Baked Eggplant & Barbera

There’s nothing more comforting than a hearty Italian dinner! When I am celebrating a special occasion, my Italian wine of choice is typically a Brunello di Montalcino or Barolo, but most nights I gravitate toward a fruit forward Barbera from Piedmont.

The Pio Cesare Barbera d’Alba is always a reliable option. Pio Cesare has been producing quality wines for five generations.  Barbera is a grape varietal from the Piedmont region of Italy. It tends to have vibrant fruit characteristics  with high acidity and mellow tannins.  This is a versatile wine that generally drinks best when young and pairs beautifully with an array of menu items from eggplant parmesan to pizza to pasta carbonara! Barbera also tends to be one of the best values at your local Italian eatery.

Tasting Notes: 2012 Pio Cesare Barbera, Piedmont, Italy (SRP: $20)

The 2012 Pio Cesare Barbera d’Alba is an elegant structured wine with aromas of juicy plum, blackberry & cherry with complex notes of cedar, tobacco, anise, violet & sweet spice.

Recommended Producers 
Damilano Barbera d’Asti,Piedmont, Italy (SRP: $16)
Pio Cesare Barbera d’Alba, Piedmont, Italy (SRP: $20)
La Spinetta Ca di Pian Barbera d’Alba, Piedmont, Italy (SRP: $22)

Recipe: Baked Stuffed Eggplant Parmesan (Makes 6 large or 9 small pieces) 


2 large egglplants (1/4 inch thick slices)
1 cup flour (add a pinch of salt & pepper)
1 cup breadcrumbs (add a pinch of salt & pepper)
2 eggs (whisked)
Olive Oil for sautéing

3 cups marinara sauce (preferably homeade)
16 oz mozzarella cheese (shredded)
12 ounces ricotta cheese
1/4 cup freshly grated parmigiano reggiano
1 package frozen spinach (defrosted & well drained)
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon pepper
1 tablespoon Italian seasoning


Mix ricotta, 1 egg, parmesan, spinach, salt, pepper & Italian seasoning (set aside).  Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees.  Put flour, eggs and breadcrumbs in 3 dishes in an assembly line.

Dredge eggplant in flour, egg and breadcrumb mixtures. Saute for 2-3 minutes on both sides until golden brown.  Drain on paper towels.

In a 9×9 baking dish, add thin layer of marinara sauce followed by a layer of eggplant. Add ricotta mixture, a layer of mozzarella cheese and more tomato sauce. Repeat with another layer and top off final layer with mozzarella cheese and a drizzle of olive oil for a golden crust.  Depending on the size of the eggplant, you should have 2-3 layers. Bake for 45 minutes until golden brown.  Let rest 15 minutes and serve!



Barboursville Sangiovese

Barboursville Vineyards has a long tradition of making exceptional wine in Virginia.  While they are best known for the bordeaux style blend “Octagon,” there are many other exciting wines in their portfolio.  I am a big fan of the Barboursville Cabernet Franc Reserve and the Vermentino Reserve. Tonight, I opted for a bottle of the 2013 Sangiovese Reserve to pair with a hearty plate of bolognese.

Sangiovese is a grape varietal indigenous to Tuscany, Italy. It’s responsible for producing world class wines including Brunello di Montalcino, Chianti & Vino Nobile.

Unlike many of its Italian counterparts, the 2013 Barboursville Sangiovese Reserve is very approachable in its youth.  The Sangiovese is blended with a couple of Bordelais varietals (80% Sangiovese. 16% Cabernet Sauvignon and 4% Petit Verdot).  The wine retails for $22.

Tasting Notes: Bright cherry, ripe red berries, plum, dusty earth and floral notes of violet give way to a hint of anise and spice. The palate is medium-bodied, balanced and structured with refreshing acidity and velvety tannins. Drink now or hold for up to 3 years.

Perfect Pairings: Food will bring out the best in this wine. Think about pairing with just about anything Italian! Sausage & mushroom pizza, bolognese, chicken marsala and hearty stews will all be a perfect match with this vino.




