Finally - cold weather is here in South Florida (pretty much all of Florida really)! I love the cold weather for the obvious reasons: no makeup melting down your face at 10 in the morning, no infernally hot car seats awaiting the backs of your unsuspecting legs, the joy of being able to stay outside for more than 3-4 minutes without bursting into flame.
The thing I find most exciting about the change in weather, however, is the opportunity to start cooking cold weather cuisine. Nothing like pasta, polenta and risotto to cheer a girl up! These are some of my favorites and I am sooo excited to finally be able to dive into these heartier recipes, not to mention the red wines that generally go with them! In my giddiness, I feel like that character on Saturday Night Live who gets overly excited about everything and keeps saying “Oh my Gaaaaad!” If you aren’t familiar with her check out this link and you’ll see what I mean (press the arrow to play the clip - you can pause it at any time). She gets excited about a surprise party - I get excited about pasta!
Needless to say, I was really excited to make Max’s Radiatore (pg. 206), a pasta recipe provided by Boca Raton's iconic Max's Grille ten years ago that is still being served at the restaurant today (for good reason). I’ve heard great things about this recipe but have never tried it myself. The recipe calls for radiatore pasta, balsamic vinegar, sun-dried tomatoes, shallots, garlic, fines herbes, grilled or roasted chicken, goat cheese, pine nuts and broccoli florets - what's not to like about that?
While shopping for ingredients, however, I had trouble finding radiatore pasta. I even went to an Italian market and two other stores with no luck – how could I make Max’s Radiatore without radiatore pasta? I hopped on my trusty iPhone to Google “radiatore” to see if I could come up with the next best option. That’s when I discovered a fabulous website, The Cook’s Thesaurus at http://www.foodsubs.com/. The website contains lots of great culinary information as well as suggestions for alternate recipe ingredients if you are in a bind. It suggested a few alternatives for radiatore so I grabbed a box of Barilla rotini and forged ahead!
Once in the kitchen, I cooked the pasta in boiling salted water, drained it and returned it to the pot to keep warm. I always reserve about a cup of the cooking liquid from the pasta to add to the pot to keep the pasta hydrated so it doesn’t stick together. It’s very helpful when making the pasta in advance – just check it every so often and add the starchy water as needed.
Then, I made the balsamic reduction while soaking the sun-dried tomatoes to recontitute them. So far so good! Next, I sautéed the shallots, garlic and fines herbes in olive oil. In case you are not familiar with fines herbes, it is a combination of herbs used in Mediterranean cuisine; usually a blend of fresh parsley, chives, tarragon and chervil but the mixture can vary a bit. The herbs are more delicate than those found in a bouquet garni (rosemary, thyme, bay leaf, peppercorns) which are more pungent and used in dishes requiring a longer cooking time. It smelled heavenly sauteeing with the shallots and garlic. After sauteeing for 1-2 minutes, I added the tomatoes, chicken, vinegar and chicken stock, brought to a simmer and stirred in the butter. Yum!
After seasoning with salt and pepper, I added the pasta to the sauce and mixed well. I spooned it into two bowls for Steve and I, and topped with the broccoli florets, goat cheese and pine nuts. It was such an interesting combination of ingredients I couldn’t wait to dig in! Oh my Gaaaaad!
Now, I am not a broccoli fan AT ALL – in fact, I really hate it, ask anyone who knows me! But, in this context, I have to say, it was pretty darn good! Not to mention the way the creamy goat cheese melded with the flavors and textures of the balsamic, sundried tomatoes, and chicken - delicioso!
As for the wine, I originally selected a 2007 Napa Station Sauvignon Blanc to pair with the pasta but, after tasting the two together, I would definitely recommend a red wine for this dish in the future; a Chianti or Barbera would be fabulous. The sauce was just a little too heavy for the white wine.
Though not an ideal pairing, the Sauvignon Blanc was a great wine and happened to be an inaugural release from this winery. Napa Station is a classic Napa Valley winery with a committment to protecting the planet for future generations. This family-owned winery produces small lots of Napa Valley wines from grapes grown exclusively in sustainably farmed vineyards. This particular wine, a blend of 90% Sauvignon Blanc and 10% Semillon, was fermented in 100% stainless steel which contributed to its bright, mouth watering citrus and pear flavors. The next time I'm enjoying some lighter fare, I would definitely reach for a bottle of this wine.
Out of curiosity, I met my Mom for lunch at Max's Grille in Boca Raton the following week to see if, in fact, my version of Max's Radiatore had turned out even remotely like the one they serve in the restaurant. Upon tasting it, I was very pleasantly surprised. The pasta they used looked almost exactly like the substitute rotini I used when I made it. They did have the advantage of having their fabulous roasted chicken to use in the recipe, other than that, the recipe in “Savor the Moment” was pretty spot on - mission accomplished!
I look forward to making this dish again in the near future and pairing it with a delicious bottle of red wine. I suggest on a nice, chilly Florida evening you do the same and see if it doesn’t inspire you to say - "Oh my Gaaaaad!" Cheers!