Spring into Lighter Fare with these Fresh Spring Dishes & Wine Pairings

Ah, the joys of spring, spring showers, spring flowers, spring vegetables, spring pollen, well maybe not that one, and spring cleaning. Spring symbolizes new life, and rejuvenation, our senses become alive again with the scents of spring and longer days allow us to spend more time enjoying evenings outdoors and al fresco dining. March is one of my favorite months of the year. I love the warmer temperatures during the day, but still cool enough for a sweater or jacket in the evening, and the occasional spring shower, that makes everything green, fresh and bright! There’s nothing like the fresh clean scent of a spring shower.

Of course, for me, the newness of spring is all about the food. Spring is a great time to lighten things up with a more delicate fare after the hearty dishes of winter. I love cooking with fresh spring vegetables this time of year, sweet peas, carrots, brussel sprouts, asparagus, leeks, butter lettuces, fennel and arugula. Fresh herb pestos are also a great way to add depth to lighter dishes with a fresh spring flavor. Spring is also a fun time to explore new lighter wine varietals after the hearty dishes and more robust wines of winter. Spring salads, soups, entrées and wines feel somehow energizing and new. Here are some of my favorite spring wines paired with my fun & simple spring dishes like this month’s featured recipe on my Recipe Page, Spaghetti with Wilted Greens in a light and velvety sauce.

This spring try a light Sauvignon Blanc, which is produced from a green skinned grape originally from the Bordeaux region (France) though now grown just about everywhere wine grapes are cultivated. It produces a crisp, light bodied and fresh flavor, which makes for a perfect pairing with the fresh flavors of spring vegetables. In fact, a well-aged Sauvignon Blanc is said to develop aromas of spring vegetables like asparagus and peas as it ages.  One of my favorites is Decoy Sonoma County Sauvignon Blanc from California.

 Another wonderful spring wine is Sancerre from the Loire River Valley.  Sancerre is similar to  Sauvignon Blanc, in fact it is a member of the Sauvignon Blanc family. Sancerre is produced in the Loire Valley, specifically the left bank of the Loire River. It’s medium bodied due to the minerals in the soil, yet delicate, floral and mildly acidic and pairs perfectly with goat cheeses, rich creamy bries, grilled fish, shellfish and chicken. 

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Pan Seared Halibut with Risotto Primavera & Sweet Pea Pesto, a delightfully mild fish, pan seared to crispy on the outside, tender and juicy on the inside with creamy risotto and fresh pea pesto. Perfectly paired with a Sancerre from the Loire River Valley  with its floral mild acidity is a perfect balance with this mild and flaky fish, the complex flavors of the pesto and creaminess of the risotto. I’ve never met a Sancerre I didn’t thoroughly enjoy like the Domaine Fournier Les Belles Vignes.

Shrimp Provencal, shown above served with angel hair pasta, with fresh grilled shrimp in a luscious Provencal sauce and sweet pea & basil pesto, pairs perfectly with the Sancerre, though the versatility of this dish also pairs nicely with a Rose’ from Provence or even a nice chilled Pinot Noir.

The complex flavors of the Provence sauce including, fennel, garlic, lemon, tomato, capers and olives are perfect for the medium bodied Sancerre or the pale colored Grenache based Rose’s of the Provence with their notes of citrus and melon, crisp and light, usually produced with a blend of Grenache, Syrah and Cinsault grapes. There are so many great ones! One of my favorites, Aix, a crisp and light wine with a blend of Grenache, Syrah and Cinsault. A few more of my favorite spring dishes…

Sweet Pea & Proscuitto Salad with Romaine, Butter Lettuce, Shaved Parmigiano & Proscuitto, a well rounded side salad to compliment any spring dish. Asparagus & Leek Soup, fresh, green, soothing and healthy! Paired with a crisp light Sauvignon Blanc.

Grilled Lamb Chops with Mint/Basil Pesto, succulent lamb chops with a fresh minty pesto, paired perfectly with a nice California Cabernet Sauvignon-Merlot blend.  The rich earthiness of the lamb balanced with the fresh pesto calls for a bold red wine that’s not too heavy. One of my favorite blends is the Duckhorn Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon. Rich and oaky yet perfectly balanced with the robustness of the Cabernet grape and lighter fruitiness of the Merlot.

