February is here – finally! Seriously, I thought January would never end. February brings us many wonderful holidays with which to celebrate. Here in the United States, Ground hog day starts off the festivities. Up next is Chinese New Year, followed closely by Shrove Tuesday/Mardi Gras. Then there is Ash Wednesday, Lincoln’s Birthday and the all important Valentine’s Day! The final popular holiday is President’s Day (I guess this replaced Washington’s Birthday?)
This gives us a plethora of opportunities for cooking romantic meals and pairing them with February wine. You may be asking what is February wine? For me, it is beautific reds and creamy complex whites. I’m thinking about Cabernet Sauvignon (the king of reds), Merlot, Tempranillo, and Sangiovese. The whites I love to drink in February are from France, White Burgundy (Chardonnay), White Bordeaux (Sauvignon Blanc) and Sémillon.
Yes, there are a lot of other reds, Pinot Noir, Malbec, Gamy, Grenache, the list can be quite long, and of course many, many other whites, Albarino, Vinho Verde, Pinot Grigio, I’ve written about all of these, but in February, especially in the cooler climate, I prefer a more complex red or a white such as the White Wines of France.
Now that you know what I deem to be February Wine, let’s pair these lovelies up with some meals!
For the vegetarians in this group, I tapped an excellent source from Australia, my lovely daughter-in-law. She is a vegetarian and she is a chef, I figured I would just go to the professional in the family. She recommended an Eggplant Parmesan or an Roasted Veggie Risotto.
- 1 large unpeeled purple eggplant, trimmed and cut into 1/8-inch thick slices
- 1 teaspoon fine sea salt, or as needed
- 2 eggs
- 1 tablespoon whole milk
- 1 cup Italian-seasoned Panko crumbs, or more as needed
- 3/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil, or as needed
- 1 (24 ounce) jar prepared marinara sauce, or home prepared marinara sauce – recipe below.
- 1 bunch fresh basil, coarsely chopped
- 1 (8 ounce) package smoked mozzarella cheese, very thinly sliced
- 1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
Line a plate with a paper towel; place a layer of 2 or 3 slices of eggplant onto the towel. Sprinkle eggplant with sea salt. Repeat layers of eggplant sprinkled with salt until all eggplant slices are stacked. Place 2 paper towels onto the stack and place a plate on top of the towels. Lay a heavy book onto the plate to squeeze out moisture. Allow to drip for 20 minutes to 2 hours. Rinse and pat dry.
Note: salting is done to take away bitterness, not to make the eggplant tender, and it is not necessary if you have wonderful tight-skinned, fresh young eggplants.
Beat eggs with milk in a shallow bowl. Place Panko crumbs into a separate bowl. Dip eggplant slices in the egg mixture and gently press into the crumbs to coat; set aside.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C). Grease an 8×8-inch baking dish.
Heat olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat; fry eggplant slices in the hot oil in small batches until golden brown, about 1 to 2 minutes per side. Drain on paper towels.
Pour about 1/4 cup of marinara sauce into the bottom of the prepared baking dish and arrange a layer of eggplant slices to cover the sauce. Scatter basil and a few slices of smoked mozzarella cheese over eggplant; repeat layers, ending with a layer of sauce on top. Sprinkle Parmesan cheese over the top.
Bake in the preheated oven until heated through and the cheese has melted, about 15 minutes. Serve immediately.
- 2 (14.5 ounce) cans stewed tomatoes
- 1 (6 ounce) can tomato paste
- 4 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 teaspoon dried oregano
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
- 6 tablespoons olive oil
- 1/3 cup finely diced onion
- 1/3 cup red wine
In a food processor place Italian tomatoes, tomato paste, chopped parsley, minced garlic, oregano, salt, and pepper. Blend until smooth.
In a large saucepan, over medium heat, saute the finely chopped onion in olive oil for 2 minutes. Add the blended tomato sauce and red wine.
Cover the saucepan and simmer for an hour minutes, stirring occasionally.
If you do not have Panko crumbs, you can substitute bread crumbs.
I would pair this dish with a rounded Merlot, one such as Castle Rock. Look for a Merlot that has a few years on it. We recently had a bottle of Castle Rock Merlot, year 2011. Fruit forward, lots of berry notes, little tannin. Open the bottle about 15-20 minutes before serving.
