Pasta with Broccoli & Sausage (w/ wine pairings)

Pasta with broccoli & sausage

Well, like I said, you’re going to be seeing more of me now that winter is creeping up and I have far fewer time constraints. Two posts in the span of two weeks! You’re gonna get spoiled… lol.

I wanted to make a nice and easy family dinner last night, but also needed something that is “wallet friendly” (i.e. it was the 13th and payday is the 15th, I know some of you feel my pain!) and doesn’t take too much time. I decided to go with one of my childhood favorites, that now my kids have fallen in love with (they ask for it at least once every few weeks)… Pasta with broccoli. I decided to add a little sausage too, you know, since I am a pork junky.

Serves 6-8

2lb Dry Pasta (I used Gemelli, but it really just boils down to your preference)
2lb Sweet Italian Sausage, cut into bite sized pieces prior to cooking
1 1/2lb Broccoli Florets
8 Cloves of Garlic, chopped
1 Jumbo Shallot, chopped
1 Bunch of Parsley, chopped
1tbsp Olive Oil
1c Dry White Wine
32oz Chicken Stock
2tsp Salt (plus more for pasta water)
2tsp Ground Black Pepper
Parmesan Cheese (if desired)

It really doesn’t get much simpler than this dish.

Heat your olive oil on HIGH in a large sauce pot (I use 8QT, can’t go too much smaller), add your chunks of sweet sausage and cook until lightly browned. Reduce the heat to MEDIUM and add the chopped garlic and shallot along with 1tsp each of salt and ground black pepper. Cook until the vegetables start to sweat, about 3-5 minutes. Increase the heat back to HIGH and add the white wine. Simmer until the wine is reduced by half, then add the chicken stock, along with an additional 1tsp each of salt and ground black pepper. Bring to a boil then reduce the heat to MEDIUM LOW and simmer uncovered for 20 minutes.

Bring a pot of salted water to a boil to cook your pasta. Boil the pasta for two minutes less than specified on the packaging.

At the same time that you begin boiling your pasta add the broccoli florets to the broth and simmer covered on MEDIUM LOW. In all likelihood the broth won’t be enough to cover all of the florets, unless you’re using a really wide pot, so just stir periodically to cook them evenly.

Strain the slightly under cooked pasta and add it to the sauce pot, along with the chopped parsley. Simmer covered for an additional 5 minutes, stirring periodically.

That’s it, you’re done! Ladle it out, add some grated parmesan if you so desire, and enjoy!!

Now let’s talk wine. Being that there’s sausage in the dish you’re going to want to go with a red, but the other flavors are all pretty subtle, so you don’t necessarily want to go with anything too full bodied or you risk overpowering the dish. Think along the lines of a Gamay or Pinot Noir with some meaty or smokey notes, Barbera, Dolcetto, a lighter bodied Cabernet Franc… Things along those lines. Here are a few recommendations.

Fleur de California Pinot Noir, Carneros, California – Fleur de California is the second label of Francis Mahoney, one of the founding fathers of Carneros Pinot Noir. Some of the clusters are taken from his own vineyards, and the remaining balance is sourced from vineyards that Francis has built relationships with over the last 40+ years of growing in the region. In the glass is a medium bodied wine of ruby hue. The nose is layered, with aromas of pomegranate, bright cherry, pantry spices and toasted oak. The nuances of flavor on the palate are in line with the wine’s bouquet, framed by moderate acidity and very subtle fine tannins giving the wine a bit of backbone. Well done for the price. PP Score: 90 (Retail $15-18)

Chais St. Laurent Chinon, Loire, France – The Chais St. Laurent wines are made by Maison Foucher-Lebrun, a “Petit Négociant” specializing in wines from the Loire Valley. The Cabernet Franc for their Chinon is sourced from the villages of Rivière, Beaumont-en-Véron and Savigny-en-Véron. The wine is medium bodied, but still bright and friendly for a Chinon, partly in thanks to the fact that it’s aged entirely in stainless steel. On the palate you’ll find nuances of bright cherry, cassis, black currants, earth tones, dried herbs and green bell pepper with subtle acidity and chewy tannins in the finish. A tremendous value at this price point. PP Score: 90 (Retail $9-12)

