Leftovers — What Am I Supposed to Do with All This…Wine?

Being the wine purveyors we are, we’re often left with a lot of open bottles after a party, most of them empty, but some with varying amounts of wine in them.  Despite our best intentions, our guests don’t always cooperate and drink all the open wine before they leave. (In their defense, we are wine enthusiasts who can get a little, well, let’s say enthusiastic, and some of our guests do have to drive home).  Or worse, they don’t see the half-empty bottle and instead open a new bottle of the same wine and take only one glass, winning themselves a spot on our never-invite-back list 😉  So assuming you’re not going to pour the leftover wine down the drain, what do you do with it all?

Since most of us don’t have a way to professionally re-cork wine to give as gifts to the unsuspecting, there are two options:  drink it or cook with it.  Which one will depend on a lot of factors – how much you paid for the wine, how often you drink wine, the food you like to make.  But since you’re not going to do either one right away, you have to store it first.  Red wine will probably be OK for a day or two if you put the cork back in the bottle and keep it out of the sun, and white is fine recorked in the fridge for a couple of days.  But both will do better if you take a few precautions.  The key to storing opened wine effectively is to slow down the affects of oxygen, both by minimizing exposure to air in the bottle, and to cooling the wine down to slow adverse chemical reactions.  There are various means of getting rid of the air, including vacuum pumps and vapor barrier sprays, which we’ll save for another discussion.  The easiest (and cheapest) thing to do is to put your wine in a container small enough to fill to the top, like a half bottle for wine, or even a plastic water bottle.  Cap it, put the bottle in the refrigerator, even red wines, and you’ll still have a good drinking wine four or five days later.

Storing wine in the fridge like this keeps it in good enough shape to cook with for a few weeks in dishes that will be cooked for at least a half hour (if there’s only a little bit of wine in the recipe compared to the total volume of liquid, even less cooking time is OK).  You wouldn’t want to drink that stored wine, because it will lose its fresh quality and taste flat and a bit dull.  But the same thing happens to absolutely fresh wine if it’s cooked more than a few minutes anyway – those fresh flavors boil away and don’t end up in the final dish.  You should taste it before using it, though, to make sure that it hasn’t turned vinegary or oxidized (you’ll get a whiff of sherry).  Also, if you’re going to cook with a leftover wine and can’t combine enough of the same wine to fill even a small container, consider mixing wines that are similar in taste and body together.  It may sound like sacrilege, but we already know that cooking with wine changes its character enough that it’s difficult to tell the difference between dishes cooked with an expensive wine versus a less expensive one.

Still have even more wine that you can’t bear to throw away?  Make wine reductions that you can freeze in small quantities and use in a variety of ways.  Boil down a red or a white wine to reduce it by half and then freeze it in one quarter or one half cup quantities (be sure to label what kind of wine it was in case the recipe specifies a particular wine).  Use them directly in soups or stews that will cook for a while, adding an equal volume of water to get to the quantity of wine specified in the recipe.  Or boil the wine down to one-third its original volume and freeze it like ice cubes – then use those cubes to make quick pan sauces after you’ve sautéed meat or vegetables.  Just add a splash of water or stock with a couple of cubes, heat it all up, season with salt and pepper, add a dash of cream or a dollop of mustard if you like, or a dash of vinegar or lemon juice, and you’ve got an almost instant sauce (no need to cook it more because the wine’s already reduced).

Wine is also the base of fabulous dessert sauces.  Combine a cup of wine, red or white, with one-third to one-half cup sugar (depending on how sweet you want it), a pinch of salt, and one-third cup of water.  You can add a cinnamon stick and a few cloves to the red, and a couple of strips of orange or lemon peel to the white.  Bring to a boil, lower the heat to simmering, and reduce until the mixture is about a half a cup.  You can double or triple the quantities, and also add dried fruit in the last 10 minutes of cooking if you like.  Let the mixture cool, take out the spices and zest, then freeze it in one-quarter cup quantities.  The sauces are wonderful drizzled over fruit, robust cheeses, pound cake, or ice cream.  You can use them for fondue, too.

And we haven’t even talked about wine jelly, something that was popular in the 1940s and is a real treat.  (Get out your old cookbooks or go online and you’re sure to find a recipe).  So much you can do!  We’re not saying that you’ll completely forgive your guests for sticking you with all that leftover wine, but be sure to serve them something you’ve made with it the next time they’re over.  Whether or not you tell them is up to you!

