Forget about fawning over the turning leaves: fall dishes up colorful, deeply flavored vegetables to drool over at the dinner table. Honing in on the season’s plant-based bounty, Wine Enthusiast asked Amanda Cohen, chef/owner of New York City’s critically acclaimed, vegetable-focused eatery Dirt Candy to spruce up our harvest spread with sips to match, yielding unique veggie pairings even carnivores can love.
Veggie Pick No. 1: Carrots
“One of the most versatile vegetables in the world is the humble carrot,” says Cohen. “It’s a savory root vegetable, so you can roast it, but it also has some sweetness that lets you use it in desserts. Carrots are so associated with their crunchiness that I like to freak people’s taste buds out and give them a big taste of carrot without their texture, like in a risotto dish.”
Preparation: Carrot Risotto
“This dish is bright orange, in the spirit of fall, and it gives you delicious, hearty risotto with a head-spinning flavor of carrots,” says Cohen. “Go anywhere that makes fresh juice and buy a bunch of carrot juice, then mix it with stock.”
Home chefs can infuse risotto recipes with fall flavor by mixing three parts stock to one part fresh carrot juice.
Pairing: Pinot Noir
“Carrot risotto is a hearty dish, perfect for a cold autumn night, so pair it with a big glass of Pinot Noir,” says Cohen. “I’m on a natural wine kick right now, and something like the Irancy Vini Viti Vinci 2011 Pinot Noir from Burgundy delivers the big, rounded Pinot flavor I love, but it has less fruit and more of a funky earthiness to it, downplaying the sweetness of the carrots, bringing out its root-like flavor.”
Veggie Pick No. 2: Chard
“Chard is a vegetable people get shy about because it’s so tough, but when it’s cooked just right, it develops so much more flavor than spinach that you’ll wonder what Popeye ever saw in it,” says Cohen. “Also, because it’s tough, it can stand up to being grilled, which really brings out its earthy flavor with hints of iron.”
Preparation: Grilled and Creamed Chard
Cohen advises using a grill to bring out chard’s meatiness. “First, remove the stems and roughly tear up the leaves, then toss them in olive oil, add some salt to taste and drop the chard on a very, very hot grill,” says Cohen. “Use tongs to move the chard around, and once it collapses and forms grill marks, take it off and either serve it right away, which is delicious on its own, or take it a step further and cream the chard and top with Parmesan.”
If you plan to add cream, Cohen says to let the chard cool first. Gently heat the cream in a pan until it reduces by three-quarters, then add the chard and a spoonful of cold butter before serving.
Pairing: Touriga Nacional
“Because grilled chard has so much meatiness, and because grilled and creamed chard is like the best creamed spinach you’ve ever had in a steakhouse, you’ll want to pair this dish with a big, steak-friendly red wine like Churchill’s Estates’ 2012 Touriga Nacional,” says Cohen. “This has become my favorite red wine that we serve at Dirt Candy. Made with the grapes used to create Port, it tastes rich and smooth like smoked chocolate rocks.”
Veggie Pick No. 3: Beets
“Fall is all about root vegetables, and while I’m always trying new techniques for cooking them, I still haven’t found a better way to cook beets than roasting,” says Cohen. “But you don’t have to roast them the same way every time. Salt-roasting really pulls out their flavor, and it’s a lot easier than you might think.”
Preparation: Salt-roasted Beets
“Take three pounds of scrubbed and de-stemmed red, yellow or candy cane beets, and pack them in Kosher salt in a casserole dish, using as much salt as you need to fill the pan,” says Cohen. Roast at 425˚F until they’re tender, about an hour.
Once cooked, rinse the beets well, allow them to cool and then peel. The salt-roasted beets work well on their own or in a variety of preparations. “These go great with a curry or cream sauce,” says Cohen.
“Because salt-roasted beets have such an overpowering flavor, you want a clean, crisp white wine to cut through their big, salty taste and give your mouth a break,” says Cohen.
“I’m not a fan of Rieslings or Gewürztraminers. Some restaurants push them hard to accompany vegetables, but I find their sweetness cloying with dishes like this. I fell in love with Stadlmann’s 2013 Anninger Rotgipfler. It’s got enough of its own perfume to stand up against the beets’ saltiness, but it’s also got a silky, smooth, clean mouthfeel that replenishes your palate as you drink.”
Veggie Pick No. 4: Celeriac
Also known as knob celery or celery root, this variety of celery might be the ugly duckling of the vegetable world, but it delivers robust flavors.
“Mashed potatoes are a boring mainstay of fall dinner parties, but you can switch things up by adding mashed celeriac to the mix,” says Cohen. “It has a strong, celery, root-forward flavor that instantly gives mashed potatoes some extra oomph.”
Preparation: Mashed Celeriac
Simply peel and chop two large celeriac roots and boil them like potatoes. “Add two parts celeriac mash to one part mashed potatoes, stir it all together and you’re done,” says Cohen.
“Despite having more flavor than plain-old mashed potatoes, mashed celeriac is still a pretty mellow dish, so you want a wine that brings a lot to the party,” says Cohen. “I’d recommend pairing it with a Goldmuskateller, like the Thurnhof 2013 Goldmuskateller from Trentino-Alto Adige, Italy, which is the greatest white wine you’re probably not drinking yet. It pours like liquid gold and has a thick, musty aroma, while its taste is reminiscent of pine needles.”