The Best Red Fizz

February is upon us and it’s time to gear up for a romantic Valentine’s Day. What will you and your beloved drink on the big night? There are so many wonderful choices. You could go classic and opt for a sparkling wine. California sparkling wine, French champagne, Italian prosecco, and Spanish cava are always popular choices. But given the spirit of the occasion, why not try a red sparkler?

A red sparkling wine? Indeed, red sparkling wine is somewhat of an enigma. You don’t find it on menus very often in the United States, so when you do, be sure to sit up and take notice. The best red fizz is made in select corners of the world but you won’t need your passport to buy these gems. You should be able to find a good bottle at your favorite wine shop. If by chance your local store does not carry these wines, look for them online. They’re surely worth the effort.

Lambrusco is a sparkling red wine from Lombardy and Emilia-Romagna in central Italy. Made from the grape Vitis Labrusca, from which it takes its name, Lambrusco comes in different styles, some slightly sweet, some dry. The first Lambrusco imported to the USA in the 1970s was sugary sweet and truly no more than slightly alcoholic grape juice. But such Lambrusco was made expressly for export. The wise Italians kept the traditional version for themselves.

Today, Italian wine producers are crafting their own Lambrusco for the world. Appealing to the modern palate, unpretentious Lambrusco is a refreshing, sparkling red wine with low alcohol (about 8.5%) and crisp, high acidity. A good Lambrusco is fruity on the nose with aromas of red fruit, rose petals, and green geranium, and dry to off-dry on the palate with a soft, bubbly mousse. Lambrusco is the perfect wine to accompany charcuterie, cheeses, and light pastas.

Heading “Down Under” to Australia, you’ll find delicious red bubbles in the form of sparkling Shiraz. Take all of the qualities you love about good Australian Shiraz and add some bubbles. An Australian favorite, sparkling Shiraz is a richly flavored, robust wine with aromas of warm vanilla, dried flowers, and smoke, and a palate of intense forest berries with a whisper of cinnamon. 

Perfect for any celebration, sparkling Shiraz pairs beautifully with roasted meats, game, and stews, hearty foods that might tempt your Valentine’s palate. Be sure to keep a few bottles around for the warmer months too, as sparkling Shiraz pairs brilliantly with grilled meats and veggies on the barbecue. The unexpected fizz of the Shiraz only adds to the fun of the occasion. As the Aussies say, “Give it a go, Mate!”

Wine drinking doesn’t have to be studied and serious. Who has time for that? It should be fun and it should be an adventure. Finding a unique bottle to share with your loved one can be truly rewarding. A red sparkler might just do the trick. A little extra effort on Valentine’s Day will surely be rewarded as 2017 pushes on.

Happy Valentine’s Day! Cheers!

 

 

 

Comfort in the Familiar

Most of us have undergone a detox of sorts since January 1. But between the Super Bowl and Valentine’s Day and The Year of the Rooster and every other holiday-centric excuse we find for feasting, our dietary choices often expand right along with our waistlines.

Through thick and thin, however, the farmers’ market remains our portal to healthy living. More veggies; less meat. Processed foods are scarce. No elevator music = no stress. Plus, shopping in the open-air is downright invigorating.

This month’s market is brimming with juicy citrus fruits, crunchy apples, creamy pears, and other sweet starlets from the waning days of winter. February also signals the arrival of early crops like sugar snap peas and strawberries, offering a sneak-peak of coming attractions.

As we wait for spring to launch into full swing, now is the perfect opportunity to explore more common vegetables we sometimes take for granted, or view as not being “special” enough for company. Just give them a New Year’s makeover! Show everyone that plain-Janes like broccoli, carrots, and mushrooms can be as glamorous as their short-seasoned cousins.

The following has become my go-to winter recipe for both potlucks and entertaining large groups at home. Prep is limited; the recipe is easily multiplied; everything cooks together in a hot oven; and it can be served either warm or at room temperature. And, oh yeah, it also tastes great. There’s nothing ho-hum about these vegetables.

Roasted Broccolini with Herbed Mushrooms

1 1/2 pounds mushrooms (any variety), halved if large

1/2 cup California olive oil

2 teaspoons coarsely chopped fresh thyme leaves

1 1/2 teaspoons soy sauce

Freshly ground black pepper, to taste

1 1/2 pounds broccolini, tough ends trimmed

1/2 teaspoon coarse (kosher) salt

  1. Position one oven rack in the lower third of the oven, and another rack in the center. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.
  2. On a large rimmed baking sheet, combine the mushrooms, about 6 tablespoons of the oil, the thyme, soy sauce, and pepper Toss gently to coat.

Spread into an even layer and place the baking sheet on the lower rack of the oven. Roast, stirring once, until the mushrooms are browned and tender, about 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, place the broccolini on another large rimmed baking sheet, drizzle with the remaining 2 tablespoons of olive oil, and season with salt. Toss gently to coat. Spread into an even layer and place the baking sheet on the center rack in the oven. Roast the broccolini, turning once, until the stems are crisp-tender when pierced with the tip of a sharp knife, 10 to 15 minutes.

  1. Arrange the vegetables decoratively on a large platter. Serve at once, or let cool to room temperature. Serves 4 to 6.

