The pantry essentials: Cooking and wine pairing


Pantry essentials – turns out, I didn’t have a clue.

I’ve long fancied myself a serious rookie chef. I love to cook. There’s something just so rewarding to me about following a recipe and, OMG! it works – the food is actually really good! It’s been super fun and I’ve long said I hope to attend a professional cooking school one day…in France, sigh.

So, here I am in lockdown in my small apartment, limited work because ain’t nobody planning a Barolo wine tour these days, and I need somewhere to put my energy. So, I found myself scouring The Googles for pairing ideas for my easy-access wines – nascetta, barbera, nebbiolo, freisa, ruché, Barbaresco, and Barolo.

Turns out, there isn’t a ton out there on more obscure local varieties – save for the post I did in my early expat days: The Ultimate Guide to Piedmont Food & Wine Pairing.

Supermarket trips during lockdown…this week we had to take a number and were given gloves at the entrance.

The catch: I want to go beyond local Piedmont wines pairings.

Not because I don’t love the foods here – who doesn’t!? But because I crave connection with my friends and family back home, and they sure aren’t making brasato or tajarin. So, I embarked on an adventure. A cooking adventure, which leads me to an introduction. Girl’s Gotta Drink has a new partner-in-wine, because this girl’s (also) gotta eat!

Introducing my pal Denise of Castello di Sinio. Some of y’all may know her as the proprietress of the Hotel Castello di Sinio in – you guessed it – Sinio, smack between Barolo and Barbaresco.

Denise is also an American expat living in the Langhe. She opened the 12th-century castle’s renovated doors in 2005, making the 2020 season her 15th in business. But, her pedigree goes beyond hotelier and restoration extraordinaire. She’s also a brilliant, mostly self-taught, chef. She began her journey in the kitchen at about eight years old, learning from her Italian mother and nonna while cooking for her 10 brothers and sisters in Northern California.

Denise went on to study and practice her craft, first in California. Then, upon relocation to Italy in the 1990s, she took it to another level by incorporating her love for and interest in wine.

Today her ristorante is top-rated in the Langhe with an epic wine list and a mouth-watering menu that changes weekly.


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So, a few weeks ago when il ragazzino was at his daddy’s, Denise and I started messaging about the current state of being. About 30 minutes in, we realized we could do a little cooking and wine project, highlighting pairing ideas for Piedmont wines with simple pantry essentials.

Our first venture was with eggplant parmigiana – yes, it’s Italian, but everyone loves it! As we cooked, I realized…I was severely lacking in pantry essentials. Both with the ingredients themselves, but also with the very reasoning for many things. So, as we do this series, I fully expect people to roll their eyes reading seemingly basic things I did not know. Sigh.

Whatever, surely others will benefit from my ignorance and will get their pantry in shipshape, too.

To get started, Denise and I got on a call this week to discuss the staples I’d need to get our cooking and wine pairing party started.

In November 2019, I had a fun group who stayed at Castello di Sinio. I worked with Denise to create a winemaker dinner with Chiara Boschis of E.Pira & Figli. The dinner featured E.Pira wines and each dish incorporated Castelmagno DOP mountain cheese from Agriturismo Des Martin in a small hamlet Chiara helped to restore.

Cooking and wine pairing: It starts with a pantry essentials list

  • Aromatic vegetables:
    • Onions: Red and yellow, green onion, shallots.
    • Garlic: Fresh garlic, dried.
    • Carrot, celery, parsley.
  • Veggies:
    • The basics: Tomatoes / cherry tomatoes, green beans, broccoli, cauliflower, romanesco, zucchini, eggplant, radicchio.
    • Seasonal: For us now, that’s asparagus, chard, peas; Denise explains that she can get these to last up to two weeks – I’ve seen it – for real! Here’s the trick: Cut off the dried end of the vegetables so they can absorb the water. Put them in a basin of tepid water. Let it soak for 15 to 30 minutes. Then, pull it out and drain, bag or put in a bowl with a cloth cover and refrigerate immediately. Think of them like flowers – you have to give them a drink. Denise’s brother, a produce professional, taught her this trick when she had her first restaurant.
    • Greens: Spinach (also in season), three or four different heads of lettuce, kale.
  • Potatoes: Denise recommends having two different kinds on hand:
    • Idaho or russet potatoes for things like mashed potatoes and gnocchi.
    • Waxy fingerlings, red potatoes for things like roasting and potato salad.
  • Fresh herbs: Basil, rosemary, cilantro, tarragon.
  • Spices: Sea salt, kosher salt, pepper, ground cayenne, curry powder, bay leaves, paprika, ground cinnamon, ground cumin, dried thyme, dried basil, and dried oregano.
  • Ginger
  • Dairy: Milk, butter, eggs, cheeses: mozzarella, a soft rich cheese (like Fontina), parmigiano or grana padano
  • Baking: Flour, whole wheat, bread flour, yeast, sugar, brown sugar.
  • Protein: Fround meat, pork, chicken, bacon / pancetta, prosciutto / speck.
  • Grains: Risotto rice, brown rice, farro, buglar, quiona, polenta.
  • Beans: Assortment of dried or canned.
  • Oils / Vinegar: Extra virgin olive oil, vegetable oil, toasted sesame oil, vinegar – Denise suggests having a couple (examples: red wine, white wine, sherry, apple cider).
  • Condiments: Soy sauce, dijon mustard, ketchup.
  • Bread: Flour tortillas, corn tortillas, Italian flatbread (will save in the freezer for ages).
  • Fruit: Lemon, avocado, clementines, apples.
  • Misc: Broth / stock, raisins, nuts, dried mushrooms.

Over the next few weeks, I’ll be getting different cooking posts up with recipes, kitchen hacks, and wine pairing tips that Denise and I do together in real life quarantine based on what we have in the pantry, items we need to use, what we’re in the mood for, and the wines on hand.

If you need some wine, check out my latest Piedmont wine offer!

Order from here with 10 percent of sales going to area relief efforts. Bonus: Free shipping on 12+  bottles.

Click to order!

Get your pantry essentials stocked up and we’ll be practically dining together!

Denise and I will be working on easy-to-make, every-place recipes for you to pair with the wines on special as well as a ton of other fabulous Piedmont wines.

Keep in mind, we don’t have the same wines since we’re doing this all from a distance. So, we’ll discuss pairing considerations and will try different wines with the foods we make together.

Recipes / wine pairings coming up:

  • Eggplant Parmesan Stacks / Basic Marinara Sauce. Featured wines: Barbera d’Asti, Langhe Nebbiolo
  • Pulled Pork. Featured wine: Langhe Freisa
  • Roasted Vegetables. Featured wines: Langhe Nebbiolo, Nascetta
  • Wine-friendly salad / vinaigrette. Featured wines: Pelaverga, Nascetta
  • Pizza / pizza dough: Barbera d’Asti, Barbera d’Alba
  • Chicken wings. Featured wine: Ruché
  • Farrotto. Featured wine: Nebbiolo

To follow our cooking fun in real-time, I’m sharing a lot on my Instagram and Facebook stories. And, check out Castello di Sinio online or Facebook.

Drop us a note here or on social media! 

Stay well, friends!

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