Eating well sure has gotten complicated, hasn’t it? That’s why this week’s small step toward sustainability is to just sit back and enjoy some real food and wine in all its glorious gestalt. Read on for a chance to win a lovely new book that will make it very easy to do so.
If we’ve met, here or otherwise, you already know that I exist at all times on the verge of founding a local chapter of Overthinkers Anonymous. So maybe it’s just me over here, thinking an awful lot these days about how and what to eat, passing up whole grocery stores and most of the aisles in the other ones, using garlic scape pesto to ward off agrivampires. Could be just me.
On the other hand, I doubt you’d be here if you didn’t harbor at least a fleeting curiosity about what it might mean to do good and eat well in the same bite. It’s a tough question, one best answered in nibbles, I think. In small plates, at the very biggest.
As we start to think more about what we’re eating, there’s suddenly a lot to remember, from when this or that is in season, to whether it’s one of those foods you’re supposed to be sure to buy organic, to how Thomas Keller prepares it, to whether it’s a choking hazard for the under-three contingent. Of course, if we lived in a world where the majority of what we’re offered to eat were actual food grown, raised, or acquired in a reasonable manner, eating wouldn’t have to be such a cerebral exercise. You wouldn’t need an iPhone app to choose your dinner, and the writers of my favorite food books would not be the targets of witch hunts. But for better or worse (and there is a preferred answer here, by the way), this is the world we live in. For now, anyway.
With all of that to think about, I have to admit that once in a while, just for a moment, the food in my head can begin to take precedence over the food in my mouth. That type of thinking will get you nowhere—nowhere, I tell you!—and when it crops up, I treat it swiftly to a seven-course zero-tolerance policy. After all, hunger for good food is the motive that drives us all here. Without that, why would we bother to think about the rest of it?
A few weeks ago I shared some of the sources I look to for sustainable food inspiration. But I left out a key element of what brings us here in the first place: deliciousness. We’re talking deliciousness that inspires, deliciousness that triggers the memory for years to come, deliciousness that rises to the level of gestalt. That’s the food experience we all search for. But in real life, it’s not always easy to achieve.
Enter Jill Silverman Hough, creator of the mushroom soup that won over my first Thanksgiving crowd, the parsnip spice cake that blew the minds of Serious Eaters, and now, the lovely little book 100 Perfect Pairings: Small Plates to Enjoy with Wines You Love, published by J. Wiley (which, I’m obliged to note, I requested and received as a review copy from the publisher). Hough pairs easy-to-follow wine advice with simple yet special recipes for small plates, many of which would also make inspired weeknight dinners.
Organized by wine type, from bright, acidic whites through bold, tannic reds, the book gives just enough information to help a non-expert food and wine enthusiast sort out her favorite characteristics in both wines and foods and create a perfect pairing. The approach to pairing is no-nonsense in the best possible way, encouraging readers to focus first on matching the “broad strokes” of a wine and a dish—sweetness, acidity, tannins (or richness and meatiness in foods), weight and intensity—before fine-tuning with small tweaks to the flavor of a dish.
Hough brings an accessible and contagious enthusiasm to both wine and food. Listen to what she says about Syrah: “Syrah is a kind of low-down-and-dirty wine—and I mean that in a good way. You often hear it described as meaty, and although that sounds strange for a wine, it’s very true. Syrah is also earthy and inky and funky and fruity. It’s kind of like a great blues bar or a perfectly worn-in pair of jeans. You might not want to wear worn-in jeans, or drink Syrah, all the time. But when they fit, they fit like nothing else.” How can you not love this lady?
But the prose is the least of it. Hough is a real master of culinary gestalt. Try the pizza and Syrah combo here (we drank Penfold’s Bin 128 Shiraz, which we picked up for about $20), and see for yourself. You’ll find your food thoughts headed straight to your mouth, which is exactly where they should be.
For a chance to win 100 Perfect Pairings, leave a comment here that answers the question, “What is your favorite food and wine pairing?”
The contest will end at noon Eastern time on Monday, June 21, and I’ll draw the winner randomly at that time. Good luck!
Pizza with Salami, Mozzarella, and Fresh Herbs
Adapted from Jill Silverman Hough. Serves 4 for dinner or 8 as a a small plate.
1 12-ounce pizza dough, homemade or store-bought
1 Tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1/4 cup shredded Asiago cheese
1 Tablespoon chopped fresh rosemary
3 ounces sopressata, thinly sliced
4 ounces fresh mozzarella, sliced
12 whole fresh basil leaves, torn into pieces
1. Preheat the oven, along with a pizza stone if you have one, to 500° F.
2. Stretch the pizza dough into a 14-inch round and transfer to a lightly floured pizza pan or paddle (use the paddle if you’re using a pizza stone). Brush the dough with the olive oil and sprinkle with the Asiago cheese and the rosemary. Top with the salami and mozzarella cheese. Transfer the pizza to the oven and bake for about 12 minutes, until the dough is crisp and the cheese is bubbly and melted.
3. Sprinkle the pizza with the basil, cut into slices and serve.