Enjoy these Spring Wine Pairings and Fresh Fun & Simple Spring Recipes! Remember to send me your photos of my dishes and tag them #gigistyle #funandsimple to be featured! If you haven’t already, don’t forget to download “Fun & Simple Gourmet” at iTunes (click here) for your Apple devices. You can also order your hard copy edition here or at Amazon.com!

Wishing you all the joys of spring!

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Some of my favorite Wine Tools to help you enjoy exploring Spring Wines!

Tasteful Holiday Sides

I love my Le Creuset! It makes holiday cooking easy, fun and colorful!

I love my Le Creuset! It makes holiday cooking easy, fun and colorful!

So, let's make this Thanksgiving thing simple and fun! For me, it's all about the sides and the beauty is that most can be prepared in advance, and then just heated through when its time to serve. Really, once you get the bird in the oven, there is time to get everything else together AND spend time with your family, friends and guests and really ENJOY the day! I love being in the kitchen, and holidays having other people in the kitchen with me, enjoying a beverage, snacking, telling stories, laughing and just having fun! I like having a few appetizer snack plates available as the guests arrive.  Not too much food, in anticipation of a holiday feast, but a few light snacks. I also like to keep the "feast" simple. There is no need for so many dishes on a holiday table, keep it simple, fresh and remember, it's really about the company and the celebration!

My favorite part of a Thanksgiving meal is the sides. I like to go with a theme, and then select sides that compliment each other. This year, there is such an abundance of fresh figs, I put together a rustic Thanksgiving menu for us utilizing these sweet little gems, along with my standard staples, like my Ciabatta Cornbread Stuffing (Jeff's favorite) and Grand Marnier Cranberry Sauce

I know I said that the sides were my favorite part of Thanksgiving, but I am a big fan of a bite of something sweet to make a festive meal complete! This year for us, my Pumpkin Swirl Cheesecake, Georgia Pecan Tart and a moist and delicious Fig Cake with ginger, walnuts and a lemon scented glaze. Please reach out for more recipes, I'd love to hear from you!

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Now, let's talk about wine pairings. We always begin with champagne, it's just a wonderful way to start a celebration. When it comes to pairing wine with a holiday meal, especially with turkey, I like a nice medium bodied Merlot. With its easy tannins and soft finish, Merlot doesn't overpower food, making a fabulous pairing with a holiday meal that usually has many diverse flavors. One of our favorites is this lovely Duckhorn Merlot, comprised of 90% Merlot, 9% Cabernet Sauvignon and 1% Cabernet Franc, aged in 100% French Oak barrels.   

 

Wishing you and yours a blessed and wonderful Thanksgiving holiday. We have so much to be thankful for! Cheers to good health, much happiness and a simply delicious holiday celebration! 

Can you believe Christmas is literally 5 weeks away! Stay tuned for delicious food and wine pairings to get you through the holiday season! Until then...

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Primo Pairings!

   
  
    
  
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    For cheese pairings right through dessert…this week it’s all about the reds…red wines that is. As the weather becomes cooler and evening begins earlier, cozy gatherings to celebrate family and friends are a great opportunity to explore flavors and pairings with your favorite wines. I lean toward red wines this time of year for their warmth and depth. 

For cheese pairings right through dessert…this week it’s all about the reds…red wines that is. As the weather becomes cooler and evening begins earlier, cozy gatherings to celebrate family and friends are a great opportunity to explore flavors and pairings with your favorite wines. I lean toward red wines this time of year for their warmth and depth. 

   
  
    
  
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    A Cabernet Sauvignon with less alcohol and light tannins is perfect for aged cheeses. Semi firm cows milks cheeses such as aged Cheddar and Goudas pair exceptionally well with Cabernet, as do aged sheep and goat milk cheeses like Pecorino (sheep’s milk) and Sartori (goat’s milk). Rich, bold Cabernet pairs well with sharp cheddars and Gruyere. For creamy soft ripened cheeses like Brie, a lighter red variety, Pinot Noir or a light Merlot, would compliment the creamy, buttery flavor of the cheese. These light varieties also tend to compliment my favorite, Parmigiano-Reggiano, with its salty bite, which exaggerates the tannins in a heavier more tannic wine.

