Savory or Sweet: Easy-Lovin’ Wine ‘Sides’

Love Poem by David Ignatow

I study the folds of fat around your waist
lovingly as you bend over naked
to slip on your panties. Don’t lose weight
for me. As a matter of fact don’t
gain any either. That would make me
a glutton. With ample breasts to feed
my eyes, O woman of my longings, when
your eyes question me, I speak
in images of you. I see endlessly rolling
hills stretched out before me and I am happy
to know these are the hills I
will walk for the rest of my lifetime.

Could any boho woman receive a better Valentine? How wonderful to know she is loved just as she is. Life is short, and special moments can be fleeting, so who wants to spend them in the kitchen working so hard at making everything “just right”? The message of the poem is that everything is either right as is, or what are you hanging around for?

Good poetry, good wine, good food, good jazz, a good companion, and a great time really can come without a lot of fuss and drama. To prove my point, I’m sharing five of my favorite no-fuss, special-occasion makes that taste of gourmet without all the bother. And coupled with your wine of choice, they’re sure to tempt your Valentine’s taste buds (and if you’re lucky, more).

#1. Pecorino Romano Crisps

Most people call these Parmesan crisps. You can make them with either freshly grated Parmesan or Romano cheese, but I’ve tried both and think Romano lends a better flavor and texture.

What’s the difference? Both are hard white cheeses that grate well. Parmesan is made from cow’s milk, and Romano is traditionally made from sheep’s milk (that’s what “pecorino” means). Pecorino Romano has a slightly sharper flavor and is a bit saltier than Parmesan, which goes well with the wine.

  • Preheat oven to 425 degrees F.
  • Spray a large nonstick baking sheet with Pam (or line with parchment or silicone sheet).
  • Grate cheese coarsely.
  • Use about a tablespoon of cheese for each crisp. Spoon onto the baking sheet, each stack about 3 inches in diameter and spaced about 3 inches apart. Flatten slightly with back of spoon.
  • If desired, sprinkle on cracked pepper, rosemary, Italian seasoning, or cayenne before baking. (I like mine plain.)
  • Bake until crisps are lacey and golden brown, about 6 minutes.
  • Carefully run a thin spatula under the crisp to loosen it from the baking sheet immediately and transfer to paper towel to absorb oil. If crisps hardens to baking sheet, return to oven briefly to soften.

Serve warm. These keep if stored in an airtight container with paper towel between, but they’re not as good the next day (IMHO).

If you’re in the mood to get a little fancy and you have a heart-shaped cookie cutter, use it to corral the grated cheese and make heart-shaped crisps for Valentine’s Day.

#2. Simplified stuffed mushrooms

This recipe comes to me from my sister-in-law, Cathy Santalucia Clark:

  • Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.
  • Spray a rimmed baking dish with Pam.
  • Remove stems from a pound of medium-sized mushrooms and discard.
  • Rinse mushroom caps and place side-by-side in baking dish.
  • Stuff mushrooms with uncooked sausage and top with grated cheese (Parmesan, Asiago, Romano or whatever you have on hand or prefer).
  • Bake until sausage is cooked through and cheese is browned, about 30 minutes. Serve hot.

#3. Tart apples, Buerré Bosc pears, and Butterkäse

I mostly drink full-bodied red wines, but I like this combination of fruit and cheese with white wine, usually a Pinot Gris or a Muscat. Simply arrange slices of unpeeled apple and pear on a plate with thinly sliced or shaven Butterkäse. Butterkäse, or butter cheese, is a semi-soft cheese made from cow’s milk with a lovely buttery flavor. If you really want to impress your significant other, the correct pronunciation is “booter-keh-zuh.” A slice of it laid on a slice of Bosc pear is heaven in my book.

Why Bosc pears? Besides the gorgeous form and color, the flesh of this European cultivar is denser, crisper and smoother than other pears and is considered the aristocrat of pears. I love all pears, but this one especially. Why Granny Smith apples? Besides the beautiful skin that gave us the color “apple-green,” the natural tartness of this apple blends well with the richness of the butter cheese.

Slice fruit right before serving so it can be consumed before oxidation turns it brown. I quarter my fruit, then remove cores, then slice in thin wedges. If you like, embellish your platter with prosciutto or unsalted nuts, such as walnut pieces or almond slices.

#4. Microwave chocolate fondue

Stir 1¾ cups of chocolate chips and 1 (14-ounce) can of sweetened condensed milk in a microwave-safe bowl.

  • Microwave on high for 2 minutes, then stir until blended.
  • Microwave on high 1 more minute, then stir in vanilla.
  • If sauce becomes too thick for dipping, stir in warm water by the teaspoon until desired consistency.
  • Serve warm with fresh fruit, small cookies, pretzels, marshmallows, or cubes of pound cake or angel food cake for dipping.

#5. Gourmet chocolate bar

No time for making ANYTHING? How about unwrapping something and breaking it into pieces?

Buy a few gourmet chocolate bars with different added ingredients—hot pepper nips, lavender buds, raspberry, coffee, bacon, etc. Simply peel open the wrappers and break into bite-size pieces on plates. Nothing much goes better with a full-bodied red wine. And haven’t you wanted to taste all those exotic brands and flavors anyway?

Look for high cacao content—50 percent or more. Darker chocolates will be higher and increasingly bitter as this number increases. My all-time favorite chocolate is Scharffen Berger for its rich buttery texture, whether it’s milk chocolate or extra dark. It’s available in tasting sizes and sampler packs as well as bars, as are a number of brands.

Here’s to love in all its many shapes, sizes and forms!

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