Recipe Afterthoughts

It’s all cruciferous. I happen to be partial to broccolini, a natural hybrid of broccoli and Japanese kai-lan. (Sometimes you will see it labeled as “baby broccoli.”) The smaller florets and long, thin stalks with tender skin make for speedy prep in the kitchen. If you are a fan of pleasantly bitter broccoli raab, it makes an easy substitute. And when substituting plain ol’ garden-variety broccoli, simply peel away the tough skin from the stems and cut lengthwise, from stem through the florets, into smaller spears.

Don’t be timid when roasting vegetables. A little char at the edges adds visual appeal as well as flavor. (After a childhood of eating water-logged veggies, it also makes for a pleasant surprise.)

If soy sauce seems out of place in this recipe, don’t worry. It will not make the mushrooms taste like Chinese takeout. It simply boosts the umami factor, helps with browning, and adds sodium to bring out the natural flavor of the mushrooms.

I like to use an assortment of cultivated and wild mushrooms for this dish—as grand or as meager as budget allows. The exotic ones taste wonderful, of course, and make the dish look like more of a Big Deal.

If you’re fresh outta thyme, finely chopped rosemary makes a tasty substitute. If you must use dried herbs instead of fresh, use a generous 1/2 teaspoon only.

If you are inclined to gild the lily, it never hurts to shave a bit of Parmesan over the top before serving.

Although the recipe makes 4 to 6 generous servings, it has been known to serve 8 or more as part of a buffet. If you are lucky enough to have leftovers, use the veggies to fill omelets. Or eat them cold, directly out of the refrigerator. Whatever.

The Danville Certified Farmers’ Market, located at Railroad & Prospect, is open every Saturday, rain or shine, from 9 a.m. until 1 p.m. For specific crop information call the Pacific Coast Farmers’ Market Association at 1-800-949-FARM, or visit their web site at www.pcfma.org. This market is made possible through the generous support of the Town of Danville. Please show your appreciation by patronizing the many fine shops and restaurants located in downtown Danville. Buy fresh. Buy local. Live well!

 

 

 

 

 

Azalea, Potato Vines and Bougainvillea

Q. My Potato Vine and Bougainvillea suffered from frost in the recent cold spells. Most of the leaves have fallen off, so they look terrible. Is there anything I can do now to help them grow back?                      

A. It’s not unusual for Potato Vines and Bougainvillea to be damaged from frost and freezing temperatures during the winter. The cold will burn the leaves and or kill the plants. Cold acts as a desiccant pulling moisture from the plant tissue while a freeze causes the cell walls to rupture. As a result of these damaged cell walls, the plant defrosts too quickly, killing leaves and stems. Cold injury is more likely to occur the longer the temperature stays below thirty-two degrees after the sun rises. Right now, the recommendation is to do nothing. There is the possibility of more cold temperatures going forward. Instead, I’d wait until the danger of frost is over which is around March 15. You could also scratch the bark to see if it’s green. This would indicate that the plant is still alive. Personally, I’d still wait longer until you see some new growth developing. At this time that I prune off all the dead growth and fertilizer with Dr Earth Organic all Purpose plant food to encourage the new growth.

Q. I have an Azalea that has been in the ground for twelve years and it’s not growing. When I planted it originally, I didn’t disturb the roots. I’ve since learned I should have. Can I now dig it up, spread the roots and replant it in the same spot? It has tremendous sentimental value.

A. Yes, I would replant. Your Azalea is slowly strangling itself, so you need to break the circular pattern of the roots for the plant to survive. March is an excellent month to dig up plants, trim their roots and then transplant. Even, if you’re going to replant it in the same location. This technique is called “Root Pruning.” Root Pruning is also recommended for container plants such as citrus, Japanese Maples, roses and many other plants that have been in the same container for over twenty-four to thirty-six months. In your case, I’d dig around the plant with a round nose shovel until you gently lift the root ball out of the ground. It should come out quite easily as there is should be little rooting into the native soil. With a sharp knife or pruning saw, trim away two to three inches off the sides and remove three to four inches off the bottom of the root ball. Before replanting, soak the root ball in a bucket of water with Liquinox Starter with B1 or similar product. Liquinox Starter with Vitamin B-1 helps promote feeder root growth and reduces transplant shock. The root ball should be held down under the water until the water stops bubbling. This forces all the air out of the root ball ensuring that it’s saturated. The new planting hole should be two and half times as wide as the original root ball and six inch deeper. This is to accommodate the many surface roots. The native soil is amended with organic matter or you could use one of the prepared planting mixes for shade loving plants at a 50/50 ratio. Next, center the Azalea in the hole with the top of the root ball one half inch above the soil surface. This allows for settling and prevents the plant from being planted too deep which is a critical planting mistake made by many. Two week after transplanting, I’d begin fertilizing with an Azalea, Camellia and Rhododendron Food and continue feeding it monthly until October.

Q. Last November, I planted garlic for the first time. It is now almost twelve inches tall. When does it mature?

A. Garlic should not mature for another three to four months. As harvest time approaches, the plants will turn yellow and brown. When forty percent of the foliage has discolored, you stop watering the plants and bend the foliage over, parallel to the ground. Once the foliage turns completely brown, the garlic is manually removed. I’d loosen the soil with a spading fork first and be careful as garlic bruise easily.