Ask Digestivo: Red, Red Wine

In which we lead by example and boldly refrain from commenting on the Met Gala

(In our best Scary Island Jill Zarin) Hiiiiiiii. We’re back with our biweekly advice feature, answering your burning questions about all things culinary and culture, unhinged. In this issue: a laundry list of how to use up some misbegotten red, and a heartfelt chronicle of froyo’s better days. Read in advance of tomorrow’s highest holiday fast, and should your repentance inspire some further inquiries, feel free to write in at askdigestivo@gmail.com

I accidentally ordered two bottles of very cheap red wine in my grocery delivery. Also, I don't drink red wine, no matter how expensive. I used half a bottle to make a chicken chasseur so far. I am wondering if you had any fun or creative ways to use red wine in cooking that doesn't involve beef. Thank you so much!

-Still Big Red

Although we style ourselves as armchair experts on all things eating and drinking, we’d be lying if we told you we’d never uncorked a bottle expecting something light and easy only to be met with a shockingly crimson hue. A particular vinho verde procured at Cervo’s last spring most immediately comes to mind – we want to say “who knew green wine could be red,” but if there’s one thing we’ve learned at this newsletter it’s that words really don’t mean things.

Let’s start with the obvious: even when steering clear of boeuf, red wine is a natural choice for all sorts of hearty braises. We’re not partial to any particular coq au vin, but this version from Felicity Cloake intrigues for its combination of elements from Julia Child, Richard Olney, and Elizabeth David. Should you find yourself craving the other white meat, we’d point you in the direction of carne vinha d’alhos, a classic Portuguese dish from the island of Madeira marinating pork in garlic and wine (also, the etymological and culinary root of Goan vindaloo). This Hungarian fisherman’s stew with paprika and egg noodles from the late Bar Tartine is an enticing pick as seafood options go. A healthy glug of red wine would be most welcome in all sorts of meat ragus (if avoiding beef, we’d follow Sara Jenkins for all things sausage), but you might also try this smoky charred vegetable version from Kelsey Youngman. Or, use your wine as a braising liquid for lentils: consider options from both friend of the newsletter (or at the very least, occasional reader by way of a generous Twitter fan) Nigella Lawson and this dreamy caviar lentil braise from Judy Rodger’s Zuni Cafe cookbook. Ottolenghi-style wine-braised shallots are another great option, whether atop his rich orange root mash, or incorporated into a grain bowl with other roasted and raw veg.

Risotto al radicchio from Emiko Davies derives beautiful color and flavor from the titular chicory, plus red wine and red onion – if you’re not a fan of bitter flavors, perhaps try this red wine risotto from Amanda Hesser instead. This spaghetti cooked in red wine with walnuts and parsley certainly piqued our curiosity as a variation on common pantry pastas. 

When reduced, red wine also lends itself to a variety of sauces, each of them professing to be silky and savory, perfect for a little late night Wolf of Wall Street kitchen cosplay (JS: I’ve never actually seen WoWS but I just feel like Leo would fuck with a red wine reduction). One could easily imagine this red wine syrup on a soft cheese or in a cocktail, or this red wine dressing sprucing up some greens. I (SB) was intrigued by this red wine braised Black Cod: Nobu en Francais maybe? I (JS) can think of no better arbiter of outdated aspirational taste than chef Eric Ripert, and would probably enjoy his salmon with leeks and red wine sauce in a campy way at the very least. 

Though neither of us has tried it, we found ourselves captivated by the idea of eggs poached in red wine, apparently a commonplace French solution for sneaking more than a little vino into your morning meal, vetted by the likes of Anne Willan, Mark Bittman, and our gal Tejal Rao.

Dessert is another place where red wine can shine, reduced or otherwise. I (SB) famously once made Smitten Kitchen’s red wine chocolate cake without any cocoa and didn’t hate it, but the original is moist and delicious (JS: Did my co-editor forget that I made this iconic cake for her birthday in the before times at Mr. Fong’s? Sound off in the comments!). These cherry cabernet brownies remind me (SB) of my most beloved Black Forest Cake, and have thus been screaming at me to try them since I stumbled upon them while researching this letter. Not feeling chocolate? Make our unproblematic fave’s red wine honey cake and enjoy an only slightly belated Rosh Hashanah treat before the days of awe come to a close. Sesame cookies and milk punch from Gabrielle Hamilton via Diane Kochilas would make a mighty fine end to any meal. And there’s always poached fruit, of course: try Dorie Greenspan’s spiced pears in red wine, or savor the end of summer with a little wine-kissed pear sorbetto from Martha Rose Shulman.