2013 Abbazia di Novacella Kerner

The 2013 Abbazia di Novacella Kerner from Alto Adige, Italy is this week’s feature wine.  Kerner is a an aromatic white grape that was created in 1929 by crossing two German grapes (Riesling and Trollinger).  Abbazia is one of the world’s oldest wineries dating back more than 800 years.  It was founded by the Augustinian Order of Canons Regular in 1142 and has a steep tradition in making exceptional wines.

Seared scallops over a bed of bacon corn salad paired with Kerner


This wine is made from 100% Kerner grapes and is a great alternative to Pinot Grigio. It offers exotic aromas of white flower, juicy apple, ripe peach, lemon curd and a hint of tropical fruit. The palate bursts with ripe juicy fruit and offers refreshing acidity with a crisp finish. It simply reminds me of summer in a glass. Pair this with an array of seafood from sushi and seared scallops to crab cakes. I also really love this wine with baked lemon ricotta. The cheese makes the sweet lemon and tropical fruit burst on your palate. Consume within 1-2 years.

Check out my video review on the 2013 Abbazia di Novacella Kerner.

Paleo Pairing: Barbera & Chicken Marinara

It looks like mother nature has an interesting sense of humor. We are expecting  a foot of snow in coastal Virginia.  Since I will be snowed in for the next few days, I will need to get creative with my Paleo Pairings this week. Tonight, my meal was inspired by a nice bottle of Barbera.

My Paleo Pairing for day 28 features Chicken Marinara & Barbera.  Barbera is a grape from the Piedmont region of Northwest Italy. It is one of my go to pizza wines. It is the 3rd most planted grape in Italy.  Barbera is high in acidity and low in tannins making it a versatile food friendly wine. Barbera also offers great value.  The Wall Street Journal recently posted a great piece on Barbera wines. You will normally see Barbera d’Asti or Barbera d’Alba on wine labels. That simply means the Barbera grape from the Asti or Alba region. Pio Cesare and Vietti are excellent producers.


4 chicken breasts
1/2 cup almond flour
1 tbsp. sea salt
1/2 tbsp. black pepper
1 tbsp. Italian seasoning
1/4 cup olive oil

Easy Marinara Sauce

1 can crushed tomatoes (San Marzano)
1 tbsp. olive oil
4 garlic cloves
1 onion (small dice)
1/4 cup dry red wine (Barbera)
1 tbsp. sea salt
1/2 tbsp. black pepper
1 tbsp. Italian seasoning
1 tsp. crushed red pepper
1 tsp. sugar


Pre-heat oven to 400 degrees.

For the easy marinara sauce, heat olive over medium-low heat. Add onions and cook for about 5-7 minutes. Add minced garlic and crushed red pepper flakes and cook for about 30 seconds to release aromatics. Add the rest of the ingredients and simmer over low heat.

Meanwhile, sprinkle chicken with salt, pepper and Italian seasoning. Dredge in almond flour, making sure chicken is well coated. Heat olive oil in large sauté pan (oven proof). Sear chicken for about 5-7 minutes, until golden brown. Turn chicken and place pan in oven for 25 minutes. Let rest for 10 minutes. Top with marinara sauce and serve.


Bolognese & Brunello

Nothing says comfort like a hearty plate of bolognese paired with a Brunello. I am convinced that I was Italian in a former life.  Italian wine and food have always been a big passion of mine. My husband was never a big red wine fan until I introduced him to a 1997 Brunello di Montalcino on our third date. He has been hooked ever since! Brunello di Montalcino is one of Italy’s most revered wines. It hails from Tuscany and is made exclusively with the Sangiovese grape. Brunello’s are elegant age-worthy wines that are beaming with aromas and flavors of red fruit, violet and earth, leather with a hint of anise and mushroom.  These wines have high levels of tannins and acidity that make it a great partner with food and also give it tremendous aging potential. The Italian law mandates that wine makers age Brunello for a minimum of 5 years before its release. As for the bolognese, this is a great dish to make on a Sunday afternoon or whenever you have a few hours to let the sauce fully develop. This is my spin on the classic recipe. Bon Appetito!
Recipe: Bolognese (Serves 4-6)

