Bitter, Sweet and Hot & a 19-Year Old American Pinot Noir

Two of the principal ways to organize a meal are (a) thematically, i.e. Venetian cuisine, or (b) based solely on the ingredients and their inherent qualities.   Tonight I chose the latter method, and I find it incredibly freeing of my creative abilities.

Since I went shopping last night and this afternoon for just two more nights at home (one of which is dedicated to pizza), I chose a small number of interesting vegetables.   The most exciting-looking ingredients were a small head of Napa cabbage, a single Chinese or Japanese eggplant, and a crisp bunch of Broccoli Rabe.  So I concentrated how to meld those all into a meal, and I ended up with a large plate with three entries:

  • leftover cooked egg noodles with broccoli rabe (Southern Italian style)
  • roasted Napa cabbage
  • Chinese eggplant with Black Vinegar

all paired with a wine I was getting to discard (because I thought it was well beyond its prime), a 1993 Oregon Pinot Noir, Beaux Freres.  Naturally, I had a backup bottle ready to open, but it was not needed.

Recipes won’t be provided tonight because the preparations were simple.  Chinese eggplant (per Susanna Foo) was cut into 1/2-inch slices, marinated in vodka, soy sauce and olive oil, and fried with garlic and ginger.  Then, it was bathed lightly in Chinese Black Vinegar, and the natural sweetness prevailed.

Broccoli Rabe was trimmed, blanched in boiling, salted water, then sauteed with olive oil, garlic and Calabrian red pepper — thus providing the hot!  These were then tossed with the reheated noodles, a luscious combination worthy of many kitchens in southern Italy.

In the meantime, I roasted — of all things — a thinly-sliced, narrow head of Napa cabbage, which had first been combined with olive oil in which two garlic cloves had been lovingly simmered for 15 minutes.  A fair amount of salt and pepper was necessary to bring all this together, and the sweetness of the cabbage and eggplant, in counterpoint with the bitterness and heat from the rabe, was just right.  The biggest surprise was the wine; the Pinot was sweet and gentle black raspberries, and much fresher-tasting than I had any right to expect.  And now, for the dishes…

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