“And what about holidays for those who don’t like their meal to reflect a former life of fur and four legs”, a vegetarian friend of mine rightfully asked, feeling excluded from my last entry.
Oh dear. She was right.
And I used to be vegetarian for years! Certainly there are so many dishes that would be delightful on the table alongside the brisket and the birds. Here’s an addendum, if you will, for the veg-heads who happen to also like food and wine this season.
During my past life as a strict vegetarian, my favorite foods to work with this time of year were and still are: squash, root vegetables and mushrooms! Use the right sauce and grain for the backdrop, and you will hone stunning results with vino. The truth is, I never had any reasons for being a vegetarian that were grounded in politics. I was not the president of PETA; I didn’t suffer from meat allergies. I was just an undergrad student who quickly learned that the price of meat was more than my pocketbook could secure on a regular basis. I got creative, worked with herbs and spices in a way I possibly never would have learned and found the clean, lean taste of vegetarian food so appealing that I one day woke up and found myself a bone fide follower a year later.
What propelled me to eventually return to skin and bones was a desire to become as comprehensive as possible in my knowledge on wine with food. And while braised meats and confit have slowly won my heart all over again, you might be surprised to learn that my preferred way of cooking at home—and even what I order at restaurants—still reflects my innate preference for vegetarian cuisine.
And so, for the holidays, give these a try:
Stuffed Acorn Squash: There are zillions of recipes online when you do a search. Personally, I would find one for the holiday that incorporates savory spices of sage and thyme, cranberries, walnuts and either barley or quinoa. These seasonal flavors will work perfectly with a light, earthy Rhone or a soft-spoken Beaujolais or Pinot Noir. My suggestions would be: the 2007 Domaine de Trapadis Cotes du Rhone ($14), the 2007 La Pialade (Chateau Rayas’ second label from Chateauneuf du Pape at only $35 compared to $180), the 2008 Celebration Beaujolais ($21—100% Moulin-a-Vent Cru fruit) or the 2007 Domaine Leroy Bourgogne ($35—very traditional producer from this region; particularly earthy, light vintage for this wine).
Red Wine Braised Roots: What you are looking for here is spice in your wine. Even Randall Graham of Bonny Doon agrees: “Root vegetables like sunchokes and turnips, which have this mineral aspect and earthiness, have a real affinity for red wine.” Although he recommends his wines with other foods, I believe the 07 Nacido Syrah and 07 Ca’ del Solo Dolcetto would be a sensational match with braised root vegetables. You may also turn to some more spice driven Pinots from Santa Barbara or even some lighter Zins, such as D’Arie’s Estate Zin ($26). D’Arie even has a Barbara that would do wonderfully with this entrée or side dish.
Risotto: There are so many you can make, though I prefer a mushroomy one for this time of year. A homemade vegetable stock will make it supreme, but if you can’t, just be sure to find the best quality brand you can. Throw a little mascarpone in right before it’s done cooking, and you will be dazzled by the result. Risotto is perfect with layered, earthy old world wines. They deserve well-aged Riojas, such as those by Lopez, La Rioja Alta Gran Reserva or Vina Ardanza, or Marques de Murrieta Ygay Gran Reserva. Though, you will also undoubtedly find a great match in aged Sangiovese (a grape that shares much similarity to Tempranillo). Perhaps look for an older Chianti Classico Reserva, Brunello or Vino Nobile.
Rigatoni au Gratin with Asiago or Marinara-based Vegetarian Lasagna: My last mention of Italian wines would be perfect with these dishes as well. Anytime you find marinara, go Sangiovese. The acidity of the wine works perfectly with the tomato’s natural sweetness and acid. Some of my favorite producers include: Fanetti, Montevertine, Poggerino and Biondi Santi. Here, age is not as ciritcal. Youthful Chiantis, so long as a traditional old-world style, can make for beautiful harmony with red sauce. That said, youthful Brunello is probably not ready to drink. Youthful for Brunello involves about 5-7 years of age.
Autumn Quiche or Phyllo Dough Spinach Tartletts: I put these two together as well, for they could stand to share some similar wine treatment. Both, I feel, demand the higher acid but softness of rich, toasty bubbles. Aubry Champagne ($35), Extreme from Argentina ($14), Gruet from New Mexico ($16), Schramsberg Mirabelle from Cali ($21) or Gramona Cava from Spain ($20) would all do the trick. These would also benefit from lighter reds, such as Pinot Noir from Oregon or Burgundy as well as cru Beaujolais. Yes, we are still in a time when it’s not clear what Beaujolais is ‘good’ or plonk, but some of the producers I have found that are consistently great are: Foillard, Domaine du Vissoux, Domaine des Terres Dorees, Domaine Pascal Granger and Domaine Dupeuble.
I do hope this guide with help you, whether for yourself or your friends who prefer a holiday meal without a side of bones. Even for you meat eaters, these can all easily become fantastic side dishes to complement your birds and beasts.