When I was a little girl, I’d make my parents dinner for their anniversary.
I don’t mean boil water for spaghetti and call it good. I made dinner. There were multiple courses, an extravagant dessert and every kitchen utensil we had was put to use. If I didn’t have the tool I needed, I improvised. The year I cooked ravioli, I made every single piece by hand, both the pasta dough and filling, then cutting, stuffing and sealing each individual piece. It took hours. The next time they asked me to make it, their request came with a ravioli rolling pin. It still was a time-consuming process — because this time I was making it for the entire family, not just my parents — but the rolling pin helped.
I was 12 when this tradition started. I’d spend the weeks before their anniversary combing through cookbooks, planning the perfect menu. I’d make my grocery list, then accompany one of my parents to the store to purchase what I needed.
In hindsight, maybe this wasn’t the best anniversary present. Yes, they got a good meal and I always cleaned up after myself, but they did pay for the groceries. I never let them know what they were having until dinner was served, but I’m sure they had some clue, given the ingredients.
And then there was the wine.
I was underage. I couldn’t purchase wine. And yet every recipe I made called for wine, both for cooking and to serve with the meal. Sometimes I needed something stronger, like vodka or whiskey. I’m pretty sure some of those bottles still are at my parents’ house. Both enjoy the occasional glass of wine, but hard liquor wasn’t their thing. It isn’t mine, either. Basically, any liquor you’ll find at my house is there for cooking, not drinking.
Unfortunately, once a wine bottle is opened, wine immediately starts to oxidize. This means it fades in color and is less potent. Wine is like a new car. It loses its value the second you use it.
The shelf life of wine depends largely on the type you’re using. Red wines hold up better than whites, and aged varieties outlast younger ones. Someone once told me young wines should hold up for three or four days, and older wines about a week. The exceptions to the rule are dessert wines and port, which can last up to a year after opening.
It’s important to cook with wine you’d drink. Buying a cheaper variety may make sense financially, but the overall dish will suffer. Shell out the extra cash. It’ll be worth it. Besides, today is National Drink Wine Day. Why not take the celebration a step further and cook with it, too?
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Still concerned about your leftover wine? Freeze it. Pour it into ice cube trays for short-term storage. I don’t recommend drinking it after thawing, but it’ll add a burst of flavor to sauces, glazes or stews.
ANGEL HAIR PASTA WITH LEMON, GARLIC AND TOMATOES
Makes 4 servings.
1 pound angel hair pasta
1⁄2 cup fresh basil, chopped
1⁄2 cup Parmesan cheese, freshly grated
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
4 to 8 garlic cloves, finely minced
1⁄4 cup dry white wine
1⁄2 cup fresh lemon juice
2 1⁄2 cups vine-ripe tomatoes, seeded and diced medium
1 teaspoon coarse salt
Fresh ground black pepper (to taste)
Cook the pasta in several quarts of salted water (keep an eye on it — angel hair cooks a lot faster than other pasta and you don’t want it mushy). Place it in a large serving bowl, add the basil and Parmesan cheese and toss to mix.
While the pasta is cooking, heat the olive oil in a large skillet and saute the garlic for a minute or so until it just begins to change color. Add the wine and cook until it has been reduced by about half (2 to 4 minutes). Stir in the lemon juice and tomatoes and remove the sauce from heat until the pasta is ready.
Pour lemon-tomato sauce over pasta mixture, add salt and pepper to taste and toss to mix. Serve with extra Parmesan on the side, if desired.
Makes 16 crepes.
2 tablespoons butter
1 clove garlic, crushed
3 pounds chicken thighs and/or breasts
1 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon white pepper
1/2 cup chicken broth
1/2 cup dry white wine
1 tablespoon minced parsley
1/2 teaspoon crushed tarragon leaves
1 cup heavy cream
3 egg yolks
16 warm crepes
In large skillet, melt butter with garlic. Add chicken, salt, pepper, broth, wine, parsley and tarragon. Cover and cook until chicken is very tender.
Remove chicken from broth; cool slightly. Remove bones and cut meat into small pieces. Set aside and keep warm.
Meanwhile, stir cream into broth. Beat egg yolks. Add several tablespoons of hot broth to eggs; then stir this mixture into remaining broth. Cook over low heat, beating constantly with a whisk until slightly thickened.
Fill each warm cooked crepe with about 1/4 cup of cooked chicken. Spoon about one tablespoon sauce onto each crepe; fold over. Pour remaining sauce over filled crepes.
Source: “Crepe Cookery” by Mable Hoffman (H.P. Books; 1976)