Monday, June 21, 2010

Summer's Better Half: White Wine Sangria

Mom may have hated the heat, but she loved summer. Swimming was among her favorite activities, and she relished slow, lazy days by the pool or at the beach. She also adored the summer drinks that went with such easy living, be it Sea Breezes or Molson’s Golden beer. For the most part, Mom’s favorite beverages required little expertise other than knowing what to order at the bar. (How I would cringe when she requested a “wine spritzer” flashing her dorkiest grin.) However, Mom was particularly famous for her white wine sangria.

Jeanne whipped this concoction up often during the Tortellini Salad era. As I mentioned earlier, I never sampled her sangria, since I was not even a tween. Hell, I didn’t even know what a tween was back then. What I do know is that for years after her passing, Mom’s white wine sangria would work its way into many a memory. “Your Mom was the best,” I have heard on more than one occasion. “She used to make this wonderful sangria!” It’s a legacy that would surely make her proud.

Unfortunately, the white wine sangria was conspicuously absent from my recipe box. I have often pondered what exactly she did. From what I have gathered, it was refreshing but not too sweet. I also remember seeing lots of fruit floating around in guests’ glasses. As I sweat out yet another afternoon at the playground, this all sounds too good to be true.

To recreate this dreamy concoction, I decided to do a bit of culinary research. Genius that I am, I started by typing “white wine sangria” into epicurious.com. Nothing sounded quite right. Nevertheless, the 1973 version, which called for brandy, Cointreau, and 2 GALLONS of Zinfandel did catch my attention. I realized I needed to go to an expert source: My trainer Cedric.

As Cedric has coached me through the gamut of punishing workouts over the last two years, some of our best conversations have –ironically enough—revolved around food. Ceddy sure knows how to cook! And I remembered him fervently describing making a sangria in which he soaked grapes in vodka until they swelled up the size of golf balls. Golf balls!!! I think Mom may have met her match in Cedric.

So with all due respect to Jeanne’s sangria, I offer you its equal or perhaps superior: Cedric’s White Wine Sangria. Such a recipe feels particularly fitting to post today. Not just because it’s really %$#! hot, but tomorrow is actually the eighth anniversary of Mom’s death. I can think of no better way to mark such a day than to raise a glass of sangria to the wisdom of Jeanne. Cheers.

Cedric’s White Wine Sangria

Ingredients

1 peach
Strawberries
1 apple
1 orange
½ cup vodka
1 bottle of white wine (Pinot Grigio works well)
1 ½ cups orange juice
1 small bottle of club soda
¼ cup simple syrup (2 parts sugar, and one part water)

Soak fruit in vodka overnight
Bring water to a boil, and add sugar. Mix until sugar dissolves, and remove from heat. Let cool or refrigerate.
Mix fruit with wine, club soda, OJ, and simple syrup. Add ice, and refrigerate for at least an hour.
Serve by scooping fruit into wine glasses, and then pour in liquid.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

TORTELLINI PRIMAVERA SALAD


Friends of Jeanne rejoice!!! The pools are open, the beach is beckoning, and I think I even glimpsed the brief sparkle of a firefly at dusk. This can only mean one thing: Tortellini Salad Season has arrived. Hooray!!!

During the 1980s, when swim team dominated my family’s summers in a dreamy, pleasant sort of way, Mom made this constantly. Tortellini Primavera Salad was her signature dish for swim team picnics, or barbecues at our friends’ houses. She usually served it with a killer Sangria –of which I obviously did not partake, given that I was 8-years old, but I’ve heard was fantastic. Tune in next week for the alcoholic portion of this menu.

To give you the full visual, Mom usually served her tortellini salad in a large apple green Melamine Heller bowl. For those of you post-Gen Xers out there, stackable Hellerware was all the rage in the 80s, as was tortellini salad. Mom’s salad would be accompanied by burgers, hot dogs, and a few other side dishes –but hers always trumped the rest. (Major players from this era can be viewed in the picture "Mom and Her Ladies") I remember bringing it to school for lunch one day, and getting odd looks from my friends. Then one brave soul tried a bite, and muttered, “It’s actually pretty good.”

I’ll admit that –like many of the recipes I post— this one’s a throwback. People don’t serve heavy pasta salads loaded with a ton of different ingredients. It’s a pain in the neck to make, and one might argue the flavors drown each other out. Like many cooks nowadays, I prefer dishes with a few fresh ingredients. Yet, when I dreamed of the weekend we were planning at the beach, my palate demanded this salad.

