Jody Adams is the chef and owner of Rialto in Cambridge, Mass., which holds a Wine Spectator Award of Excellence for its wine list. She takes inspiration for her cuisine from Italy's hillsides, anonymous towns, tiny hole-in-the-wall restaurants, and the country’s famous Rialto Bridge and Market in Venice. A graduate of Brown University with more than three decades of cooking experience, Adams opened Rialto 15 years ago in the Charles Hotel in Harvard Square. She recently spoke with Wine Spectator about pairing good food with good wine and a fantasy dinner with Barack Obama, and shared a seasonal recipe for fresh tomato soup and seared eggplant sandwiches.
Wine Spectator: What were your early experiences with wine?
Jody Adams: When I was growing up, my parents were not what you would consider "foodies," but they loved food and understood the importance of sharing a meal together at the end of the day. Food took center stage in our family’s universe. During the week the meals weren’t fancy, but on the weekends and for parties, my mother would go all out with osso bucco, lamb curry and spaghetti Bolognese. On the weekends they also included wine with dinner, mostly Italian. Drinking and sharing wine was an integral part of those dinners, and they would allow us kids a tiny bit of wine to drink along with the meal.
WS: At what point in your career did you begin to learn the importance of creating dishes that would match well with wine?
JA: When I was sous chef at Hamersley's Bistro, Clos du Bois winery sponsored a national cooking and wine pairing competition. I created the winning meal of a marinated braised stuffed shoulder of lamb with mushrooms and kidneys that I paired with their Cabernet Sauvignon. It was at that point that I recognized how a meal is enhanced by including a wine that embellishes the flavor accents of the food.
WS: Your restaurant, Rialto, has a varied menu that includes some dishes with a host of unexpected ingredients. How do you create an award-winning wine list for such a varied menu, and how does a diner decide on the best wine for a dish with so many flavor accents?
JA: The wine list is a reflection of the menu, and is equally eclectic in nature. Our wine director, Brahm Callahan, does an amazing job of creating a group of wines that are a blend of more familiar wines along with those that are a bit obscure and perhaps unknown to our diners. Although the selection of wines is a collaborative effort at Rialto, we rely on Brahm’s knowledge and expertise to create a list that pairs well with the local ingredients and seasonal meals featured on the menu. He also pays particular attention to winemakers who follow ecologically conscious farming practices which may include producing organically grown or sustainably farmed grapes, as well as the practice of biodynamics.
WS: What kinds of wines do you like to drink at home?
JA: I’m not a wine collector, so I don’t have a wide selection to choose from and may not always drink the same wines all the time. One of my current favorites is a rosé from the Rialto list—Von Strasser Eye of the Diamond Cabernet Rosé (2008).
WS: If you could plan your final meal, what would be on the menu, where would you dine, what wine would you drink, and which five people would you invite to join you?
JA: Right now, it would be on the beach at Sandy Neck in Barnstable Harbor on Cape Cod. My dinner guests would include my husband, my two children and President Obama. We would eat grilled fresh striped bass and corn, littleneck clams cooked in garlic and olive oil with fresh parsley, and sliced tomatoes with basil. The wine would be Von Strasser Eye of the Diamond Cabernet Rosé. If you asked me in January, the meal would be different, but it would definitely include Barolo and mushrooms.
About 1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
2 medium onions, cut into 1/4-inch dice
4 cloves garlic, peeled and finely chopped
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
4 pounds ripe plum tomatoes, coarsely chopped
1 teaspoon sugar
1 beautiful eggplant (about 10 ounces), sliced into 8 slices each about 1/2-inch thick
2 cups water
1/2 cup coarsely chopped fresh basil, plus 4 leaves for garnish
1/2 cup pesto (recipe follows, or use prepared pesto of your choice)
Four 1/4-inch-thick slices fresh mozzarella (about 2 ounces total)
Four 1/4-inch-thick slices rustic bread, about the same size as the eggplant slices
1. Heat 2 tablespoons of the olive oil in a large soup pot over medium heat. Add the onions and garlic, season with salt and pepper, and cook until tender, 7 to 8 minutes. Add the tomatoes and sugar, lower the heat, and cook for 25 minutes.
2. While the tomatoes are cooking, season the eggplant slices with salt and pepper. (If you have more than 8 slices, set the remainder aside for another use or discard.) Heat 2 tablespoons of the olive oil in a large sauté pan over medium-high heat. Add the eggplant slices and sear on each side until golden brown and cooked through. Remove from the heat and let cool.
3. Add the water to the cooked tomato mixture and bring to a boil, then lower the heat to a simmer and cook for 5 minutes. Purée in a blender and strain through a fine sieve. Return the tomato soup to the pot, add the chopped basil, and simmer for 5 minutes.
4. Preheat the oven to 375° F. Spread the eggplant slices with the pesto. Put a slice of mozzarella on 4 of the slices. Top with the remaining 4 eggplant slices, pesto side down, to make "sandwiches."
5. Brush the bread with about 2 tablespoons of the olive oil and place on a small baking sheet. Toast in the oven until golden brown. Top each slice with an eggplant sandwich and return to the oven to continue heating until the cheese begins to melt.
6. While the sandwiches are heating, reheat the tomato broth if necessary.
8. Warm four soup bowls briefly in the oven and place an eggplant sandwich in the bottom of each warm bowl. Pour the tomato broth around the sandwiches. Drizzle with olive oil, garnish with the basil leaves, and serve immediately. (You may also serve the sandwiches and soup separately.) Serves four.
1. Put the basil leaves in a food processor. With the motor running, add the oil in a thin steady stream and process until the basil is finely chopped, about 1 minute. Add the garlic and pine nuts and process for another 20 seconds, or until the pine nuts are finely chopped but not a paste.
2. Transfer the pesto to a bowl. Stir in the cheeses. Taste and season with salt as necessary.
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