Corn Risotto with Roasted Red Pepper
- 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, divided
- 1 leek, white and light green parts only, diced
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
- 1 cup Arborio rice
- 1/2 cup dry white wine
- 6 cups Unsalted or Low Sodium Chicken Stock, divided, heated
- 1 1/2 cups corn kernels, fresh or frozen (thawed)
- 1/4 cup roasted red pepper, chopped
- 1 cup grated Parmesan cheese
- 1/4 cup whipping cream
- 2 tablespoons chopped fresh chives
Melt 1 tablespoon butter in a large pan over medium-low heat. Add leeks and cook, stirring occasionally, until leek is softened (do not allow to brown), about 6 minutes. Add salt and pepper to taste; add rice and cook, stirring, until grains look slightly translucent, about 5 minutes.
Pour in wine and cook, stirring, until wine has all been absorbed, about 2 minutes.
Add a ladleful of chicken stock to the rice mixture and cook, stirring constantly, until rice has absorbed all of the stock. Add another ladleful of stock, stirring, until rice has absorbed the liquid. Continue adding stock, one ladleful at a time, always allowing rice to absorb it before adding another. When about 3 cups of the stock has been added, stir in corn and roasted red peppers. Continue cooking, adding the remaining stock, a ladleful at a time, until all of the stock is incorporated, corn is tender, and rice is creamy and tender, about 30 to 40 minutes total.
Remove risotto from heat and stir in the Parmesan and remaining tablespoon of butter. Cover and let stand for 5 minutes.
With whisk or electric mixer, beat cream at high speed until it holds stiff peaks. Uncover the risotto and stir vigorously. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Before serving, stir in the chives and then gently fold in cream.
Pair this with a chilled bottle of White Bordeaux, Ducasse Blanc would be my choice. The crispness of this beautiful wine would not compete with the decadence of the Risotto.
On to my favorite chicken dish. I serve this often to celebrate, it is one of my family’s favorite recipes.
Lemon and Wine Chicken
- 2 or 3 skinless, boneless chicken breast half – pounded thin
- 2 or 3 tablespoons olive oil
- 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
- white pepper to taste
- 1/2 tablespoon chopped garlic
- 1 small onion, sliced
- 4 mushrooms, chopped
- 1/2 lemon
- 1 1/2 cups Chablis or other dry white wine
- 2 tablespoons butter, room temperature
in a medium skillet, heat oil and sauté the onion, garlic and mushrooms until slightly brown. Remove the onion, garlic and mushrooms to a dish. Heat more olive oil if necessary for frying the chicken. Dredge the chicken breasts in flour and place it in the hot skillet. Add pepper to taste. Cook until golden brown on one side, 3 to 4 minutes.
Turn chicken over (presentation side up) and add the wine, the onion, garlic and mushrooms, pour the juice from 1/2 lemon over and simmer for about 10 minutes.
Remove chicken from skillet and add the room temperature butter. Swirl it around in the skillet sauce until it is incorporated and the sauce is slightly thickened. Pour sauce over chicken. Serve over wild rice pilaf or angel hair pasta.
Pull out a chilled bottle of White Burgundy to serve with this dish. I brin
g out a bottle of Henri Perrusset Macon Villages to enjoy when we have this chicken. The wine is creamy and complex, but it finishes with a taste of citrus to compliment the lemon in the chicken.
For the meat lovers, the most romantic of meals is a steak, and I always go with a Filet Mignon when it is time to turn up the romance.
Filet Mignon with Balsamic Glaze
- 2 (4 ounce) Filet Mignon steaks
- 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper to taste
- salt to taste
- 1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
- 1/4 cup dry red wine
Sprinkle freshly ground pepper over both sides of each steak, and sprinkle with salt to taste.
Heat a nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Place steaks in hot pan, and cook for 1 minute on each side, or until browned. Reduce heat to medium-low, and add balsamic vinegar and red wine. Cover, and cook for 4 minutes on each side, basting with sauce when you turn the meat over.
Remove steaks to two warmed plates, spoon one tablespoon of glaze over each, and serve immediately.
The only wine I can recommend to serve with this meal is a Cabernet Sauvignon, of course. Bring out the big guns for this, something such as Rodney Strong’s Sonoma County Cabernet Sauvignon, the older, the better. Try to find a 2010 or 2012. Open the bottle 25-30 minutes before serving to fully enjoy the flavors of blackberry, cocoa, and herby black-currant.
For dessert, to go with any of these meals, serve a Petite Sirah, such as Michael David’s Petite Petit Sirah, slightly chilled with a very dark chocolate. I like Lindt’s extra dark. If you’re not serving chocolate, then pair a bottle of Ware’s Warrior Port with some blue cheese, that is room temperature, one such as Plymouth Blue Cheese.
No matter what you serve, be sure to celebrate at least one occasion during this wonderful month of February.