If you are looking for a feisty, exuberant red wine to enjoy in the spring, give our Wine of the Week, Noceto Rosso Amador County Tuscan Red Blend ($19), a try. It’s big but not blustery, full-bodied but not heavy, and both bright and lively.
Flavors are a melange of red and black fruit woven through with sweet spices, including an enticing thread of black pepper. You’ll notice Santa Rosa plums, black plums, blackberries, olallie berries and even a burst of mulberries. One of the elements that makes the wine so engaging and so interesting is its blend of familiar and unfamiliar varietals. Sangiovese dominates in a gentle way, barbera, petite sirah and syrah broaden the wine’s flavor profile and alicante bouschet and aglianico add depth and mystery.
Tannins are surprisingly and pleasingly subtle. The wine is a natural with red meat. Meatballs, meatloaf, braised sausages and slow-cooked beef stews are stellar matches. Classic spaghetti Bolognese, polenta with a rich red sauce, traditional lasagne and beef ravioli help the wine blossom into its full self, too.
When it comes to vegetables, braised carrots and fennel braised with onions and olives make happy companions.
So, too, does cauliflower, with its earthy richness.
Today’s dish is from “Italian Home Cooking” (Kyle Books, 2010, $29.95) by Julia Della Croce, a longtime favorite cookbook author. I’ve made a few adjustments in the recipe to further the match, including adding tapenade, which forms an effective bridge between the wine and the cauliflower. It is not a side dish but rather a main course when served with good hearth bread alongside.
Julia Della Croce’s Smothered Cauliflower
Makes 4 servings
1 medium cauliflower
4 garlic cloves, crushed
4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 bunch scallions, white parts and 2-inches of green parts, trimmed and very thinly sliced
— Kosher salt
— Zest of 1 lemon
— Black pepper in a mill
1 small bunch Italian parsley leaves, chopped
— Black olive tapenade, homemade or commercial
— Thick-sliced hearth bread, grilled
Trim only the tough leaves off the cauliflower, leaving any of the tender green ones intact. Cut the bottom so that it sits straight in the pan. Using a small knife, make a deep crisscross at the stem end of the head to allow heat to penetrate.
Select a deep pan just the right size to fit the cauliflower and high enough to fit a cover over it; the pan should be neither too large nor too tight.
Warm the garlic in the oil in the pan over medium-low heat until it colors nicely, about 3 minutes. Add the cauliflower and strew a third of the sliced scallions and lemon zest over it. Season generously with salt and pepper.
Add 1 cup of water to the pot, or enough to come about halfway up the side of the cauliflower. Cover tightly and cook over medium heat for 5 minutes. Add the remaining scallions, 3 tablespoons of the parsley, and up to 1 more cup of water if necessary to prevent the cauliflower from drying out. Simmer for 10 minutes, or until the water evaporates enough to form a rich, flavorful broth and the bottom of the cauliflower is tender when pierced with a skewer into its center.