This week’s recipe is a dish we adapted from one of Giada de Laurentiis’s everything’s-better-with-mascarpone recipes, and it’s great as a stand-alone meatless main course or as an accompaniment to almost any meat.  We more than doubled Giada’s quantity of mushrooms, and added some diced tomato to lighten up what would otherwise be a bit too earthy and rich.  We also substituted whole wheat pasta for regular pasta (feel free to use either), and then baked it in the oven with more cheese to give it a nice crust.

We made the sauce with some Les Terrasses du Belvédère Vieilles Vignes 2005 that had been in the fridge for about three weeks.  Since the recipe uses a half cup of wine in nearly three cups total of liquid and cooks for at least 15 minutes, it’s ideal for leftover wine.  There’s still about a cup of the wine left, and we’ll probably use it up this week.  Altogether we’ll have had three fresh glasses and wine for cooking two meals out of the bottle – seems like a pretty good deal for $16!  You can serve the pasta with a fresh bottle of the Vieilles, which has a lovely earthiness to match the mushrooms, or try our Fattorie Majnoni Guicciardini Chianti ($14) for total Italian immersion.  Either way, you don’t have to drink the whole bottle!
Bon Appetit!

Tom

Baked Pasta with Mushroom Ragù
Serves 4 to 6

1 ounce dried porcini mushrooms (about 1 cup)
One and a half cups very hot water
About 4 ounces fresh shiitake mushrooms
8 ounces fresh cremini mushrooms
2 garlic cloves, smashed and peeled
3 large carrots, peeled, cut in half lengthwise, then cut into half-inch pieces
1 large onion, diced in large pieces
1 red bell pepper, diced in large pieces
One-quarter cup olive oil, plus more for drizzling
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon black pepper
2 teaspoons chopped fresh thyme
1 teaspoon chopped fresh oregano
1 large pinch dried red pepper flakes
2 tablespoons tomato paste
One-half cup dry red wine
Three-quarters cup diced tomato (canned is fine)
One-half cup mascarpone cheese
12 ounces whole wheat rigatoni or penne
Three-quarters cup grated Parmesan cheese, divided

Rinse the dried mushrooms in cold water to remove some of the grit.  Put them in a bowl and add the hot water.  Cover the bowl and let the mushrooms soften for 45 minutes.  Squeeze out the soaked mushrooms, reserving the liquid, and chop them finely.  You can also add the stems from the shiitakes when you soak the porcinis, just squeeze out the stems and discard them before you squeeze out the rehydrated mushrooms.

Meanwhile, cut the shiitake caps and the creminis into fairly small pieces.  Turn on the food processor and drop the garlic cloves through the feed tube.  When they’re finely chopped, turn off the machine, add the carrot pieces, and pulse four times.  Then add the onion and red pepper, and pulse until the vegetables are finely chopped but not pureed.

Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat.  Add the chopped vegetables (except the mushrooms) with the salt and pepper, and sauté until the vegetables are quite soft, about 10 minutes or so.  Add the mushrooms (fresh and soaked), thyme, oregano, and red pepper flakes and cook for about 5 minutes.  The mushrooms will release liquid – when the liquid is almost cooked away, clear a space in the pan and add the tomato paste to the open spot.  Stir it around for 30 seconds or so to toast it, then stir it into the vegetables.  When everything is just starting to stick to the pan, add the red wine and scrape the bottom of the pan to incorporate everything.  Stir in the diced tomatoes.

Pour in the mushroom soaking liquid, being careful to leave the grit behind (or strain it first if you like).  Stir, bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to low and simmer gently for 15 minutes or so, to reduce the liquid by half.  Cover and set aside while you cook the pasta.

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F and bring a large pot of salted water to a boil.  Grease a 13 by 9 -inch glass or ceramic baking dish and set it aside.  Cook the pasta until it’s just barely done, a little less than the package recommends.  Just before the pasta is done, put the sauce back over low heat and stir in the mascarpone cheese.  Save about a cup of the pasta cooking water, then drain the pasta and stir it into the sauce, along with a quarter cup of parmesan cheese.  Stir in some of the pasta water if it seems too dry – the mixture should be wetter than you’d like for serving since it will dry out a little in the oven.

Pour the pasta into the prepared baking dish, spread it out evenly, then top with the remaining parmesan and bake for 20 to 25 minutes, until nicely browned.  Take it out of the oven and let it sit for a few minutes, then drizzle lightly with olive oil and serve.

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