a fun (and bountiful!) time to do so.  Tomatoes only taste good for a few months out of the year, so it's important to make the most of their fleeting presence.  Serve slices with salt, pepper, olive oil, and maybe some basil.  Eating in the summer is both refreshing and easy.  Actual cooking takes a backseat.  I eat cold salads composed of raw corn or zucchini.

But--but--that doesn't mean I don't love eating in the winter, when it's necessary to fatten up on thick stews and crusty bread.  And, I confess to maybe craving a little more wintry or autumnal fare lately.  The same way I might long for a ripe apricot in January.

The root of my craving began with wine.  After a summer of drinking a lot of beer (crisp IPAs and refreshing Pacificos) and quaff-able cocktails (margaritas and gin fizzes), I was sort-of dreaming about a rich, heavy-bodied red.  When it comes to wine, I'll cool off with a vinho verde or rose, but what I really desire is something that makes its presence known in the glass (and my mouth).  But ballsy brunellos and cabs are a little too hefty for the summertime heat. 

Then, a couple mornings ago, it rained.  Not just a light summer drizzle, but a full-blown waterfall coming out of the sky.  And that was enough to make me feel like I could do it--drink a red.  Unfortunately for my craving, it was hot and sticky come evening, so I drank a Negroni instead.  But then last night, the rain came.  I actually got caught walking home in it.  So the time for wine had come.  And the food followed.  A hearty(er) dinner of cauliflower risotto and crusty flatbread with walnuts, rosemary, and fleur de sel evolved. I baked an unbelievably rich chocolate cake.  And though you probably won't find me eating much food like that for a couple months, it was a delicious interlude.  

Food Notes:
To make the cauliflower risotto, follow a basic risotto recipe, with the following modifications: chop the cauliflower stem/core into a small dice and saute along with the onion and celery at the beginning.  Add the florets, cut small, to your stock as you keep it warm on the stove.  When the florets have softened, you begin stirring them into the rice as it cooks.  I found that including cauliflower in the risotto really emphasized the little bit of Pecorino I stirred in at the end.  The flavor and creaminess seemed heightened.  Very luscious.  Great with some crushed red pepper sprinkled on top.

To make the flatbread: mix 2 c flour, 1 tsp salt, 2 tsp yeast, 1 T olive oil, and 1-1 1/2 c water in a bowl.  Knead dough until smooth and let rise for one hour.  Flatten into a circle, about 1 cm thick and place on a pizza stone or baking sheet sprinkled with cornmeal.  Drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle on chopped walnuts, rosemary, and fleur de sel (or use kosher or other sea salt).  Bake at 425 until golden brown.

Wine Notes:

The wine I drank was Perdera (2009) Argiolas, an Italian red made with Monica grapes.  That means nothing to me.  I've never even heard of Monica grapes.  But I've discovered a new way to find good wine, and so far, it's worked every time.  Joe Bastianich is a crazy-successful restaurant owner in New York.  He partners with Mario Batali and everything they touch is gold.  And Joe happens to know a ton about wine.  So, what I do is go to the website for his restaurant Becco, which features a $25 wine list.  Every wine on the list is $25, which means to buy the wines in a store, they'll be under $20.  But you're getting reasonably priced wine selected by someone with a good palate.  I cross-reference the list with the PA Wine and Spirits website and figure out what's available to me.  Works a charm.