In the midst of lockdown in 2020, inspired by our own popular schedule of online wine masterclasses and tastings and some Zoom sessions with chefs I’d cooked along with, I came up with the idea of a live eat (and taste) along with members. I thought I’d share some of the recipes and food and wine-pairing suggestions we enjoyed on the night.
Whipping up a bowl of pasta or a risotto is likely a regular occurrence in many households; but here I want to encourage you to try something a bit different!
Sage butter and pea pasta with Italian whites
A fresh and tasty summer classic, this recipe combines the earthiness of sage with the freshness of summer peas, all enveloped in a deliciously buttery sauce. I eat a bowl of pasta every week – without fail – because it makes for such a fast, filling midweek meal. And, unless I'm making a rich meat ragu, I prefer to stick with a white wine with enough acidity to cut through the unctuousness of butter, oil, cheese (all three if I'm lucky) and this trio of whites does a beautiful job of it.
Alternatively: Try carbonara, white fish, chicken, pizza bianca
One of Italy's best buys, this verdicchio makes a great full dry white with fresh crisp flavour, from a single vineyard, Coste del Molino, on the hills around the town of Jesi, west of Ancona on Italy's Adriatic coast.
A blend of local white grapes (inzolia, grecanico, catarratto) and chardonnay, perfected by this famous Sicilian estate over some five decades. It makes for balanced, gently dry companionable drinking with a delicately fruity nose and plenty of fresh fruit flavours.
Lovely, versatile Italian white from the from the excellent La Guardiense Co-op, this is positively shimmering with tangy lemon and apricot fruit to the fore.
Sage butter and pea pasta
- A few handfuls per person of dried pasta (any shape you choose – I like rigatoni for its pea-holding capabilities, or farfalle or orechiette which act as a great vehicle for the sauce)
- Small bunch sage
- Generous knob unsalted butter (about 1 tbsp per person)
- Good quality olive oil (enough for a good swirl)
- A generous grating of Parmesan cheese (or veggie alternative)
- Frozen peas (as many as lockdown or personal preference dictates)
Boil a pan of well-salted water and add your pasta, cooking for just less than the recommended time on the packet.
Five minutes before your pasta is ready add the frozen peas to your pasta pan and melt some butter along with a glug of olive oil in another large pan. Add the roughly chopped fresh sage (if you don't have fresh sage, fresh rosemary is also delicious – but dried sage just isn't the same).
After a couple of mins as the sage starts to crisp drain the pasta and peas (reserving some cooking water) and add them to the sage butter pan. Turn the pasta in the butter, add the parmesan and a spoonful of cooking water if needed to create more of a sauce.
Season with salt and plenty of pepper to taste and serve with an extra, generous grating of parmesan.
Antipasti platter and red wine
Now this is cheating as this requires no 'real' cooking, but if presented beautifully this is a real treat of a dinner, especially as you won't get hot and flustered with boiling pans of pasta on a scorching day (a bonus in my books).
If you, unlike I, have a garden, I recommend eating this alfresco. All three of these reds could also be lightly chilled to make a lovely refreshing treat at the end of a hot summer's day.
Alternatively: Try Tuscan sausage and bean stew, aubergine parmigiana, pepperoni pizza (not too spicy!)
This much-loved Montepulciano's cherry and strawberry perfume leaps out of the glass, leading to a generously rounded and fruity palate. Deservedly popular and an award winner in our 2022 Wine Championship blind tastings.
Extremely popular and praised by members and journalists for its spot-hitting quality and value, this smooth, generous and fragrant red is a cracking example of Sicily's own nero d'Avola grape.
Generous and full of ripe sweet fruit, this comes from old bush-trained negroamaro on Vallone's San Pancrazio vineyard in the heel of Italy. Warm-hearted and delicious.
There are obviously no rules when it comes to antipasti – but I think it's most satisfying to cover every food-group when turning this from a starter into a supper. So I would suggest picking something from each of these categories to have a balanced (from a taste perspective – I am no healthy eating guru!) board:
- Carbs: (all served with good olive oil for dipping)
Focaccia, flat bread, bruschetta, crispbread or good old bread sticks
- Protein: (f you're vegetarian then focus on a delicious selection of Italian cheeses, though you may need to check the packet/ with the seller to confirm they are indeed veggie-friendly. However if you eat both meat and cheese – make sure to double down!)
Cured meats - Salami, Prosciutto, Mortadella, Coppa, Lonza, Soppressata, Speck or Bresaola
Cheese – Mozzarella, Burrata, Ricotta, Taleggio, Gorgonzola, Pecorino, Parmigiano
Fish – anchovies, octopus, or sardines
- Vegetables: olives, artichokes, fresh or sundried tomatoes, roasted peppers, grilled aubergine or courgettes
- Fruit: figs, pears, grapes or quince
When you have assembled your favourites (and make sure you pile them high), it's important to remember to serve it with four times as much good olive oil and balsamic vinegar then you think might need – that's the Italian way I am assured!
* A note on the wines: I have suggested three wines with each recipe as I feel all three could work well with the food and will also offer an interesting comparison. If you do open more than one bottle to compare and contrast but don’t finish them in my experience wines will keep slightly longer than you think (up to 3-5 days), if closed with a Vacu-vin and kept in the fridge or in a cool spot.
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