Forteto della Luja Le Grive Monferrato Rosso, Piemonte, Italy – Forteto della Luja is a small family run winery that was established in the Loazzolo DOC in 1826, located between Monferrato and the village of Asti. While my review will not be this brief, one word could suffice to describe their wines. Beautiful. From their Moscatos to their Barberas and beyond, every single wine they make is absolutely beautiful. The estate’s flagship wine is their Le Grive, a blend of Barbera and Pinot Noir from the ampitheater shaped Le Grive vineyard, named as such for the thrushes that take up residence there during the winter to feast on the juniper bushes that surround the valley. I’ve consumed many, many, many wines in my life, but this is one of the few that have ever left me speechless. In the glass you’ll find a medium bodied wine of garnet hue. Once the wine has a chance to breathe the bouquet comes alive with aromas of cherry, juniper, dried sage and hints of crushed violet. On the palate the wine is simultaneously complex and simple… There are various layers and nuances, but they all come together in such  perfect harmony that you don’t necessarily realize how complex it truly is. The prevalent notes are black cherries, dark plum and hints of ripe raspberry, with subtle nuances of dried herbs, rose petal, vanilla and pantry spice, all brought together by moderate acidity and soft tannins. The wine is not easily found as production is small and distribution is limited, but if you do find it don’t just get one bottle, buy the whole case. I strongly recommend decanting this for at least two hours prior to drinking. PP Score: 96 (Retail $28-34) *certified organic

So there you have it, my very simple and family friendly pasta & broccoli recipe, and some wines to wash it down with. I hope you’ve enjoyed the read, and I certainly hope you’ll try the dish. As always, new content will be coming soon(‘ish). In the meantime, crack open a bottle of Pinot Noir, bit back, and relax. Life is short, enjoy it!

Buon Appetito!

Shrimp Tacos with Avocado Honey Crema (w/ wine pairings)

Shrimp Tacos
Shrimp Tacos with Avocado Honey Crema

Need something summery, and simple, and delicious? It doesn’t get much better than these Shrimp Tacos with an Avocado & Honey Crema. I made them a few weeks back when we had some company over and they disappeared in a blink. I made them again two nights ago and the same thing happened… They’re just too darn good!

Serve them for lunch, dinner, poolside, or as a Game Day snack.

Serves 4-6

Ingredients: Salsa (make 2 hours in advance if possible)
1lb Plum Tomatoes, diced
1/2 Large White Onion, chopped
2 Cloves of Garlic, chopped
2 Jalapenos, chopped (seeds optional, if you want heat)
1 Bunch of Fresh Cilantro, chopped
1tsp Salt
1tsp Ground Black Pepper
2tbsp Olive Oil

Ingredients: Avocado & Honey Crema (make in advance if possible to allow to chill)
3/4c Sour Cream
1 Avocado
1tbsp Honey
1/2tsp Salt
1/2tsp Ground Black Pepper

Ingrediets: Shrimp Tacos
12-18 6″ Flour Tortillas (assuming everyone will have 3)
1 1/2lb Peeled & Veined Shrimp, tails removed
2tsp Old Bay Seasoning
1tbsp Olive Oil
4 Limes

OK, so it really doesn’t get much easier than this dish. I say to make the salsa in advance to allow the flavors of the ingredients to meld, but if you have to do it a la minute it’s not the end of the world. And same goes for the crema. If you can get it done earlier to let it chill it’s preferable to making it on the spot.

Toss the ingredients for the salsa together in a bowl, cover in plastic wrap and keep refrigerated until you’re ready to serve.

To make the crema simply blend all of the ingredients using a blender, food processor or hand emulsifier until smooth. Cover with plastic wrap and keep refrigerated until you’re ready to serve.

Toast your 6″ flour tortillas over an open flame on your stove top. Using tongs, simply place the tortilla over the grate until it starts to set fire along the edges, then flip and repeat. Try to toast them as close to service as possible.

Lastly, it’s time to cook the shrimp. Heat the olive oil in a large saute pan or sauce pot at high heat. Add the shrimp and season it evenly with the Old Bay. Cook two minutes, then flip and repeat. Add the juice from the limes, reduce the heat to medium and simmer for another 3 minutes. The shrimp will be cooked through but still tender.

That’s it, you’re done! Scoop some shrimp onto a toasted tortilla, top it with the salsa and then drizzle some crema over it… Wasn’t that easy???

