Tuesday, October 14, 2008


There's something about meatballs. If you grew up in an Italian family or an Italian neighborhood (I did both), you know that there's more to meatballs than just your average comfort food. They say that bread is the staff of life; Italians think it's meatballs. They define a meal, a family, a discussion, a culture. Italians recognize their own families' meatballs like Scots recognize their families' tartans.

My own earliest meatball memories surround my great-grandmother, Nana. Born Tessie Cerami, she and her sister Josie came over on a boat from Sicily, at ages 16 and 14, through Ellis Island and made their way to Ossining, NY, where they married two brothers and lived next door to each other until their deaths, some 70 years later. Nana was the stereotypical Italian grandmother, from her clunky black shoes and wrinkly nylons to the crucifixes, visible from every vantage point in her house. Nana always had a pot of tomato sauce, filled with meatballs, simmering on the stove. Family lore said it was the same pot she put there circa 1940; she just kept adding more sauce and more meatballs. And she always had a meatball sandwich in her purse; it was the cure-all for whatever ailed you. Scrape your knee - have a meat-a-ball-a-sand-a-wich; break up with your boyfriend - have a meat-a-ball-a-sand-a-wich. As she got older, it was harder to trust the sandwich-from-the-purse, not knowing if it had been made that morning, or three weeks prior.
Nana served wine, though I can't tell you what it was. All I can say is it was red, and served in teeny-tiny glasses. I serve red wine with meatballs today, but in much larger glasses. If you've read my blog, you know that I like serving regional food with regional wines. This holds true for Italy, more than any other region. I could go into a long wine-geeky dissertation on why this is so, but here's what it boils down to: the high-acid in many Italian reds stands up to tomato sauce like no other wine can. Would I recommend sitting on the porch and sipping a nice Chianti as an apperitif? No. But with meatballs, pizza, eggplant parmesan - you bet. Chianti is in the Toscana region; Chianti Classico is a smaller region within Chianti, in theory, producing higher quality wines. Here are a few reliable producers of Chianti that you may want to try: Marchesi de' Frescobaldi, Badia a Coltibuono, Ruffino, Banfi, Folonari, Rocca delle Macie. Most produce wines in a variey of price ranges.
"Mangia!" As Nana would say.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Falling for Fall

I love fall. I love the cooler weather, the changing leaves, wearing sweaters and making fires in the woodstove. I especially love the changes in cooking and wine drinking. While our summers are filled with salads and Sauvignon Blancs or grilled anything with a luscious Rose', as the weather turns cold, both the food and wine get warmer. I look forward to making stews, braises and anything topped with a pastry crust at this time of year. My tastes in wine, red or white, turn to the more full-bodied varieties.

Here's a dish I love making at this time of year:

Tarragon Chicken & Biscuits

1 lb. boneless chicken (breasts or thighs or a combination)
1 c. sliced mushrooms
2 Tbs. chopped, fresh tarragon
2 Tbs. Olive Oil
1/2 c. white wine
3/4 c. chicken stock
1 c. heavy cream
salt & pepper to taste
Biscuit Dough (recipe follows)

Make the biscuit dough first. To make the recipe easier, you can use store-bought, refrigerated biscuit dough, or make the dough from a mix.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Cut the chicken into 1" chunks. Salt & pepper it. Heat oil in a large skillet and add chicken. Saute chicken until almost cooked through - approximately 8 minutes, adding the mushrooms after 4 minutes. Pour off any liquid and add the white wine; cook until wine is reduced by about half, then add the chicken stock and the heavy cream. Cook until the cream thickens, adding more if the mixture is drier than chunky soup. Add the tarragon and mix to combine. Taste for salt & pepper.

Pour the mixture into a 9" x 9" baking dish and top with blobs of the biscuit dough. Bake for approximately 45 minutes, until the biscuits are golden on top and the filling is bubbly.


2 c. all-purpose flour (I highly recommend King Arthur Flour)
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 stick butter (cold)
2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1 c. buttermilk

Mix all the dry ingredients. Cut the butter into small pieces then blend into the the flour with a pastry cutter or your fingers. You can leave some larger chunks of butter. Mix in the buttermilk. You'll have a sticky, lumpy dough.

OK - a couple of disclaimers. I'm not a cookbook author, and I don't even often write down my recipes. So, consider everything I've writen as approximate and use your cook's intuition. The chicken mixture needs to be quite wet, souplike, in fact or it will dry out in the oven. So add more liquid as needed. Oven temperatures vary, as well as cooking times at different altitudes, so keep an eye on it.

So, what to drink? My recommendation is an Oregon Pinot Gris. I like the King Estate's Signature Collection Pinot Gris. Two others to try are Ponzi and Benton Lane.

I hope you'll try my recipe. Let me know how it turns out. More cool weather recipes to come!