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Comfy food and wine pairings at home with chef Aretah Ettarh

What is your background and how did you get started in cooking?


I’m Nigerian but I was born and raised in New Jersey, so I grew up eating a lot of West African staples in the house and when we went to visit family friends. However, my hometown was pretty diverse which introduced me to a lot of different cuisines. From a young age, I learned about food outside just the confines of my heritage. I didn’t actually start cooking for myself until college (honestly, I preferred eating good food to cooking it) but once I caught the bug, I was hooked. I went to culinary school after finishing my undergraduate degree and never looked back.

 

What are your specialty cuisines or dishes?  


I haven’t reached a point where I feel like I have a specialty cuisine or dishes. I honestly just enjoy cooking and the creativity that comes with it. There are so many different cultures of food that I have yet to explore and I still feel like I’m constantly learning the techniques, ingredients, and styles of food that I’m most drawn to.

 

Tell us more about the recipes you created. 


The first dish is maple roasted delicata squash with yogurt, chicories, and dukkah. Dukkah is an Egyptian spice blend that is a mixture of toasted nuts and seeds, ground into a crunchy texture, and then used to enhance all sorts of delicious things like vegetables, fish, and meat. Or it can be simply bloomed in oil and eaten with warm bread. Here I use it as a foil to the sweet squash and creamy yogurt. Chicory greens like radicchio, treviso, and castelfranco are just a great fall green to enhance the dish. The Chassagne-Montrachet Premier Cru 2015, from Famille Carabello-Baum, complements this dish nicely. Between its creamy notes and refreshing citrus hints, it perfectly balances the toasty aromas from the roasted squash and dukkah.

The second dish is gnocchi with pork ragu, swiss chard, and pecorino. Gnocchi is intimidating to a lot of people but it’s actually a great introduction to pasta making. The key is not to overwork the dough by adding too much flour - you just want enough to make a soft, slightly tacky dough. Roll it out into ropes, cut, boil until it floats to the top of the pan, and you're done. You can cook the gnocchi in batches and freeze for later dinners. This dish was great to pair with Famille Carabello-Baum’s Gevrey-Chambertin 2014, which has enough richness to stand up to the ragu, with flavors of sweet spices and earthy notes. I love the interplay of an elegant wine and a simple, delicious dish.

Ultimately, I wanted to create dishes that could be easily replicated at home because the average person is so intimidated by the process of cooking that most times they don’t even try. I think with these recipes, your success rate will be fairly high and you’ll create something delicious to share with family and friends or simply dinner for yourself.

 

What do you cook at home in the fall and winter? 


Summer is great because there are so many fresh, light ingredients that don’t need a lot of work to make delicious, but I really love fall produce. I lean towards roasting vegetables like brussels sprouts, squash, and mushrooms or making stews that are really comforting and great for after being outside in the chill. Making stews is also great because you can make it in batches and store for later consumption. Working in a restaurant means I don’t have a lot of time during my week to cook so I lean towards things that can be made ahead of time and enjoyed later. 

What are your secrets to food and wine pairings? 


I’m not a sommelier so I approach food and wine pairings in the same way I think most people who aren’t in the food world should - don’t overthink it! There are general rules of thumb that work well (i.e. light wines with light food, similar tasting notes in a wine pair well with tasting notes of a dish, white wines generally pair well with salads, fish, and seafood while red wines pair well with meat). Of course there’s so much more to it than that, but food and wine is ultimately something that should be enjoyed so don’t stress over it too much! There are also plenty of resources online or asking someone at your local wine shop for advice about what wine will pair well with what dish you’re making will also help take the guessing game out of it.

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