I love Davis. I love Rebecca. I love chocolate. I love my kids. I love my grandkids. I love wine. I love my friends. I love my neighborhood. (Unlike most folks polled about electronic use, I do not love my cell phone.)
We use the word “love” to express such disparate feelings that it must be difficult for English learners to navigate the territory. On the day we celebrate love, though, we tend to mean it in the narrow sense of romantic love. Too bad really, because the days are still short, the wind rather fierce, the nighttime temps pretty low — any celebration should, to my mind, be embraced with enthusiasm by us all, not just by couples still starry-eyed.
So I vote that we expand Valentine’s Day to include all our “loves.” I vote that we make it a day to celebrate the city we love — by buying our valentine gifts, cards, flowers, wine at locally owned businesses, eating in locally owned restaurants, grocery-shopping at locally owned markets.
I vote that we make it a day — or evening — to spend with someone we love, whether that be a significant other, a friend, a kid. I vote that we use it as an occasion to meet a new neighbor or invite a new acquaintance over for a glass of wine.
I even vote that we keep the “red” motif. Red, as the Chinese know well, is the color of energy, excitement, warmth and, well, life itself. What better color to mark a winter celebration?
If someone asked me to say the first word that pops into my head in response to “celebration,” I’d say “meal.” Nothing, to me, celebrates like food and drink. I guess a lot of folks agree, because restaurant reservations are in great demand during valentine week. (If you want to eat at one of those locally owned restaurants, call now.)
Also in demand: red foods. Red beets, red chard, red meat, red sauce, and, most important of all, red wine. (You knew I’d get to that eventually.)
Since my flexible schedule allows me to spend a good portion of a Tuesday in the kitchen, I’m going to cook to celebrate this Valentine’s Day. I haven’t decided on a menu, but it probably will include my Grandma Leonardi’s red sauce as modified by my own mother and tweaked by me and my cooking kids. I include it as a Valentine’s Day gift to all my readers.
Sauté a chopped onion and a couple of big cloves of chopped garlic in some good extra-virgin olive oil. While they’re softening up, add a few red pepper flakes, and a tablespoon each of dried basil and oregano. Half of cup of red wine goes in next, though you can use broth, water from soaked dried mushrooms or sun-dried tomatoes (I put in the soaked mushrooms and tomatoes, too, if I do this) or just plain water.
Bring to a good boil and add a 28-ounce can of organic plum tomatoes (chop them if they’re whole) and a 7-ounce can of organic tomato paste. Bring back to a boil, then turn down the heat to its lowest setting and let the mixture simmer as long as you can. All day if possible.
Before you’re ready to serve it (over polenta or some sort of pasta — red pepper ravioli? — topped with fresh-grated Parmesan), add a teaspoon and a half of sea salt (perhaps a pink variety in honor of the day) and many grinds of black or pink pepper. That’s it. Best meal in the world.
If you like a little red meat with your red sauce, get a fresh-made Italian hot (you can see the red pepper) pork sausage at the Davis Food Co-op and brown it with the onions and garlic. My grandmother put good-quality pork and veal in her meat grinder and made meatballs for special occasions, but I’m not enough of a meat lover to bother.
Now, for the wine.
Were I to have friends over for an afternoon glass, I’d have a really hard choice to make between two new local releases — Pink Fiddle Rosé of Pinot Noir from Fiddlehead ($22 at the tasting room on Peña Drive) and Capay Valley Sparkling Viognier (no, it isn’t red, but bubbles count — $13 at the Co-op). Previous vintages of both have been among my favorites, so I’m really looking forward to tasting them.
But I don’t have to choose, because Valentine’s Day is on a Tuesday, so I’ll be doing my usual Tuesday afternoon activity — which I love — pouring wine at Monticello Seasonal Cuisine, 630 G St. Special Valentine’s Day wines will be featured from 4:30 to 6:30 p.m. Join me.
With that red sauce I will, of course, want something hardier. One good choice would be a recent and very local winner at the San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition — the Putah Creek ’09 Zinfandel, the first Putah Creek Estate Zin (Co-op/Nugget $18). (Putah Creek Winery also won Chronicle medals for its ’08 Cab, its ’10 Viognier and its ’10 Chardonnay — congratulations!)
Or maybe I’ll have a wine I tasted recently, really liked and am eager to try with a meal — the R. Merlo Syrah. More about Merlo Family Wines in the next column.
My third possibility is a wine I have tried with a meal — and it was excellent and fun. The ’09 Petite Sirah-Petit Verdot (otherwise known as Petite Petit) from Langetwins Family Winery in Lodi. Inky, hardy, berry-dominant, it also tastes of earth and currant (and something mysterious baking in the oven) with good tannins and acidity.
The fifth generation farm family’s super-green winery and vineyards follow all the “Lodi Rules” for sustainable growing. And the wine isn’t just the generic California red, which I keep tasting, no matter what the grape or what the price. Maybe this one stands out because there’s no oak at all in it — completely stainless steel fermented. If you’d like to stump a wine lover, try serving him or her a glass.
Right now, the Co-op has this on sale for $13. Be sure to get the ’09. The ’10 is now available, but I haven’t tried it — and it’s higher in alcohol.
Looking for a Valentine’s Day gift? John at Valley Wine Company recommends Lavender Ridge Grenache Rosé (Sierra Foothills — $17). I haven’t tasted it, but VWC’s recommendations are always great. I’d buy this wine just because of its beautiful rose color and the elegant “label” — lavender lettering and a lovely spring of the herb painted right on the bottle.
Happy Valentine’s Day — may your loves be many!
— Reach Susan Leonardi at [email protected] Comment on this column at www.davisenterprise.com