Sangria’s nice and all (JS: is it though?), but as we approach the colder months it’s our professional obligation to mention this newsletter’s love of spicy wine (ie Glogg) and a cozy moment. Tragically I think we’ve all missed the window for green walnut foraging to make a proper vin de noix a la David Lebovitz, but you might be able to find sweet cherries to prep a jar of guignolet.

Of course, you could always sit back and let sweet father time do his thing – we hear homemade vinegar is the next big thing among the pandemic cottagecore set.

Inspired by this tweet, I’m curious what you think of the strange moment in the late-2000s and early-2010s where frozen yoghurt seemed to be The Thing. Why was everyone so obsessed? It feels like every month a new place opened (and then disappeared) at various malls and tourist-centric areas of the small city I grew up in. What the hell was going on with frozen yoghurt and why did it have such a grip on various pockets of North America? Also, what is 2021’s version of the frozen yoghurt craze?

-Yoghurt Girl

As friends of the newsletter Aanchal and Naomi can attest, there is little I (SB) love more than the opportunity to provide a very compelling oral history of froyo destinations across the westside of Los Angeles, circa 2010, on demand. In fact, I’d literally love for anyone to ask. I mention this only to note that my answer is clearly informed by my own geographic context. Frozen yogurt burst onto the scene early (80s?) in LA, land of the beautiful and the shallow, in what I assume was a first-bloom of some sort of low-fat craze. This yogurt (excuse me, yoghurt) V1 often mimicked the flavors and presentation of ice cream in marked contrast to the tart trends of later eras. TCBY (notably founded in 1981 in Little Rock, AK– credit where it’s due!!!) even used (and got litigious about) the slogan “I Can’t Believe It’s Yogurt.”  FWIW, I’d also place The Bigg Chill in this category. 

Then, a couple of years into the aughts, there was a real explosion of Asian (Asian American?) yogurt chains on the West Coast. Korean American team Shelly Hwang and Young Lee (who, TW, happens to be a real POS) opened the first Pinkberry in West Hollywood in 2005; Berkeley biz school alum Daniel Kim opened the first Red Mango near UCLA in 2007; that same year, Starbucks bought Pinkberry and took the chain national (FWIW it was around this time that I [yung JS, coiffed in a manner strikingly reminiscent of early Bieber,] sampled my first Pinkberry on Manhattan’s 32nd Street). Somewhat mired in controversy about its status as real yogurt (oh, how the tables have turned TCBY!), Pinkberry’s major contributions to the field were the inclusion of toppings, particularly fruit, and a tart, Yakult-y flavored cream. Another arm of this craze came in the form of Yogurtland (founded 2006) & Menchie’s (2007), both of which introduced the additional intrigues of serve-yourself yogurt, toppings, and paying by weight. .

All of the above were clearly irresistible to teens and lonely adults alike. I’m not sure where to go from here but to say that wow, what a ride. I wish someone would pick me up and take me to Yogurtland for a snack right now. 

While I (JS) cannot offer much in the way of periodization, I’m happy to share that a peak Los Angeles celebrity sighting was standing behind Rachel Zoe as she vicariously ordered yogurt through her toddler at Go Greek in 2012 – (with staccato) do you die? As for the current iteration of the froyo craze, I feel like the closest thing we can point to is Sw**tgr**n. If anyone wants to talk about it, I’d love to hold a listening session at Forty Carrots.

PETITS FOURS

  • Allegedly Mercury is not actually in retrograde, but both of your kindly editors have had some wildly funky days. After forgetting my keys at work and being forced to return immediately after getting home, I (SB) treated myself to the scallion sauce dumplings at Spicy Village and am pleased to report that they continue to slap. This is your sign you should go to Spicy Village.

  • While the internet remains mixed toward Spacey Kacey’s lower cased era, I’m (JS) all in on the ode to 90’s lite FM that is star crossed and will be trekking out to Los Angeles in February for what I hope will be my first post (?!) panny concert. In the meantime, catch me strategically firing up a free week of Paramount Plus just in time for sad yeehaw fall.

  • Friend of the letter (and sister-in-law of Willis) Ace recently gifted us a candle from Tuesday of California and I’ve (SB) found myself intensely charmed by and curious about each of their playful, familiar, and funky scents

  • The editors of this newsletter remain staunchly pro-vax, but if Nicki Minaj’s cousin’s friend is reading (or his former fiance is reading), we want to hear your story.