The Savory Spaghetti Squash

spaghetti squashOne of my favorite things to do is to meander through the produce department to see what’s freshest that day. I go in without a plan and peruse. Based on what strikes my fancy, I proceed to wander the rest of the store, concocting a dish as I go along.

The abundance of summer is over for the year, but there is still so much to be had! I have quite a fondness for winter squash, so I’m never disappointed when autumn begins to show its bright colors and causes us to layer outerwear. Spaghetti squash is a fun one, as it can be used as a substitute for pasta or just tossed with some olive oil and Parmesan for a side dish. I opted for the former this go around the store, and was quite pleased with the result. I added a vegetable marinara sauce, a sprinkle of Parmesan cheese, chard, and some Italian sausage. It made for a hearty supper.

To pair, I chose a Teroldego. Its light tannins went nicely with the sausage, and the licorice on the mid-palate was delightful with the fennel that had been ground into the sausage. Side note — get to know your butcher. Our local ones at the co-op create the best sausage. A butcher can introduce you to new cuts of meat, and you’ll always find the freshest options. The Teroldego was also rich enough to hold up to the marinara sauce and really brought dinner to the next level.

Spaghetti Squash Pasta

Serves 6

1 medium spaghetti squash*
26-32 oz. jar of high quality marinara sauce (or homemade, of course)
1/2-1 pound of Italian sausage, depending on how meaty you want it
1 bunch of red chard, stems removed and chopped
extra virgin olive oil
salt and pepper
Parmesan cheese for garnish

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Cut your squash in half. Drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Put it cut side down on a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper. Cover the squash with either more parchment paper or tin foil and cook for around two hours or until the inside of the squash in tender.

When squash is cool enough to handle, use a fork to scrape the “noodles” out of the squash.

Drizzle olive oil in a saute pan and cook sausage over medium heat until browned. Add chard and cook until the leaves turn dark green and become tender.

Warm marinara sauce and then either toss everything together or layer squash, sauce, sausage, and chard on a plate. Sprinkle with Parmesan cheese and serve.

*If you plan a little, you can always cook your squash in the slow cooker while you’re at work. Instead of cutting it in half, just pierce it with a fork a few times and cook it on low for about eight hours. In my case, with my commute, it would probably be closer to ten hours. Thankfully, the slow cooker is forgiving.

A Winning Blend

vines and winesThere are some challenges, win or lose, that are worth the experience. Blending wine is one of those challenges – it’s fulfilling just to create. Of course, creating a fantastic wine that ends up being the winner in a blending challenge doesn’t hurt the experience either.

Last Sunday, we attended Montoliva’s “Blending In” event. This was our fourth consecutive year, and just like every other time, it was a fun ride.

Each year, a group of wine club members – all of whom have RSVP’d a spot right away (this event is popular) – get to try their hand, and their palates, at creating a winning blend. The blend requirements are a bit different every time, based on availability of juice, etc. The winner becomes the newest Sierra Bella, a wine that newcomers and long-timers alike love to have grace their table.

This year’s blend needed to be a combination of 2011 Teroldego, Nebbiolo, Estate Sangiovese, and Barbera. 2011 was a tough year for California wines. It was a cold summer – not exactly perfect conditions for maturing grapes, but the wonder of blending is in crafting an awesome wine out of grapes that may or may not be able to stand alone. We had an hour to create a beauty. Timers set, we began.

Charles and I started off trying the wines by themselves and then combining the Sangio and Teroldego to see how well they played together. Those two were totally BFFs. They complimented each other’s strengths and bolstered up each other’s weaknesses. Yet when we began to incorporate the other wines, it became apparent that some juice needed to be boosted and others scaled back so that our best friends would also interact with the group. We didn’t find the perfect comradeship until our seventh attempt. That seventh blend had a cocoa powder nose with dark cherry and vanilla bean on the palate. It had nice structure, and we enjoyed it so much, we continued to sip it – even after the winner had been declared.

notesAs if that’s not fun enough, then the sampling starts. The group, and participating judges, get to try everyone’s handiwork. It was such a great group! Each combination was different. Every combination was tasty. We had created our blend to be something with good fruit and nice structure, something that could be enjoyed right away or saved for a bit. This wine is a big hit at Costco, even though it’s a little different each year, so it has to be something that can be poured at the dinner table right away as well as being something that can hang out on a pallet for a while.

We had some stiff competition. Last year’s winner sat right next to us and created a very enjoyable wine – our number one choice, since we can’t vote for ourselves. 😉 But after everything was tasted and tallied, we won the day! And after the winner of Saturday’s “Blending In” was tasted alongside ours (it’s become such an in-demand event, it now requires the full weekend), we won the contest! We won two years ago, but this one was even more marvelous because of the quality of blends from all of the other creators. It made us feel pretty darn special and also gave us some vindication that we actually know a thing or two about wine.

This is truly one of the highlights of our year, and Charles and I are so glad that we’ve gotten to participate so many times. Winning is just the cherry finish.

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