California’s wine country and its Mediterranean climate is especially good fodder for thinking and writing about food. Along with grape vines, there are olive groves and nut trees to complement gardens filled with ripe tomatoes, herbs, peppers, garlic, artichokes and the like—all culminating in a bounty of fresh flavors that go wonderfully with local wines. Add artisan breads and cheeses, grass-fed cattle, wild-caught seafood and such, and you’ve got the basic ingredients for a very tasty cookbook. It’s all there in Wine Country Cooking. Not that Wine Country Cooking is just about California. It’s also about Spain, Italy, Greece, Turkey and other places that sit on or near the 38th parallel: “Wine country is both an attitude and a latitude.”n
Anyone who worked with Alice Waters at Chez Panisse—as Weir did for five years—is worth listening to when she talks about cooking. And so, the introduction she writes to Wine Country Cooking is alone practically worth the price of the book ($22.50). In it, she manages to capture the essence of the simple, Mediterranean-style of cooking and eating and the uncomplicated joy that can attend the marriage of food and wine. “I’ve found that the dishes I love the most are often the simplest,” Weir writes, “a thick, juicy bistecca alla Fiorentina grilled over the embers in Tuscany employed with Chianti, spit-roasted leg of lamb in the south of France paired with a glass of Châteauneuf-du-Pape, or wild salmon from the California Pacific coast washed down with a Pinot Noir. Nothing fancy, nothing contrived.”n
If that sort of food and wine partnership sounds attractive, then I think you’ll really dig Wine Country Cooking. A couple more introductory paragraphs tell you all you really need to know about the basics of pairing food and wine. For example, “If you have a rich sauce, think rich wine!” And then it’s off to the races with dozens and dozens of beautifully photographed dishes and accompanying recipes, all paired with wine suggestions. I’m struck by the delicious simplicity of many of these recipes. A rookie cook, for example, could easily wow guests with the dish from the book’s cover: grilled lamb on rosemary skewers with warm fava salad. It’s a wonderful dish that takes mere minutes to prepare.n
Pizza and flatbread are mainstays of wine country, and so there are recipes and pairing tips for Margherita pizza (Prosecco), focaccia with creamy taleggio (Barbaresco), flatbread with roasted shallots and garlic (Dolcetto or Barbera), a stunningly simple but scrumptious pizza with arugula and shaved Parmigiano (Grüner Veltliner) and many, many more.n
In the “Mains” section there’s an easy-peasy recipe for salmon with asparagus and blood oranges that will make inexpensive Albarino from Spain sing. And you’ll not find a better excuse to visit your local farmer’s market than Weir’s farmers-market risotto with zucchini and their blossoms. Pair that lovely dish with a white Rhône blend, she suggests.n
I may or may not make it to wine country this year, but wine country has visited me in the form of Joanne Weir’s wonderful Wine Country Cooking. What a delightful dinner guest.