Expert Recipes for Wine Lovers


I come from an Italian family of true food lovers. It seemed to me that every moment we celebrated, mourned, discussed, or marked was centered around a feast.

As I grew, the passionate way my family communicated (translation: yelling) proved to be too much for me. I was deemed “sensitive” or “delicate” because the noise of their boisterous conversations and debates would leave me jittery and nervous. I noticed, though, that none of that drama crossed the threshold to the kitchen. In that fragrant room, people cooked and worked in perfect harmony, telling stories, sipping wine, laughing, smiling, sharing tips and ideas. No one was allowed to argue, cry or create havoc in the kitchen. “Take it outside” was the refrain should any “senza senso” (nonsense) find its way into the room.

I asked my father to build me a step stool so I could reach the counter to learn more by watching and helping my mother, and I have never looked back from the stove. To this day, the kitchen is precious; cooking is my job, but I love every second of my time in this room. Here are some pairings I love with recipes from my new book, Back to the Cutting Board.

Candied Parsnip and Carrot Tatin

Pairs With: Nero D’Avola from Sicily

This pretty cake is a splendid sweet and savory side dish.  Smothered in caramelized, sweet root vegetables, and topped with an orange-scented glaze.

Makes 6-8 servings

Savory Cake:
2 ½ cups whole wheat pastry or sprouted whole wheat flour
generous pinch sea salt
2 teaspoons baking powder
2 teaspoons sesame seeds
1 teaspoon baking soda
2 teaspoons sesame seeds
1 teaspoon dried basil
1 teaspoon dried rosemary, crushed
Generous pinch sea salt
1/4 cup avocado or extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 – 1 cup unsweetened almond, oat, or soy milk

2 teaspoons avocado or extra-virgin olive oil
4 small carrots, halved lengthwise
4 small parsnips, halved lengthwise
Organic soy sauce, to taste
4 tablespoons brown rice syrup
Grated zest of 1 orange
Juice of 1 orange

Preheat oven to 350°F. In a medium bowl, combine the dry flour, baking powder, sesame seeds, baking soda, basil, rosemary, and sea salt and mix well. Set aside.

Begin the topping: Heat the oil in a 10-inch ovenproof skillet (I like cast iron for this recipe) over medium-high heat. Stir in the carrot and parsnip halves, season lightly with the soy sauce, and stir until shiny with oil. Arrange the vegetables in a decorative pattern, covering the bottom of the pan. Add the brown rice syrup, and orange zest and reduce the heat to medium. Cook until the glaze reduces is thick and syrupy and the veggies are golden brown, about 8-10 minutes, stirring occasionally so you can feel the glaze thicken. Remove from the heat and add stir in the orange juice.  

Mix the oil into the dry cake ingredients, and then slowly add stir in the ‘milk’ until a smooth, spoonable batter forms. Spoon the batter evenly over the cooked vegetables, taking care not to disturb your pattern. Bake for about 35-40 minutes, until the center of the cake springs back to the touch. Cool the cake for about 10 minutes. Run a sharp knife around the rim of the skillet to loosen the cake. Place your serving platter over the skillet and carefully invert the cake. If any of the vegetables stick to the pan, simply remove them and replace them on the cake top. Serve warm or hot.   

Fried Tofu with Black Bean Sauce on Scallion Pancakes

Pairs with: Vernaccia from San Gimignano

Calm, cool tofu comes together with dramatic, spicy beans to create a centered focus, with vitality to burn. Dishes like this make you “simmer,”, so your energy doesn’t fail you.  Served over a simple scallion pancake, this dish is a meal on its own.

Makes 4-5 servings

Scallion Pancakes:
1 cup whole wheat pastry or sprouted whole wheat flour
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
1/4 cup plus 3 tablespoons avocado oil, divided
½-2/3 cup spring or filtered water
3-4 scallions, finely minced

Fried Tofu:
1 pound extra firm tofu, 1-inch cubes
Avocado or sunflower oil, for frying

Black Bean Sauce:
2 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil or avocado oil
1 jalapeno pepper, diced; do not seed
1 red onion, diced
organic soy sauce
1 cup winter squash, finely diced
1 cup fresh/frozen organic corn kernels, fresh or frozen
Dash organic soy sauce
2 cups cooked black turtle beans
spring or filtered water
2-3 fresh scallions, thinly sliced, for serving

Prepare the pancake batter by combining the flour, salt and baking powder, and salt. Use a pastry blender or two knifes to cut in the oil until the mixture resembles coarse sand. Slowly mix in the water to create a thin (but not runny) pancake batter. Fold in the scallions. Cover and let the batter rest for 15 minutes before proceeding.

