Let’s get some things straight right away about this month’s wine pairing subject for the Italian Food, Wine and Travel Group: Italians say “Sardegna” and non-Italians say “Sardinia,” but either way it is a Mediterranean island second in size only to Sicily, one hundred fifty miles off the western coast of Italy, and an autonomous region of Italy; its denizens include three times as many sheep as humans; its citizens consume almost double the per capita consumption of beer in Italy; many signature Sardinian dishes feature lamb and goat; and it is likely the word “sardine” derives from here. If you’ve read my blog for a while, you probably know I prefer wine to beer, absolutely hate anchovies and sardines, and I abhor lamb. So on the surface this month’s wine pairing challenge seemed very demanding. Not sure about the cuisine of Sardinia, and desperately hoping that I would not be forced to feature sardines or lamb, I did what any self-respecting cookbook bibliomaniac would do and ordered two Sardinian cookbooks from Amazon. In these tombs I hoped would be my salvation.
Sous Chef thought this month’s culinary tour of Sardinia would be his opportunity to force me to make and eat lamb, something he adores (both eating lamb and forcing me into doing something aberrant). But I sure fooled him! A Sardinian Cookbook by Giovanni Pilu and Roberta Muir was filled with gorgeous photos and recipes that were not limited to dishes showcasing sardines or lamb. I am somewhat embarrassed to say that our first Sardinian cuisine experience was Beef Rib Eye with Mushroom Sauce paired with Artichokes with Potatoes. The photo showed a beautifully grilled beef rib eye with a protruding frenched-bone sticking out like a handle. Sous Chef asked a local butcher to replicate this appearance and ended up with two custom cut “Cowboy Rib Eyes” that were about 4 inches thick and weighed about 2 pounds each. That’s a lot of beef for two adults and two Havanese dogs—heck, it would be enough to feed a roundup of hungry trail hands.
I guess what makes this dish “Sardinian” is because the beef is marinated in white wine, mushrooms, and herbs. I’ve never marinated beef in white wine before, but this combination adds a nice fresh complexity to the beef without overpowering its natural flavors. The mushrooms are reserved and cooked to a nice crispy state – sort of like pommes frites in a light sauce. But the star of the meal was the Artichokes with Potatoes that are cooked in wine, garlic, and chicken stock. Easy to cook and just packed with flavor, this side dish was just as delicious the next day. Overall this is one terrific dish that will grace our table again and again—or at least once the second Cowboy Rib Eye has been defrosted, cooked, and consumed.
The closest Italian wine regions to Sardinia are Tuscany and Lazio, but their wine grape portfolios share little in common. In Sardinia, Cannonau (Grenache) and Carignano (Carignan) are the prevailing red grape varieties and Vermentino is the most popular white. When pairing beef, a red wine is usually the best, if not only, choice and that seemed the case here given the richness of the beef, mushrooms, artichokes, and potatoes. Unfortunately, we had few Sardinian wine options. Only Total Wine among our local wine stores carried Sardinian wines and they were pedestrian compared to the noteworthy meal. We tried Dolia Monica di Sardegna ($11.99) and Dolia Cannonau di Sardegna ($12.99). These reds were acceptable, but a little lackluster. There was nothing wrong with them, but nothing memorable either. Since the beef had been marinated in white wine, we tried Dolia Vermentino di Sardegna 2013 ($12.99). The Vermentino provided the best wine pairing by far. It was crisp, light-bodied, with hints of floral and citrus that cut through the richness of the dish as a whole and yet was not over powered by the beef. What a pleasant surprise.
The Vermentino proved its versatility when I paired it with a Shrimp Salad and seafood pasta with clams and mussels from The Sardinian Cookbook by Viktorija Todorovska. I served these dishes at a dinner party and the wine, as well as the salad and pasta, received rave reviews from our guests. None of the guests had ever tried Sardinian wines—or Sardinian recipes for that matter—and one of the joys of the Italian Food, Wine and Travel Group is introducing new wine regions and cuisine to us and our friends.