So let’s talk wine pairings… Red wines need not apply! This is a white wine only party folks. Think light, crisp and acidic. Sauvignon Blanc, Albarino, Picpoul, Godello, even dry style Rieslings or Chenin Blancs. Here are a few recommendations…

Boundary Breaks Riesling No.239 Dry, New York – Boundary Breaks is a relatively new winery on the eastern shores of Seneca Lake in the Finger Lakes. They are now into their fourth vintage, and between the added maturity to the vines and more experience under their belts, the wines have evolved into the best Rieslings in New York. The No.239 Dry is not entirely a “dry” Riesling, it does have a kiss of residual sugar. Owner Bruce Murray firmly believes that wines from the Finger Lakes are borderline unpleasant in a true dry style. The wine is beautifully floral and bright, but still has a slightly fuller mouth feel. On the palate you’ll find notes of Meyer lemon, orange blossom honey and white peach, as well as hints of smoke, tea leaves, and crushed granite. Production is relatively small and it’s not the easiest to find, but it’s worth the search. PP Score: 92 (Retail $16-20)

La Val Albarino, Rias Baixas, Spain – Bodegas La Val was one of the first wineries established in Rias Baixas back in the mid-80’s, and in my humble opinion they’ve been the standard bearer of the appellation since inception. Their 150 acres of vineyard are located in the Condado do Tea sub-region of the D.O. While most wineries in the region are planted on flat plains with full days of direct sunlight, La Val’s vineyards are located in a series of shallow valleys, giving some relief from both hot summer temperatures as well as continuous sunlight. The end result is a much more balanced and complex wine. So many Albarinos from the region are very floral, light and even sometimes moderately sweet… or as I think of them, uninteresting. La Val, however, is denser on the palate and while it still has some of the tell-tale Albarino floral characteristics, you’ll also find notes of citrus zest and crushed rock. Hands down, this is the best Albarino I’ve ever had from Rias Baixas. PP Score: 90 (Retail $12-15)

Sean Minor Four Bears Sauvignon Blanc, California – This California designate Sauvignon Blanc is blended from parcels in Dry Creek, Lake County and the Central Coast. It is aged primarily in stainless, but a small portion of the wine is aged on lees in neutral French barrel with periodic batonage, giving the wine great texture and a slightly fuller mouthfeel. Up front you’ll find notes of lemon and grapefruit zest, along with moderate acidity, leading into a relatively full bodied mid palate and finish with hints of kiwi, fresh cut grass, and granite. One of the better California Sauvignon Blancs in this price point. PP Score: 90 (Retail $12-15)

So there you have it, my Shrimp Taco recipe and some fantastic (and reasonably priced) wines to pair with it! I hope that you give the tacos and wines a try, and feel free to reach out with some feedback if you do. As always, new content is en route. In the meantime sit back, relax, and enjoy a refreshingly crisp white wine. Life is short, you deserve to enjoy it!

Traditional Spanish Pork & Chickpea Stew (w/ wine pairings)

pork stew
Traditional Spanish Pork & Chickpea Stew

Recently I was having some company over for dinner, including a married couple from Spain, and I really wanted to challenge myself to make food that was traditional cuisine from their country. I made a number of different dishes, including tortilla (the absolute staple of Spain… every family has their own special recipe passed down through the generations), garlic shrimp over saffron rice, and this dish, a Pork & Chickpea Stew. I was very happy with how everything came out, but I was ecstatic when they said the stew was perfect, and that it brought them back to their childhood having dinner at their Abuela’s house (grandmother)… No greater compliment could be given, in my opinion.

So here you have my take on a traditional Spanish “peasant fare” dish, Pork & Chickpea Stew. I hope you enjoy!

Prep & Cooking time: 5 hours

Serves: 8-10 as an entree

3lb Pork Loin Roast or Pork Shoulder, cut into 1/2″ chunks, do not trim fat
1lb Sweet Sausage, cut into chunks (many sausages are gluten free, double check the ingredients)

1 Head of Garlic, chopped (yes, ALL of the cloves from a head)
1 Large Red Onion, chopped
3 Large Carrots, cut into 1/2″-3/4″ rounds
1 Bunch of Parsley, chopped (don’t do this until the end, it will wilt)

2 15oz cans of Chickpeas, drained & rinsed
1 28oz can of Diced Tomatoes with liquid

2c Amontillado Sherry
8c Chicken Stock (64oz)
3c Water

2tbsp Olive Oil
3tsp Salt (plus more to season to taste)
3tsp Ground Black Pepper
2tbsp Smoked Paprika (yes tablespoons, not teaspoons)
2tsp Hot Paprika

Alright, let’s get started… and trust me, this is pretty darn easy to make!

Heat the olive oil on high in a stock pot no smaller then 8QT. Add the cubed pork fat side down and season with 1tsp each of salt and ground black pepper. Cook until lightly browned, then turn. Repeat until all sides are lightly browned. Use tongs or a slotted spoon to remove the pork from the pot and set aside at room temperature. Do not drain the oil and fat!

