Back to the Future inspired me to become a rock star.
I never made it to Chuck Berry status, but I did get my hands on a sweet black and white electric Stratocaster at age ten. I would ferociously strum away in my parents’ downstairs basement certain that nothing would get in the way of my starry-eyed dreams. Nothing at…
“Fan! Dinner’s ready!” my dad would shout from the kitchen—often interrupting a bodacious Sublime solo.
Within seconds I would fling the Fender off my neck and race upstairs to be the first taste-tester of the creamy, dill-infused mashed potatoes. To this day, I still adore getting lost in my guitar, but when I look back—I’m not entirely sure at what point my attention drifted from Pearl Jam to pearl onions. What I do know is that as my hunger for cooking and crafting recipes ripened, so did my urge for bubbly libations.
Further down the road, inspired by my expanding palate, I launched Fanfare, a cooking and writing business. I began developing recipes for growing brands in the food and beverage industry and teamed up with Club W, a millennial-based wine club that delivers bottles straight to your doorstep.
In addition to three tasty wines, each monthly box includes a card that breaks down the bottle’s specs. On the back of that card: a recipe pairing and photo. For each assignment, I was emailed a list of wines and precise pairing suggestions. And I mean precise. It wasn’t just that the 2012 Tempo Vero Primitivo went well with Italian dishes—it was to be matched with regional Burrata, Paella, goat bacon, and wheat flour bread. I quickly learned that the age-old decree “red meat with red wine” was about as old school as my Skip-It.
The benefit of working with Club W, other than being paid in wine, was that they provided me every flavor component I needed to create a successful pairing. But what about when wine doesn’t get delivered to your door and you’re not given a cheat sheet of what to serve alongside?
I decided to take this experiment into my own hands. I chose a reasonably priced, easy-to-find label—Entwine. If the name sounds familiar, you’ve likely seen them featured on Food Network or in the pages of Food Network Magazine. To create Entwine, Wente Vineyards and the network put their palates together to create grapes that are specifically intended to be enjoyed with a meal. To keep it simple, I chose my favorite varietal, Cabernet Sauvignon. My mission: to first taste the wine, dismantle its characteristics, and then create a dish to balance its flavors. Drink and eat? Challenge accepted.
Entwine’s mission is about “entwining” food and wine, so they cleverly offer consumers meal ideas on the back of the bottle. I wanted this to be a blind taste test, so I closed my eyes and poured. After letting my Cab open up, I took my first sip. I was presented with the familiar flavors of an old friend. This Cab wasn’t a surprise and it didn’t deliver unexpected or severe notes to my palate. I typically teeter towards wines with a punch, but this Cab offered all of the elements I appreciate in this grape—cherry, vanilla, pepper—without overwhelming my taste buds, or being overly tannic or lush. This combination makes for an ideal, friendly environment for food. It was light, but still had a tang to it that let me know it was slightly sassy and needed bites of a good dish to elevate it to its best self.
Although I knew this Cab would pair brilliantly with obvious choices—a juicy grilled ribeye or a hearty beef burger—I didn’t want to overpower its gentle acidity, I wanted to match and ultimately enhance it. I knew something with a tomatoe-y flavor would be perfect and decided on pizza. Instead of a pie loaded with cheese, I felt that this wine needed aromatic and herbaceous flavors, something to balance (not drown out) the grape’s personality.
I journeyed to the mothership, Whole Foods, to figure out the rest of my ingredients. I started with an exotic assortment of mushrooms whose meaty presence would take the place of actual meat. I then turned to my cheesy Italian staples—creamy fontina and sharp Parmigiano-Reggiano. But for the funky star, this wine called for something special, falling perfectly between tangy and buttery. Humboldt Fog ended up being a no-brainer. This goat’s milk cheese has a crumbly center with herbal undertones and a citrusy bite—the deeper you head into the rind, the more intense the flavor becomes. I needed one last bit of magic to round out the fruity flavors, and for me, the answer is always figs.
Back in my home kitchen, I re-popped Entwine’s cork, and showered a pale yellow dusting of cornmeal over a cutting board. After pre-baking the crust, enhancing the mushrooms with oniony shallots and browning them to perfection—I slid crimson fig rounds in between snowy mounds of Humboldt Fog. A few handfuls of grassy green herbs later, and into the oven my recipe went.
Out came a blazing pizza beckoning for a luscious, floral trickle of (as my friend Rachael Ray says) EVOO. I drizzled, dug in, and began to dissect. Humboldt Fog gets its signature stripe from a thin line of vegetable ash. The bites with only the cheese’s chalky center were mild and smoothed out the wine. But those morsels with hints of ash transformed the wine into an elegant, earthy mouthful. The slightly robust flavors of the cheese were somehow softened, not exploited, by the full-bodied flavors in the wine. The thin smear of marinara and tender, chewy mushrooms brought out the Cab’s playfulness that’s otherwise somewhat masked.
I polished off the last slice and congratulated myself on a prosperous pairing. Instead of basing my dish off of Cab’s cliché partners, I sipped in silence and allowed the wine to sing to me. Entwine’s Cabernet was subtle, but had hints of richness—and it needed an instrument like exotic homemade pizza that could gracefully carry out its tune. In the end, all of the notes played in perfect harmony.
What do you know—maybe I am a rock star.
Wild Mushroom, Fig & Humboldt Fog Pizza
Pairing for Entwine Cabernet Sauvignon
Makes 2 10-inch pizzas
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 small shallot, minced
2 cups stemmed and chopped assorted wild mushrooms (such as shiitake, oyster, porcini, or chanterelle)
Kosher salt and coarse black pepper
1 pound fresh pizza dough, homemade or store-bought
1 cup marinara, homemade or store-bought
1 cup grated Fontina cheese
1/4 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
6 ounces Humboldt Fog, crumbled
6 fresh figs, sliced into thin rounds (or substitute 8 dried figs)
1 tablespoon chopped fresh thyme
1/4 cup packed fresh basil, cut into ribbons
Extra-virgin olive oil, for drizzling
Place a large sheet pan on the lowest rack of the oven and preheat to 500°F.
In a large skillet, heat the butter and olive oil over medium heat. Add the shallots and mushrooms and sauté until the mushrooms are lightly browned, 2 to 4 minutes. Season with salt and pepper and remove from the heat.
Sprinkle a handful of cornmeal onto a cutting board. Cut the pizza dough in half and then stretch out each piece on the cutting board into a thin disk. Using your hands or a rolling pin, flatten the dough until it’s no more than 1/4-inch thick. Lightly prick the dough all over and then transfer to a piece of parchment paper. Slide the parchment paper and dough onto the sheet pan in the oven. Bake until lightly golden, 5 to 10 minutes.
Remove the par-cooked dough from the oven and slide out the parchment paper. Onto each pizza, evenly spread the marinara and top with the Fontina, Parmigiano-Reggiano, Humboldt Fog, mushroom-shallot mixture, figs, thyme, and fresh basil. Season each pizza with a pinch of salt and pepper. Return the pizzas to the sheet pan in the oven and bake until golden brown and bubbly, about 6 to 8 more minutes. Drizzle each pizza with the extra-virgin olive oil. Slice and serve with a simple mixed greens salad dressed with fresh lemon juice, extra-virgin olive oil, salt, and pepper.