A Cabernet Sauvignon with less alcohol and light tannins is perfect for aged cheeses. Semi firm cows milks cheeses such as aged Cheddar and Goudas pair exceptionally well with Cabernet, as do aged sheep and goat milk cheeses like Pecorino (sheep’s milk) and Sartori (goat’s milk). Rich, bold Cabernet pairs well with sharp cheddars and Gruyere. For creamy soft ripened cheeses like Brie, a lighter red variety, Pinot Noir or a light Merlot, would compliment the creamy, buttery flavor of the cheese. These light varieties also tend to compliment my favorite, Parmigiano-Reggiano, with its salty bite, which exaggerates the tannins in a heavier more tannic wine.

   
  
    
  
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    When it comes to pasta, there are a multitude of choices, but one rule of thumb, is to pair based on the sauce. Tomato based sauces are very acidic, and therefore pair well with medium weight red wines such as a Chianti or Merlot. As you add more richness or protein, such as meat (i.e. Bolognese), a bolder red pairs beautifully, Barolo, Cabernet Sauvignon or Zinfandel. I like a nice Merlot with this spicy tomato based   Spaghetti Calamari .

When it comes to pasta, there are a multitude of choices, but one rule of thumb, is to pair based on the sauce. Tomato based sauces are very acidic, and therefore pair well with medium weight red wines such as a Chianti or Merlot. As you add more richness or protein, such as meat (i.e. Bolognese), a bolder red pairs beautifully, Barolo, Cabernet Sauvignon or Zinfandel. I like a nice Merlot with this spicy tomato based Spaghetti Calamari.

   
  
    
  
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    There isn’t a more popular pairing for red wine than steak, especially a nice bold and balanced Cabernet.  Tannins bind with proteins and fats, which steak has plenty of! I could do an entire blog on pairing different types of steak with red wine, but for today, I’m thinking about my   Chateaubriand  , the center cut of a tenderloin, lean, rich, yet subtle in flavor and melt in your mouth texture. With an earthy mushroom and herb sauce, a nice young, lower alcohol content Cabernet Sauvignon is the perfect choice to bring out the flavors of both the steak and the wine.

There isn’t a more popular pairing for red wine than steak, especially a nice bold and balanced Cabernet.  Tannins bind with proteins and fats, which steak has plenty of! I could do an entire blog on pairing different types of steak with red wine, but for today, I’m thinking about my Chateaubriand, the center cut of a tenderloin, lean, rich, yet subtle in flavor and melt in your mouth texture. With an earthy mushroom and herb sauce, a nice young, lower alcohol content Cabernet Sauvignon is the perfect choice to bring out the flavors of both the steak and the wine.

   
  
    
  
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    My favorite red wine pairing…chocolate, of course! These rich and delicious   Chocolate Cupcakes   are just screaming for a nice glass of Merlot to compliment their deep chocolate flavor and decadence!  

My favorite red wine pairing…chocolate, of course! These rich and delicious Chocolate Cupcakes are just screaming for a nice glass of Merlot to compliment their deep chocolate flavor and decadence!  

I hope you try one of my pairings with your favorite glass!  Let me know how it goes and which wines you selected with each dish, I would love to hear from you!

In the meantime...

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Wine Wednesday ~ Perfect Pairings!

One of My Favorite Pairings ~ Cabernet Sauvignon and Morbier Cheese

One of My Favorite Pairings ~ Cabernet Sauvignon and Morbier Cheese

It's Wine Wednesday and it is no secret to those who know me that I love a good California Cab.  The Cabernet Sauvignon grape was an accidental breeding in the 17th century between a red Cabernet Franc grape plant and a white Sauvignon Blanc grape plant, a beautiful and divine intervention!  Cabs are full bodied, dry (not sweet) and meant to be enjoyed and paired with food.  Aged in oak barrels, this amazing wine mellows with age and exudes wonderful flavors of blackberries, cherries and a hint of vanilla from the oak.  I prefer a smooth Cab that is lower in tannins and alcohol content.  When it comes to pairing with cheeses, I recommend a semi hard aged cows milk cheese such as an aged Vermont Cheddar or this beautiful French Morbier (pictured above) or a semi hard sheep's milk cheese such as Pecorino or Manchego, another favorite!  And, of course, who doesn't love a soft ripened French Brie which softens tannins and enhances the fruit flavors of the wine.

For meal pairings, Cabs pair very well with fatty red meats such as beef and lamb, or fatty red fish like salmon or ahi tuna due to the ability of proteins and fats to negate some of the tannins in the wine.  And of course, there is no better pairing than red wine and chocolate!  Serve my beautiful Chocolate Souffle' for dessert with one more glass of bold Cabernet!