The Way Gestalt Tastes

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.

100 Perfect Pairings by Jill Silverman Hough | Umami GirlIf 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.

untitledEnter 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!

  • heather

    My favorite food and wine pairing is Indian food with a nice, cold glass of Riesling, consumed on a patio on a warm day (this last part is a must!).ReplyCancel

  • Beth G

    I love dark chocolate and a rich, deep cab or pinotReplyCancel

  • Claire Anderson

    Malbec and goat cheese!ReplyCancel

  • Henry Doll

    Running with the dark chocolate and deep cab theme, makes me think of a chocolatier shop in the E Vill, where I discovered an array of dark (and milk and…) chocolates with interesting spins; like one flecked with bits of bacon, and one with ground espresso beans in it.

    Coffee, full-bodied red wine, and dark chocolate, hmm… one example of a perfect meal.ReplyCancel

  • Henry Doll

    Now let’s talk pizza….

    I love to make home made pizza, and a favorite is Prawns and Pesto.

    After stretching the dough to shape, I like to let it proof some again, and then cook it enough to get a cooked surface before assembly of the topping ingredients – reducing the film of uncooked dough.

    I lightly brush olive oil on the entire surface, place some sauteed – translucent, thinly sliced Vidalia onions on the surface.

    Then take split, raw shrimp that have been thinly coated in olive oil, and place them on the pie surface.

    Then a few more of the onions on top as well.

    Lightly salt all…and if you just can’t help yourself, a little extra fresh garlic would be in order at this moment.

    Next goes the pesto, in small dollops on top of all of that.

    Followed by a light amount Locatelli cheese, and crushed black pepper.

    Top it all off with a light sprinkling of shredded Mozzarella.

    ….and then of course, cooked on a stone at about 400F.

    I’m more addicted to cab’s and the like, than any other, but make a suggestions to go with this……ReplyCancel

  • I am SO TOUCHED by your very kind review and your compliments to my writing, my recipes, and my gestalt! I’m glad you liked that bit about Syrah, too – it’s one of my favorite chunks in the book! Many, many thanks, Carolyn, for all your generosity.ReplyCancel

  • rich

    A thick lamb chop bathed in fresh rosemary with a nice merlot.ReplyCancel

  • amy

    ummm-cold crisp pinot grigio with spicy hot wings;
    berryish malbec with warm goat cheese and grilled bread;
    pinot noir with nutella paninis…I should probably stop!ReplyCancel

  • Emma

    My favorite pairings (I have to put 2):

    Pad Thai with Prosecco


    Filet Mignon with Cab Sauv.ReplyCancel

  • Toyia

    My favorite pairing is a zinfandel with ciabatta and avocado dip. Comfort food at it’s finest for me!ReplyCancel

  • Parmesan pasta with chard…a Barbera from Northern Italy. The slightly bitter chard and the strong cheesy Parmesan are an explosion of flavor with a smooth ruby oaky red. Just had this the day I got home from vacation — had been thinking about it all the way home! (recipe on the blog if interested)ReplyCancel

  • brian

    cedar planked wild salmon with Oregon pinot noir! Two northwest locals make a perfect coupleReplyCancel

  • Dannielle

    It’s kind of sad, I’ve been 21 for almost a year and the bulk of my experience with wine is still limited to the boxed sort. I’d have to say Riesling with creme brulee or flan, anything caramel really.ReplyCancel

  • bojj

    OK, this one is a little different but I love a hearty red wine, a Cabernet or Shiraz with a deep, dark chocolate cake. Beats out a glass of milk anytime!ReplyCancel

  • Oooh. Chocolate cake and a big red wine — now that’s an amazing pairing! But so is a nice bowl of homemade pasta alla carbonara with a perfect Savignon Blanc or a decidedly un-oaked Chardonnay blend.ReplyCancel

  • ErinVeggie

    Caprese pizza with a nice cold cab sav. :)ReplyCancel

  • Kelley

    My favorite pairing is a nice juicy steak with a delicious red wine, like pinot noir or shiraz. My mouth is watering just thinking about it!ReplyCancel

  • Stacey

    Hmm, my newest favorite is a Muscat Canelli (CA locals, look at Trader Joe’s for the one from Castoro Cellars) with a homemade fruit crisp — I made a crisp last week with peaches and pluots, and this wine went perfectly. It was just sweet enough to complement the dessert, but light enough that it didn’t overwhelm us.ReplyCancel

  • Fois gras with a great BurgundyReplyCancel

  • cheeky

    One of my favorite food memories is sitting in a small Italian bar in Tuscany enjoying some Classico Chianti along with a great antipasta, with salumi, great parmesan reggiano and a great big slab of crusty bread, oh, I’m getting hungry!ReplyCancel

  • Karen Ritter

    A nice, chilled Pinot Grigio and a simple pasta with fresh vegetables (a no heavy sauce!)

    oh, and Shiraz with vanilla ice cream!ReplyCancel

  • cheeky

    Shiraz and vanilla ice cream….wow, that’s a new combination for me!! How about a fruity pinot grigio with a fruit flavored sorbet??ReplyCancel

  • um… can I be so lame as to say that my fave pairing is
    cheese & wine.
    but that being said, there prob isn’t a cheese out there that I wouldn’t enjoy paired with wine… hmm… then again, I’m also a fan of the bubbly, so perhaps a yummy bubbly with an equally yummy cheese.
    you pick… and tell me when we can meet to do a little taste test! ;o)

    PS… can I just say that I grinned as I read that *J. Wiley* published the book… I’m such a busy girl! hee hee.ReplyCancel

  • […] reviews. Here’s one from the Arkansas Democrat Gazette, another in Carolyn Cope’s blog Umami Girl, and yet another in Napa Sonoma […]ReplyCancel

  • […] congratulations to bojj, commenter number 14. With the help of, you’ve been selected as the winner of 100 Perfect Pairings. […]ReplyCancel

  • Shelia

    Malbec and steak tartare is sooo yummy!!ReplyCancel

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