It seems like only yesterday that we were pulling out the grill and getting ready for summer. Now a few short months later we are already at Labor Day weekend. For us, Labor Day weekend usually means a time to reflect over the summer and the fun we have had, as well as make some fall household resolutions. We also prefer to stay at home in New York City, avoiding traffic stress, listening to NPR, and soaking up the unusual tranquility that prevails.
As my husband's birthday is August 31st we always enjoy having friends over, and cooking up some of our favorite dishes from the best of the summer's local produce and enjoying some refreshing summer wines before both cooler weather and darker days call for heartier fare.
So, we thought we'd share a favorite menu that will probably feature this weekend, along with some great everyday wines that are both delicious and not too pricey. This menu is as easy to prepare outdoors as well as indoors, using the simplest of equipment.
Celebrations of any kind often call for bubbles. While Champagne will always have its unique and special place, there are plenty of excellent less expensive sparkling wines that befit any special occasion. A particular favorite of ours is Roederer Estate Brut NV Sparkling wine from Anderson Valley, in California. Owned by the French Champagne House of Roederer it is fresh and lively and elegant with great depth of flavor. Serve with your favorite chips and dips, as well as those tasty Marcona almonds.
Next up is a starter that is so easy to prepare, and never fails to wow guests with flavor - Heirloom tomato salad. We choose a selection of different varieties and colors, drizzle with our best (drinking) extra virgin olive oil, sprinkle with good quality salt (our favorite is fleur de sel), a dash of freshly cracked black pepper and some freshly torn basil leaves.
We tend to leave out balsamic vinegar as we feel that the tomatoes have enough depth of flavor themselves. Then some fresh crusty bread to mop us the wonderful juices.
While summer is still with us we'll probably pair it with a good dry rosé wine such as the 2007 Muga Rosé from Rioja in Spain, or a fruity unoaked white such as a Pinot Grigio or Albariño.
Next course will feature grilled, butterflied leg of lamb studded with sliced garlic cloves, anchovies and rosemary. Once rested, this will be served alongside a yummy salad of thinly sliced avocado squash (a speciality from Union Square Greenmarket), simply dressed with lemon juice and freshly shaved Parmesan cheese, and herb roasted baby fingerling potatoes.
While the lamb can take a range of red wines, for summer entertaining we prefer to keep it on the lighter side with either a Pinot Noir or a good Beaujolais Cru. While good Pinot does not come cheap, one that we like and find great value is the 2006 Delta Vineyards Pinot Noir from Marlborough, New Zealand ($18). Alternatively, a Beaujolais cru such as the 2006 Juliénas, Domaine du Clos du Fief works equally well.
Being a 'cheese-aholic' an unnecessarily large cheese board will always follow. Our selection includes a mixture of blue veined, washed rind, hard and soft, of cow, goat and sheep milk provenance. While there is actually a perfect wine for every cheese, it would be an unnecessary extravagance to venture toward this.
Also, while many people tend to think of red wine as the best accompaniment for cheese, but in fact dry or off-dry whites work better with many goat and blue veined cheeses. Best is to keep it simple with one red and one white - in fact the wines from earlier courses.
Finally, dessert. Not being major dessert people, we usually leave this course to a more accomplished guest. If not we would serve a homemade vanilla ice-cream, caramelized seasonal peaches and nectarines washed down with a glass of that wickedly delicious dessert wine Pedro Ximinez (PX), that featured in both my recent ice-cream and Sherry posts. A sweet Muscat is a good alternative for guests that find the PX just too decadent.
So whether your plan is to head for the beach or nearest pool party, fire up the grill in the backyard, head to the hills for a picnic or, quietly stay at home, it is a week-end to enjoy all your favorite summer foods and all those fresher, lighter summer wines. So, that's a peak at what we'll be enjoying. I'd love to hear what wines work best for you and your Labor Day plans.
So until next week, when we start to embrace the new Fall season, enjoy!
(Images: Grilled lamb from Food Network Canada)