When possible, I try to purchase both affordable and special wines for a regional wine pairing in order to explore the region’s scope. When at Wally’s Beverly Hills, I found a 2006 Terre Brune Carignano Del Sulcis Superiore Santadi ($69.95). I paired this with a Sardinian Style Roast Pork recipe I found in Mario Batali’s Vino Italiano that he recommended pairing with a Carignano wine. The wine and pork combination was a knockout. Not much to say about roast pork: it was brined overnight and was super moist. The wine needs decanting, as it threw off a lot of sediment. My first whiff reminded me of paint thinner with hints of licorice and herbs. Overall it was spicy, full of berry fruits, and herbal. The color was still bold with very subtle tints of orange. The tannins were full but balanced. This is a food wine, not an aperitivo, and it paired beautifully with Mario’s recipe—just as he suggested.
Wait……there’s more! My fellow bloggers have lots more to share with you so check out their blogs below. If you’re reading this in time also you can join us live on Twitter at 11am EST at #ItalianFWT and tell us all about your experiences with the island of Sardegna or come and learn something new about this region.
Vino Travels – The Native Grapes of Sardinia with Argiolas Cannonau
Italophia – How I was “Swept Away” in Sardinia
Enofylz – Sardinia Style Seafood Paella and Cantina di Gallura Canayli Vermentino #ItalianFWT
Vino in Love – Exploring Sardinian Wine
Rockin Red Blog – Mountainous Food & Wine of Sardegna
Confessions of a Culinary Diva – The Food & Wine of Sardegna
Cooking Chat – Summer Spaghetti with Garlicky Shrimp and a Vermentino
Food Wine Click – What Wines Goes with Octopus? A Sardinian Investigation
Culinary Adventures with Camilla – Grano Saraceno Risotto con Funghi e Miele
Thanks for joining us today! Next month September 5th we feature the region of Abruzzo. Let me know if you’d like to join our group. Ciao ciao for now!
- 1 lemon halved
- 2 packages artichoke hearts (frozen or vacuum packed)
- 3 spunta potatoes or 6 small Yukon Gold potatoes
- ¼ cup extra virgin olive oil plus extra for drizzling
- 1 clove garlic, peeled and bruised
- handful flat-leafed Italian Parsley leaves
- ⅓ cup Vermentino or other dry white wine
- 1 ltire chicken stock
- salt flakes and freshly ground black pepper to taste
- Add lemon juice and squeezed lemon halves to a large bowl of cold water. Peel the potatoes and cut into pieces the same size as the artichokes. Place in bowl of cold water until ready to cook.
- Heat a saucepan over medium heat, add oil, and when hot, add garlic and parsley, then cook for a few minutes until garlic is lightly colored. Add artichoke and potato and cook for 3 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add wine, increase heat and cook for a minute or two until it starts to boil. Add stock, salt and pepper and bring back to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer for 30 minutes, occasionally stirring gently so as not to break up the potatoes.
- Drizzle with olive oil, spring with salt, and pepper and serve.
- 4 beef rib eye steaks
- 2 cups Vermentino or other dry white wine
- 300 grams mixed mushrooms trimmed and sliced
- 8 juniper berries
- large handful flat-leaf parsley leaves
- salt flakes and freshly ground black pepper to taste
- 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- pinch freshly ground nutmeg
- 25 g butter
- Place steaks in a glass or ceramic dish. Combine wine, mushrooms, juniper and parsley and pour over meat. Cover and leave in fridge to marinate for 3 hours, turning meat after 1½ hours.
- Remove from fridge and set aside for 1-2 hours to come to room temperature. Remove steaks from marinade and pat dry. Drain the mushrooms and parsley, reserving them and the marinade.
- Heat a barbeque or grill pan until it is very hot. Sprinkle the meat well with salt on both side, patting it in. Cook for 4 minutes each side, then remove to a rack set over a baking tray, cover loosely with foil, and set aside to rest for 15 minutes.
- Pour any meat juices that collect on the baking tray into the marinade. Heat a frying pan over high heat, add oil and, when hot, add mushrooms and parsley and cook for 5-10 minutes, until mushrooms are well browned and slightly crisp. Add salt and half the reserved marinade and boil until slightly thickened and reduced by about half. Stir in pepper, nutmeg and butter and set aside.
- Return steaks to the hot barbeque for 1 minute each side, then serve with mushroom sauce on the side.