Meanwhile, cube tofu and pat the tofu cubes dry. Heat about 1/4-inch oil in a deep skillet and shallow fry the tofu until golden brown on all sides. Drain on paper and set aside.

Prepare the black bean sauce by heating the oil in a skillet over medium-high heat. Sauté the jalapeno and onion with a pinch of salt for 1 minute. Add the winter squash and corn, with a splash of soy sauce and sauté’ 1-2 minutes more. Mash half the beans with a fork or potato masher and mix in with balance of cooked beans. Stir beans into the skillet with the remaining beans. Season lightly with soy sauce and add a small amount of spring or filtered water. Stir in the fried tofu cubes.  Cover and simmer over very low heat for 5-7 minutes while you make the scallion pancakes.  

Make the pancakes: Pre-heat oven to 200°F. Heat a skillet over medium heat. Add the remaining 3 tablespoons of oil. Drop tablespoons of batter in the hot oil to make 3-inch pancakes. Cook until golden brown, turning once to brown both sides. Transfer the pancakes to a baking sheet and then to a warm oven while making the balance of pancakes. You should be able to make 8-10 pancakes.

To serve, place 2 pancakes each on 4-5 individual plates. Top generously with tofu and black beans. Sprinkle with scallion slices and serve hot.

Cook’s Tip: Use seasonal vegetables, so I to vary this dish. In summer, swap out the winter squash for zucchini or yellow squash.

Apple-Cranberry Crisp

Pair with: Prosecco

Sweet and tart fruit covered by a tender, cakelike topping is one of the most wonderful, homey desserts. Easy to make, delicious, and beautiful, you get it all with this one. Baking the fruit gentles its simple sugars, and the topping gives you the satisfaction of flour without eating too much of it. The tart flavor of the cranberries balances the sweet apples perfectly. I love to serve this with a cold glass of sparkling prosecco to make any evening a bit more festive.

Makes about 8 servings

Fruit filling
3 to 4 Granny Smith apples, peeled, cored, and thinly sliced
¾ cup unsweetened dried cranberries
1 tablespoon avocado or extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for the baking pan
2 tablespoons arrowroot powder
2 tablespoons Suzanne’s Specialties brown rice syrup

½ cup rolled oats
1 cup whole wheat pastry or sprouted whole wheat flour
½ cup rolled oats
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon ground allspice
½ teaspoon ground ginger
1/8 teaspoon sea salt
1 teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon ground allspice
¼ cup avocado or extra virgin olive oil
½ cup Suzanne’s Specialties brown rice syrup
¼ cup avocado or extra-virgin olive oil
About ½ cup unsweetened almond, soy or other non-dairy milk
½ cup coarsely minced pecans

Preheat oven to 350°F (175C). Lightly oil a 9-inch –square baking dish.

Make the filling: Mix the apples and cranberries with the oil until coated. Stir in the arrowroot and brown rice syrup and spread evenly in the prepared pan.

Make the topping: Combine oats, flour, salt, baking powder, spices, and sea salt in a medium bowl. Mix in the brown rice syrup and oil to make a soft dough. Slowly mix in in the “milk” to make a thick, spoonable batter. Fold in the pecans.

Spoon the topping, by dollops, over the surface of the fruit, covering it almost completely, but allowing some fruit to peek through.

Bake about 30-35 minutes, or until fruit is bubbling and topping is golden and firm. Serve warm.

Christina Pirello, MFN, is one of America’s preeminent authorities on a healthier lifestyle utilizing natural and whole foods.  Christina studied and became an expert in Traditional Chinese Medicine, Ayurveda, acupuncture, macrobiotics and earned a Masters Degree in Nutrition. Utilizing her internationally-respected TV show “Christina Cooks" and her many books she is: “Changing the Health of the World One Meal at a Time.” She has authored seven cookbooks on the subject of healthy eating and natural living. Her newest cookbook, ‘Back to the Cutting Board’ is due out in September, 2018 and is designed to re-inspire our love of cooking.

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