2 tbsp. olive oil
1 medium yellow onion
3 ribs celery
3 medium carrots
1 cup Portobello mushrooms
6 cloves of garlic
2 tsp. truffle salt or sea salt
1 tsp. black pepper
1 tsp. crushed red pepper
1 tsp. Italian seasoning
½ tsp. nutmeg
2 bay leaves
Few sprigs of fresh thyme & rosemary (tie w/kitchen string)
1 ½ pound ground sirloin
1 ½ pound sweet Italian sausage
2 tablespoons tomato paste
1 tablespoon sugar
2 cups red wine (Chianti, Montelpulciano d’ Abruzzo or Centine from Banfi are nice options)
1 cup milk
1 – 28 oz can crushed tomatoes (preferably San Marzano)
¼ cup heavy cream
1 cup shredded Parmigiano Reggiano
8 oz ricotta (for garnish)
½ cup julienned basil (for garnish)

Combine large diced onion, carrot, celery, mushroom and garlic and put in food processer for about 10-15 seconds until the vegetables are a finely grated.
Add 2 tbsp. of oil to a dutch oven over a medium heat and sauté vegetables for 10-15 minutes until translucent and slightly golden.  Make sure all the liquid is evaporated.
Once the vegetables reach the desired color and consistency add the salt, pepper, crushed red pepper, Italian seasoning, nutmeg & bay leaves.
Add ground sirloin and sausage and let brown for 20-25 minutes, stirring frequently.  Make sure you get a nice deep brown color. Practice patience, this is where all of the flavor comes from.
Add tomato paste and cook 2-3 minutes.
Add rosemary & thyme sprigs, sugar followed by red wine. Scrape up all the bits and deglaze pan.  Let reduce about 5 minutes.
Add 1 cup milk and let reduce about 5 minutes.
Add crushed tomatoes and simmer for 2 hours.
Before serving remove fresh herb sprigs & bay leaves
Add ¼ cup heavy cream and 1 cup grated Parmigiano Reggiano and stir until combined.
Serve over your favorite pasta.  I recommend pappardelle or tagliatelle pasta.
Add a tbsp. of fresh ricotta, Parmigiano Reggiano, basil and a drizzle of good quality Extra Virgin Olive Oil.

Sweet Pea Bruschetta & Gavi

Looking for a fast, refreshing appetizer that will please a hungry crowd? These sweet pea, ricotta & herb bruschetta do not disappoint (recipe below). Many types of wine will work with these creamy, crunchy treats including Prosecco, Pinot Grigio and Soave. But why not mix things up a little and check out a Gavi di Gavi? This white wine is made from the Cortese grape in the Piedmont area of Italy. It’s a light to medium-bodied white wine with floral aromas of honeysuckle and fruit notes of lemon and pear. The refreshing acidity of the Gavi gently wipes the palate clean in between bites and the bright citrus notes bring out the sweetness of peas. I recommend the following producers:
Recommended Producers
Recipe: Sweet Pea, Ricotta & Herb Bruschetta


16 oz bag of frozen sweet peas (defrost)
2 cups part skim ricotta
1/2 cup parmigiano reggiano
2 cloves of garlic
1/2 cup fresh chopped parsley
1/2 cup fresh chopped basil
1 lemon (zest & juice)
1/4 cup olive oil
salt & pepper to taste
Baguette – 1/4 inch slices
Diced tomatoes (for garnish)


Put all ingredients in food processor and pulse until well combined.  Add more olive oil if needed to reach desired consistency. Should be thick enough to spread on crostini.

Slice baguette into 1/4 inch slices, brush with olive oil and grill on grill pan or outdoor grill. Spread generously with topping and garnish with diced tomatoes for a pop of color and enjoy!