Thursday, March 26, 2009

What to do when Muscadet Calls and Cauliflower Awaits

To this day, I have a fairly vivid childhood memory of gagging (exaggeratedly, no doubt) the first time my mother convinced me to try raw cauliflower. I’ve since grown to tolerate it in both cooked and raw forms but it rarely if ever calls my name. My wife loves it, though, and she makes a pretty mean curried cauliflower soup on a reasonably regular basis. Every once in a while a head will call her name from its bin in the produce aisle. She’ll pick it up and bring it home only to find that her soup muse has fled. So it was, on a recent weekend, that I opened the fridge in search of something to cook for dinner to find just such a neglected bunch of cauliflower awaiting my attention.

A quick Googling of “cauliflower and pasta” later and I was at work, boiling water, breaking down said head of cauliflower and thinking of what to open to accompany the meal. Here’s the recipe, as adapted from Chez Panisse Vegetables via SmittenKitchen (thanks to SK, too, for the cauliphoto).

Gemelli with Cauliflower, Walnuts and Feta

2 heads cauliflower (I used one large head, which seemed like plenty)
1 medium onion
4 small cloves garlic
1 pound pasta (SK used whole wheat penne, I went with regular gemelli)
Extra-virgin olive oil
Salt and pepper
1 pinch red pepper flakes
White wine vinegar (skipped it)
1/2 lemon
1/2 cup toasted walnuts
4 ounces ricotta salata or feta cheese (fresh goat cheese would also do quite nicely)

Serves two hungry cyclists, four out of shape wine bloggers or six “normal people.”

Boil water for pasta. Lightly toast the walnut pieces. Break the cauliflower down into smallish florets then sauté in olive oil until slightly tender. Add very thinly sliced onion and red pepper flakes and continue to sauté while cooking the pasta. When done, the cauliflower should taste “cooked” but still have some crunch. Add minced garlic, remove from heat and squeeze on a little lemon juice (I skipped the vinegar, figuring the lemon and cheese would provide enough acid; plus, I’m really not a big vinegar fan). Toss together pasta, walnuts and cauliflower, drizzle with olive oil, test for seasoning and then top with crumbled cheese. I went with feta – it was what I had on hand – but fresh goat cheese would have been a great choice with the wine I selected.

* * *

What was that wine? If I’d chosen the recipe first, then the wine (as I kind of suggested above), I might have gone with a Soave like one of those I wrote up a few weeks back, or with something tasty from Campania, perhaps a good Falanghina or Fiano di Avellino, maybe even something Assyrtiko-based from Greece. But no, my head may have told me those things but my heart was already hankering for Muscadet. And when Muscadet calls, McDuff likes to answer.

Muscadet Sèvre et Maine Sur Lie “Sélection Vieilles Vignes 1er Cru du Château,” Château de la Ragotière (Les Frères Couillaud) 2007
$14. 12% alcohol. Cork. Importer: Vineyard Brands, Birmingham, AL.
This turned out to be quite an easy drinking Muscadet, bursting with lime juice driven flavors. Its soft, medium-acidity, forward fruit and delicate whisper of minerality make it a forgiving choice at the table, less strict than a steelier Muscadet. Indeed, I quite enjoyed it, popped and poured, with our pasta and cauliflower dish. Those same open-knit structural components, though, suggest that this is a Muscadet that needs to be drunk young, a notion supported by the wine’s relative collapse on day two, when its fruit faded, leaving behind a skeleton without enough balance to stand up to food or stand on its own.

So drink up and enjoy while the getting is good. You’ll just need to open a fresh bottle (or try that Soave or Falanghina) with your leftovers.

More food for thought:
What’s with Muscadet producers and their multiple designations? Granted, this isn’t quite as over-the-top/confusing as some of Luneau-Papin’s cuvée names. But wouldn’t “Vieilles Vignes” have sufficed? I suppose I could just choose to call it "VV" but I’m a bit of a stickler for referring to wines by their full names. (I won’t even go into the bottle numbering….)


Tracie P. said...

i used to eat pasta con cavolo in naples, so delicious...don't forget about the greco di tufo, mc d!

David McDuff said...

I didn't forget Greco, Tracie....

PS: loved your pasta post.

Anonymous said...

I'm with you, the expansive wine labeling of Muscadet is just confusing. I guess in a region with a reputation for mostly cheap plonk, the best wines (which are quite lovely) have to work harder to differentiate themselves. But "1er cru" seems to go too far, since this has a legal designation in most places (does it in Muscadet? not that I recall...), and they seem to be skirting the issue by calling it a "1er cru du château." A bit fromageux, if you ask me...

David McDuff said...

Hey Doug,
I'm not aware of any sanctioned cru system in Muscadet. The "1er cru" use here certainly could be perceived as cheesy, as could the individual bottle numbering. Giving the freres Couillaud the benefit of the doubt, though, I'm guessing it's just their way of indicating this is their top wine, their pride. Still, I think "Vieilles Vignes" could and should have sufficed.

Tracie P. said...

thx mc d! of course you didn't forget, it's just my fave above the other two and i think it's minerality would be perfect with the earthiness of the cavolo.

i bet the muscadet was as winner, though!

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