Reduce the heat to medium and add the garlic, onion and carrots, along with 1tsp each of salt and ground black pepper. Cook until the vegetables begin to sweat, about 5 minutes, stirring periodically.

Increase the heat to high and add the sherry. Boil until reduced by half.

Add the chicken stock, water, diced tomato, browned pork, uncooked sausage, smoked paprika, hot paprika, and 1tsp each of salt and ground black pepper. Stir well. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to medium and simmer for 4 hours, stirring periodically.

After 4 hours add the chickpeas and chopped parsley, stir well, then simmer for an additional 5 minutes. Taste the broth and add salt if needed.

That’s it, you’re done. Ladle the stew into bowls, cut up some crusty white bread, pour some red wine, and get down to eating! You’ve already waited 5 hours, you have to be starving… lol.

Now let’s talk wine pairings… Of course we’re going with a red, and obviously it should be from Spain since this is a traditional SPANISH stew! Think medium-to-full bodied and slightly rustic, like Rioja, Priorat, Ribera del Duero… Super ripe inexpensive Garnachas need not apply. Here are a few suggestions.

Hermanos de Pecina Crianza, Rioja, Spain – A blend of 95% Tempranillo, 3% Graciano and 2% Garnacha (as are all of their red wines) aged for two years in neutral American oak, and an additional two years in bottle. Technically speaking the wine is aged long enough to be labeled as a Reserva, but the winery holds themselves to a higher standard than is required by the appellation. In the glass is a medium to full bodied wine of deep garnet hue. The bouquet reveals aromas of black cherry, cassis, fennel frond and subtle sweet pipe tobacco. On the palate are distinct notes of ripe cherry, blackberry and tart bramble fruit, as well as nuances of leather and fall spices, with beautifully integrated acidity and soft tannins giving balance and backbone. Truly a beautiful wine and an unbelievable value. PP Score: 93 (Retail $18-22) *Practicing Organic

Algueira Mencia, Ribeira Sacra, Spain – 100% Mencia from 30-80 year old vines planted on steep hillsides overlooking the beautiful Sil river, in the northwestern region of Spain known as Galicia. Algueira raises their entry level Mencia entirely in stainless to allow the wine to be solely about the vibrancy of the fruit. In the glass you’ll find a medium bodied wine of violet hue, with aromas of black cherry, dried rose petal and a hint of smoke. On the palate the wine has a beautiful rustic elegance, with pronounced notes of tart cherry and overripe raspberry, along with nuances of slate, black tea, smoke and crushed wild flowers, all framed by a moderate and refreshing acidity, as well as silky tannins giving the wine depth and backbone. A shocking good wine for the price. PP Score: 91 (Retail $13-15) *Practicing Organic & Biodynamic

Psi, Ribera del Duero, Spain – Psi is the brain child of Peter Sisseck, arguably one of Spain’s top winemakers. Peter’s flagship bottling, Pingus, is one of the most sought after wines in the world today, going for approximately $1,000 per bottle. He created Psi as a collaboration between himself and 23 other small growers in Ribera del Duero (thus the name Psi, which is the 23rd letter in the Greek alphabet). In the glass is a full bodied wine of bright purple hue, with aromas of dark cherry, bramble fruit, wildflowers and subtle hints of damp earth and crushed rock. On the palate the wine has an explosive fruit driven opening with overt notes of tart cherry and blackberry that becomes more subtle and restrained in the middle and finish, with nuances of dried herbs and smoke, with balancing acidity and fine dusty tannins, leading into a long finish. PP Score: 92 (Retail $30-36) *Practicing Organic & Biodynamic

So there you have it folks… My traditional Spanish Pork & Chickpea Stew recipe, and some amazing red wines to pair with it. I hope you’ve enjoyed the read, and I certainly hope you’ll try the recipe and wines! As always, more content is en route. In the meantime sit back, relax, and enjoy a big rustic Spanish red. Life is short, you deserve to enjoy it!

Buen Provecho!

Baked Ziti (w/ wine pairings)

Baked Ziti

Words aren’t really that necessary here… If you like pasta, and you like cheese, then you LOVE baked ziti. I mean how can’t you? It’s ooey-gooey cheesy deliciousness. And you can do so much with it. Vegetables, various meats, even play around with the cheeses… but I like to keep mine pretty simple. Pasta, cheese, herbs and a little sauce. Done.

So without further ado, here is my Baked Ziti recipe!

