Ellen Clifford
August 22, 2015 6:56 am

I’ve been learning about wine recently. I can explain how to read a wine label and know the difference between a Bordeaux and Burgundy. But when it comes to matching wine to food, I know very little. Knew. I knew very little. I was going on instinct. Actually I was just not worrying about it. I ate food I liked and drank wine I dug and honestly…didn’t properly pay attention.

But I wanted to learn! So like a proper scholar I went to the library and got a book that would both teach me the basics and give me some recipes. I dove into Perfect Pairings: a Master Sommelier’s Practical Advice for Partnering Wine with Food by Evan Goldstein. The wine advice is by Evan and the recipes are by Joyce Goldstein, his mother. Adorable. This book is an excellent resource even if you just straight-up want to learn about wine and don’t care about pairing it. Goldstein starts by emphasizing “if you have to think too deeply, it’s simply not worth it”. As in, don’t get too hung up on the right thing. Enjoy your vino, kiddos. I did.

Goldstein teaches you how to taste and talk about wine, then delves into different types and styles of wine and what pairs with them. For each grape Goldstein breaks down different styles of wine, which can be confounding. If someone asks for a Pinot Noir and is expecting a Burgundy they will be surprised if a Oregon Pinot is poured. Grapes are different animals in different climates.

As for pairing, once I learned the basics I made a fantastic pasta dish and then tried quite a few things with it. When else can you claim that “work” requires opening a bunch of wine? I am going to give you my personal recommendations. Wine has been coming into my life in a variety of ways recently-some wines were given to me, others I find at bars, some I even met the makers of. But all opinions are thoroughly my own. I don’t write-up just every bottle that struts into my life. Is it bad that I am anthropomorphizing wine? Nah. Follow my light, young (but legally allowed to drink) readers, and your taste buds will be pleased.

The dish I wanted to pair with wine was pasta with arugula, chickpeas, toasted breadcrumbs and pecorino cheese. Cheese, arugula, bread and chickpeas (or garbanzos, if you prefer) are some of my favorite things. The white wine Goldstein recommended for the dish is a Sauvignon Blanc, and there is one that I’m rather enamored with. Oddly enough, I realized this dish paired really well with a red I already opened too. I’ll get to that in a minute.

First up, I tried a Sauvignon Blanc from Simi Winery. To get even more specific it was the Sonoma County 2014 bottle. I found it to be citrus-forward, which brought out the lemon zest in the pasta. It was also medium in body so it held its own against the hearty cheese and green flavors without overpowering them. Furthermore it was straight-up refreshing. I was eating a heavy pasta and was glad to have wine that made me feel light. I’d drink this wine on its own, too. It is a nice summertime quaff.

The red was an accidental pairing. As in oh, this bottle needs finishing and all I have to eat is pasta-but lo and behold it tasted great with the dish. It is a biodynamic wine and I met the people who run the winery when I was playing mixologist for a dinner pop-up (how California is my friggin’ life). Also how cool is it to say you are wine drinking from Mars? Not really, but the winery is called Martian Ranch and Vineyard. Martian is a blend of the owner’s sons’ names. Also, how extra-cool (cold?) is it that a woman runs this winery? I love it. The red I enjoyed with the pasta was Red Shift 2012 Syrah. The  spice and tannins worked well against the nuttiness of pecorino cheese. I also enjoyed how it played against the slight bitterness in the arugula. If I were making this dish in the winter I’d pair this red with it. Follow the link to that for some fun science factoids about what “red shift” is. The science nerd in me had fun with that.

I did make a few changes in the recipe. For starters I switched up pasta shape. I used Three Bridges pappardelle. It is an organic, fresh pasta that was given to me. Generosity in carbs is a good thing. I figured that since I changed both shape and used fresh (as opposed to dried) pasta that the double negative would make it okay. As in grammar, so in cooking. By the way, if you don’t feel like complicated cooking try superfood ravioli and get your daily dose of kale. Yes, kale ravioli is now a thing. I also changed the bread called for. The bread I used had cheese in it too because I just can’t get enough cheese. I will stop blabbing now. Go out, find some wine and cheese and have fun!

Pasta with Greens, Chickpeas, Toasted Breadcrumbs and Pecorino reduced and adapted from Perfect Pairings by Evan Goldstein, recipes by Joyce Goldstein

  • 1 cup cubed bread (the book recommends French or Italian bread with the crust removed but I chopped up an asiago roll which was delightful)
  • 2 Tbsp. olive oil
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1/2 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
  • 4 cups baby arugula (almost all of one of the 5 oz. containers-the recipe calls for regular arugula but that was not what I had and that requires separate cooking)
  • 9 oz. package fresh pappardelle pasta (the recipe calls for orecchiette or penne but the Three Bridges stuff was so good I was compelled to use it)
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1 1/2 Tbsp. minced garlic
  • pinch red pepper flakes
  • 1/2 cup cooked garbanzo beans (I used Goya’s canned type. Goya make the best beans)
  • scant Tbsp. grated lemon zest
  • 1/2 tsp. freshly ground black pepper (get a pepper mill, people)
  • heaping quarter cup freshly grated Pecorino cheese (hint: my “heaping” means double the cheese)

Get started by making your breadcrumbs. Heat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Use a food processor to pulse the bread into coarse crumbs or be like me and just get in there with your fingers. Toss the crumbs in a bowl with the 2 Tbsp. olive oil, salt and pepper. Spread them on a baking sheet and bake for around 20 minutes, stirring occasionally until they are golden. Set aside.

Bring a pot of water to boil and add the pasta. The fresh pasta only required just under 5 minutes to get to an al dente texture, but follow package instructions for whatever pasta you end up with.

Meanwhile, heat the 1/4 cup olive oil in a medium sauté pan over low heat. Add the garlic and red pepper and sauté a few minutes. Then add the greens and stir in until they start to wilt. Next add the garbanzo beans, half of the breadcrumbs, the lemon zest, pepper, and about half the cheese and stir for one minute.

When you drain the pasta, reserve about a half cup of the cooking liquid. Add the pasta to the greens and beans and stir in. If it seems dry add a bit of that cooking fluid. Add the rest of the breadcrumbs then serve, sprinkling with the remaining cheese.

Lastly, crack open those wines!

(Images by Ellen Clifford/ iStock)

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