Much to my delight, I discovered nearly all of the ingredients at our neighborhood Farmer’s Market. Asparagus, zucchini, and peas are all in season. Mom presciently specialized in a recipe of which the local food movement would approve. Even better, the local stuff tastes awesome –especially the fresh peas.

I scooped up the ingredients and headed down to the beach, where we ate Mom’s salad along with locally-caught fish and a green salad. Guess what? Tortellini was the hit of the evening. Just like in the eighties, we polished off that generous bowl of pasta in no time. Satisfied, we sat out on the porch drinking beer and chatting as our kids ran around. Summer had blissfully arrived. The only thing missing was the Hellerware.


TORTELLINI PRIMAVERA SALAD

Here’s the thing about the tortellini salad. It’s kind of a pain. There are a ton of vegetables that require stir frying, not to mention an ingredient-heavy dressing that needs Jeanne’s trusty “Cuisinart” or any other food processor. Luckily, Mom gave a pretty comprehensive recipe for this one…so we’re in good shape.

Ingredients
4 stalks of asparagus
1-2 zucchini
½ cup peas (I used fresh, which are a major pain to shell. I have a whole new respect for those southern folk songs about shellin’ peas. Nevertheless, if you can swing it –do it. Fresh peas brought the salad to a new level)
1 cup broccoli, cut into pieces
1 Tbsp, olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste
¼ cup mushroom
1 box of cherry tomatoes
2 packages of cheese tortellini (I like the refrigerated kind)
¼ cup of fresh basil
4 cloves of fresh garlic (You can cut this by half if your stomach doesn’t do well with lots of garlic. The Jeanne may have been a witch in her previous life, such was her love of garlic)
¼ cup, red wine vinegar
¼ cup of mayonnaise (Note: Of course, mayo was not included in Mom’s copy of recipe, but made a sneak appearance later. Classic.)
½ cup toasted pine nuts

Directions
Cut asparagus into 1 inch pieces
Slice and quarter zucchini
Broccoli flowerettes (Not sure this is a real word, but she means cut them into smaller pieces)
Stir fry these veggies in olive oil, keep them crunchy
Add mushroom, tomatoes and peas
Add cooked tortellini, toss well

In Cuisinart, blend basil, garlic, red wine vinegar, and mayo. Make dressing enough to coat veggie pasta mix.
Refrigerate for at least an hour.
Sprinkle with toasted pine nuts before serving.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Too Damn Hot

I played the Amalfi’s card tonight. It’s just too damn hot to cook. I can’t deal. Along with curly hair and a love of food, I share with my family an intense hatred for hot humid days. Hell to us looks a lot like Florida in late June. I’m not exactly sure why, but we can’t deal. Did you hear me? We can’t deal!

Mom was no exception to this rule. In fact, hot weather invoked a special brand of irritability in Jeanne, one that involved a sheer disregard for decorum and lots of bad language. (Consider yourself warned, if you don’t like potty talk.)

The summer of 1993 was particularly brutal in this regard. Not only was it a New York scorcher, but we were in the process of moving out of our house. Our little white, un-air conditioned Cape Cod had been our home for nearly twenty years, and held a lifetime of precious mementos. Or crap, as Mom referred it. Neither my brother nor I were particularly keen on packing or –Gasp!—throwing away the aforementioned crap. Our attitude pissed Mom off to no end.

Each night, Mom came home from work to pack. I’m being way too kind here. In reality, the scenario went something like this: Jeanne would put on a bathing suit and these God-awful white flats from the 80s. (If company was coming, she might throw on her over-sized “Life’s A Beach” shirt. Just to make it fancy.) Then she would throw stuff into boxes, cursing: “It’s too fucking hot! You kids haven’t done shit!” It was not a pretty scene.

So ugly, in fact, that my job at the gourmet food store –where anorexic women violently tapped red lacquered fingernails on the glass counter top, demanding “Is there oil in this pasta salad? There had better NOT be oil in here!!”— seemed like a soothing respite.

I don’t remember what we ate that summer. However, I do know that I returned to college a lot plumper. Maybe we played the Amalfi’s card a bit too loosely. Maybe there really was oil in that pasta salad.

Either way, I still hate the heat. Tonight, after we ate our take-out food, I banged around a few pots and pans and let loose a couple of four-letter words. Oddly enough, I felt a lot better.

Stay cool. Order in.

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