Serves 6-8 people

1lb Dry Pasta, ziti or rigatoni
1lb Block Mozzarella, cubed
2lb Whole Milk Ricotta
2 Large Eggs
1c Grated Parmesan, two 1/2c portions
2tsp Salt + more for your pasta water
2tsp Ground Black Pepper
2tsp Garlic Powder
1c Fresh Basil, chopped
1c Fresh Parsley, chopped
2c Marinara Sauce
8oz Shredded Mozzarella to top

It really doesn’t get much easier than this…

Heat your oven to 350F.

Boil your dry pasta in well salted water for two minutes less than specified on the packaging. In a large bowl combine the pasta, cubed mozzarella, ricotta, eggs, 1/2c grated parmesan, salt, black pepper, garlic powder, basil, parsley and marinara sauce, make sure it’s mixed well. Pour the mixture into a deep 9×13 baking dish, then top evenly with the remaining 1/2c grated parmesan and the 8oz of shredded mozzarella. Bake uncovered for 30 minutes at 350F, then increase the heat to 375F and bake for an additional 20 minutes to lightly brown the top. Allow to cool at room temperature for 10 minutes before serving.

Wasn’t that super easy!?

Now let’s talk wine… Truthfully, with something as simple and traditional as this I tend to keep my wine pairings pretty simple. Obviously you have to go Italian, but don’t feel the need to break the bank. Think medium to full bodied reds. If you want to really do it the right way stick with wines from Southern Italy or Sicily, as that’s where Ziti al Forno (baked ziti) was originated. Here are a few wines that I would recommend.

Tratturi Primitivo di Salento, Puglia, Italy – Primitivo is said to be the grandfather of Zinfandel. As a varietal it tends to be relatively bright and no-nonsense, and that is certainly the case with Tratturi. The wine is medium bodied with a very friendly fruit forward opening, and a slightly spicy mid palate and finish. There is not much to be said about Tratturi, and I don’t mean that in a bad way. This is one of those wines that you don’t feel the need to sit around and analyze, you just drink it, and usually lots of it! It is the ideal pizza and pasta wine. One thing to note, at this time this wine is only available in New York and New Jersey, so for those outside you’ll have to order online. There are a number of online retailers currently selling the wine, so it’s not going to be a hunt. PP Score: 88 (Retail $8-11)

Musto Carmelitano Maschitano Rosso, Basilicata, Italy – The Carmelitano family have been making wine (and olive oil) from their estate in the del Vulture region of Basilicata for four generations, but didn’t start bottling under their own name until 2007. The Maschitano Rosso is their entry level offering, made from their younger Aglianico vines, and aged entirely in concrete. The wine is surprisingly approachable for Aglianico, which is naturally a full bodied and tannic varietal that typically needs time in bottle to evolve and gain balance. In the glass is a medium to full bodied wine of dark garnet hue with hints of rust along the edges. The nose has aromas of cherry, plum, dried herbs, pipe tobacco and leather. The palate is quite lively with notes of black cherry, balsamic, and herbs, along with subtle nuances of lardon and smoke, all framed by moderate tannins and surprisingly bright acidity. This is a wonderful introduction to the varietal, and an unbelievable wine for the price. Only 1,000 cases were produced, so you may have to have your fingers do the walking on the internet to find this one… PP Score: 89 (Retail $13-16) *Certified Organic

Valle dell’Acate Cerasuolo di Vittoria, Sicily, Italy – Valle dell’Acate is one of most storied estates in Sicily, having been established by the Jocono family in the 19th century. They have 110 hectares of land, half of which is devoted to vineyard, the other half is a world class blood orange orchard… Probably not surprising that a number of their wines have subtle orange notes! Their Cerasuolo is a blend of 70% Nero d’Avola and 30% Frappato. Nero’s tend to be big, dark, brooding uber masculine wines while Frappato is a very soft, bright and delicate varietal (think Gamay), so when you blend the two the end result is a medium to full bodied wine with surprising depth and complexity. You’ll find notes of both black cherry as well as a hint of maraschino, blueberry, orange zest, black pepper and subtle oak, along with refreshing acidity in the opening and mid palate, and firm tannins in the long lingering finish. This wine is truly gorgeous. It can be consumed now, or laid down for up to five years. PP Score: 91 (Retail $20-25) *Practicing Organic

So there you have it, my comforting and delicious recipe for baked ziti and some amazing, yet purse friendly, wines from Southern Italy to pair with it. I hope you will try it and I KNOW if you do you’ll love it! Some new recipes are en route soon, in the meantime crack open a delicious Italian red, sit back, and relax. Life is short, enjoy it!!!

Buon Appetito!

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