The bottle of 1996 Barbaresco called to me twice. The first time was when I bought it in Baltimore. The second was when I opened it for a special three-year-and-nine-day anniversary dinner – Brooklyn Beer Geek sure didn't see that one coming! I had never drunk Nebbiolo with anything other than some sort of meat dish – or something of a similar savory nature like truffle pasta – so there wasn't any particular insight as to why I chose that wine for our root-vegetable dinner. I was simply powerless to its pull. The Barbaresco was soon in our glasses as we toasted another year and nine days of adventures.
Moroccan Carrot Salad
Without any undue hyperbole, this was my most exciting pairing of the year. It tasted like a pure jolt of culinary synergy running across my palate. The 16-year-old Barbaresco was as lively as a teenager with a fresh driver's license, though it finished with the cool swagger of a Schumacher. Its aromas of violet and raspberry mingled perfectly with the dishes I prepared: London chef Yottam Ottolenghi's Surprise Tatin (recipe in US measurements below), a savory pie made with new potatoes, and his Moroccan Carrot Salad. This experience singlehandedly debunked the idea that a complexly flavored wine should not be paired with food in the same vein. The Barbaresco's secondary flavors of tea leaf and wild herbs went very well with the coriander and cumin in the salad and the caramelized oregano in the tart.
I wondered if root vegetables and Nebbiolo inherently had an affinity for one another. Both love being harvested on dank, foggy days – what goes together grows together. So a few days ago, I tried the same dishes with the 2005 Cigliuti Vigne Erte Barbaresco. This one had more of an earthy note to it, which lent an entirely different, autumn-like air to the meal. I imagined us back in Piedmont, where we had traveled a few Octobers ago, enjoying the crisp breezes wafting off the lakes in the Maritime Alps. This dinner, like the previous pairing, felt positively luxurious.
So the next time you have a well-aged, prized Nebbiolo on your hands, don't stress about making a meal of a similar dollar value to match it. Your wine might taste just as good, or even better, with humble root vegetables.
The current scene at the farmers market - these root vegetables would love to be a part of your next Nebbiolo pairing!
From Plenty by Yottam Ottolenghi
1.5 cups cherry tomatoes
2 tbsp. olive oil, plus extra for drizzling over the tomatoes and for the pan
salt and black pepper
1 lb. new potatoes (skins on)
1 large onion, thinly sliced
3 tbsp. sugar
2 tsp. butter
3 oregano sprigs
5 oz. aged goat cheese, sliced
1 puff pastry sheet, rolled thinly
* We substituted 6-7 sheets of filo dough for the puff pastry and Fiscalini San Joaquin Gold for the goat cheese.
Preheat the oven to 275˚F. Halve the tomatoes and place them skin-side down on a baking sheet. Drizzle over some olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Place in the oven to dry for 45 minutes.
Meanwhile, cook the potatoes in boiling salted water for 25 minutes. Drain and let cool. Trim off a bit of the tip and bottom of each potato, then cut into 1-inch-thick discs.
Sauté the onion with the oil and some salt for about 10 minutes, or until golden brown.
Once you've prepared all the vegetables, brush a 9-inch cake pan with oil, and line the bottom with a circle of parchment paper. In a small pan cook the sugar and butter on a high heat, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon, to get a semi-dark caramel. Pour the caramel carefully into the cake pan and tilt it to spread the caramel evenly over the bottom. Pick the oregano leaves, tear and scatter on the caramel.
Lay the potato slices close together, cut-side down, on the bottom of the pan. Gently press onion and tomatoes into the gaps and sprinkle generously with salt and pepper. Spread the slices of goat cheese evenly over the potatoes. Cut a puff pastry disc that is 1 inch larger in diameter than the pan. Lay the pastry lid over the tart filling and gently tuck the edges down around the potatoes inside the pan. (At this stage you can chill the tart for up to 24 hours.)
Preheat the oven to 400˚F. Bake the tart for 25 minutes, then reduce the temperature to 350˚F and continue baking for 15 minutes, or until the pastry is thoroughly cooked. Remove from the oven and let settle for 2 minutes only. Hold an inverted plate firmly on top of the pan and carefully but briskly turn them over together, then lift off the pan. Serve the tart hot or warm.