Maybe you're feeling like I do—if you never see a plate of cookies, box of candy or line-up of pastries again, it'll be too soon. The holidays are about giving, and that often means edible goodies. Even beverages were on overload: eggnog, hot chocolate and mulled wine. By the time the new year began, millions of Americans had promised that this year they will lose weight, this time they will follow through on the resolution to start healthy eating habits. While I'm not making any such promise for myself or helping you keep yours, lighter food and wine pairings will help detoxify from the overindulgence that was December.
For many, New Year's Eve meant sparkling wine. People stocked up on bottles of bubbly because it's festive and expected. Perhaps you didn't finish all the bottles and have one left. If you don't, go and get another because you'll need it for my delicious smoked salmon pizza. Sparkling wine is the perfect partner for many seafood dishes such as oysters or caviar. Often showing citrus notes and hints of yeast or bread, it is a good pairing for this pizza with its lemony cheese spread. In addition, the salmon is fairly salty, which is another matchmaking point between bubbles and food.
After a month of spending, you probably won't be able to splurge, so Champagne may be out of the question. However, another place to find great French bubbly is Alsace. Cremant d'Alsace is usually a light and fruity alternative for less than $20. If you want to go beyond France altogether, try Spain. Cava can be a nice, dry version that's also less expensive. I drink Cristalino Brut or Brut Rose for about $7 a bottle. However, I wouldn't do Italian style—Prosecco—as it might be too sweet for the meal. California also makes great bubbly, often at wineries started by Champagne houses. Mumm, Chandon and other wineries make less costly versions of their French counterparts for around $15. I find myself drawn to the Blancs de Noirs versions made from Pinot Noir, which display light pink color and strawberry citrus goodness.
If you want to go a bit lighter than pizza, try a portabella mushroom sandwich. It could pair well with a white wine, but I think I'd rather go for a light red, such as Pinot Noir. Usually grown in cooler climates and a bit temperamental, Pinot Noir is light and fragrant, making it a natural companion for tuna, duck and mushrooms. Because the grape often displays earthy notes (denoted as forest floor, truffle or even barnyard), it's an inspiring choice to go with portabella.
Au Bon Climat is a consistently good producer of Pinot Noir, and the Santa Barbara bottling typically runs at under $25, as does the Siduri Pinot Noir. If you're willing to dig deeper into your pockets, check out Etude, Domain Drouhin from Oregon, or a Burgundy from Cote d'Or (the last at your own risk due to wide variation in quality). These examples all slant toward the leaner version of the grape, unlike some of the full-bodied results that I've been finding lately.
Choose either meal, along with the corresponding wine, and feel a little less guilty about what goes into your belly.
Smoked salmon pizza (serves 2)
Large flour tortilla
Boursin cheese (or cream cheese with diced chives) at room temperature
1/2 teaspoon lemon juice
3/4 cup shredded mozzarella cheese
1/4 cup thinly sliced red onions
6 oz. smoked salmon
Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Place tortilla on pizza pan and bake for 2 minutes. Meanwhile, thin boursin with lemon juice. Remove tortilla then dollop with a few spoonfuls of cheese spread. (If it doesn't spread evenly, put the tortilla with spread back in oven for 2 minutes to warm and then spread.) Lightly cover tortilla with shredded cheese and onions. Cook for 5-6 minutes. Remove the pizza from the oven and evenly distribute salmon pieces on top of the cheese. Return pizza to the oven for several more minutes until heated through. Serve with a side salad with citrus vinaigrette.
Portabella Sandwiches (serves 2)
2 portabella mushroom caps
Whole wheat buns
2 oz. feta cheese
1 Tablespoon chopped chives
Roasted red bell pepper, cut into strips
1 sweet potato, diced into 1/2-inch cubes
2 Tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
Mushroom Marinade/Salad Dressing:
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
1 clove minced garlic
1/4 teaspoon Italian seasoning
1/8 teaspoon ground mustard
1/2 cup olive oil
Whisk the marinade ingredients together in a bowl. Use a brush to lightly coat both sides of the mushrooms with the marinade. Put remaining amount aside for salad dressing for greens. Bake mushrooms in a 350-degree oven for about 25 minutes, turning once after 12 minutes. In a separate pan drizzle diced sweet potatoes with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Put the pan with sweet potatoes in the lower oven rack for 25-30 minutes. Meanwhile, assemble sandwiches by placing crumbled feta, peppers, chives and cooked mushrooms on the whole-wheat buns. Toss greens with marinade dressing and remove the potatoes from the oven, then both set aside. Load up your plate and fill your glass.