In my morning routine I like to sit with a cup of coffee and read the news and a few blogs. There are a variety of them, but one I really like is The Wandering Gourmand and one recent feature gets me thinking each month – the Wine vs. Beer Challenge.
I am definitely a wine girl and Bob leans towards being a beer guy so we are each a little biased with these. I can appreciate what a good beer would bring to a dish, just like I can appreciate dessert wines even though I don’t like them. When I saw this month’s challenge I really wanted to try it even though we were not going to be home over the weekend for me to cook. But rarely one to give up (won’t say never, there are a few endeavors I now pass on) I decided to make it work. So Monday, the last day of the challenge I went ahead a made an arugula pesto and started thinking wines. I don’t know enough about beer to contemplate it here, but that was Bob’s job before dinner.
Pesto is incredibly simple to make. In this case one package baby arugula, half a cup chopped walnuts, salt and pepper. I put all that into the food processor, turned it on and drizzled olive oil in until it had the consistency I wanted. I pulled it out and added Parmesan cheese (quarter cup), chopped garlic (2 cloves) and grated fontanelle cheese. As a last touch I zest end a bit of lemon and squeezed the juice of half the lemon into the mix. It came out a vibrant green that needed just a touch of salt.
The pasta part of this. I didn’t want to go traditional penne or spaghetti. I wanted something that could work as a main or a side so I went with orzo. Ok, it is also what I had on hand except for shells but I loved the idea anyway. I sweated a bit of onion, added some chopped garlic and carrot to the mix then added the orzo and water. I let it all cook for seven minutes then took it off the heat, folded in the pesto and added another squeeze of lemon.
For the pairing. I discounted reds almost immediately. The pesto, while peppery from the arugula would only stand to a light red, maybe a chianti or really light Pinot. I have a light Pinot on hand but decided against it. I didn’t want a Zinfandel – too intense for the pasta; same for merlot. I almost went with a dry rose – something a touch sweet to offset the pepper – but it just didn’t feel right. I narrowed it down to two whites – a Sauvignon Blanc or a Pinot Gris. At this point I’m just guessing. I leaned towards the Sauvignon because it tends to be a little less on the grapefruit flavor than a Pinot. (This may be totally wrong, but it sounded right in my head.) I waited for Bob for the final decision. I gave him the full range to choose from – beer, reds, pinks or whites. He tossed the reds and beer almost immediately and then decided on whites. I showed him the two I was thinking about and he picked the Sauvignon also. Great minds and all.
So how did it work? Really well. This particular Sauvignon was light and dry with a touch of citrus. It was pretty good on its own but when paired with the pasta, both were better. The peppery arugula in the pesto contrasted with the citrus but it didn’t overpower it. The wine added another layer to the pasta and brought out the lemon in the dish. The orzo was more a vehicle for the pesto than a star of the dish and that let the wine shine even more. I’m not a huge white wine drinker. I tend to go for Zinfandels or Pinot Noirs, but I’m really glad I went with the Sauvignon on this one. I’m even thinking this will be a great cold pasta salad (again a good pair for white wine) and I don’t like cold pasta salads.
The best part about this challenge is that it isn’t about beer or wine or even food. It got me to think about beer and wine and food in more than one dimension. Yes, I like red wine and Bob likes beer, but we thought about the dish as a whole and came up with something that surprised us both – a wine we might not have enjoyed nearly as much with a dish that would not have been as good without it. (It was good – don’t get me wrong – but it was better with the wine.) So thank you to the Wandering Gourmand for taking me out of my wine comfort zone and to Wander and Wine for a great idea!