Not your average game food

March Madness can take quite a toll on our culinary sensibilities. Night after night of nachos, hot dogs, burgers and pizza can build up (as can the cholesterol and fat), and even the most delicious of italian sausages, grilled and served with caramelized onions and sauteed peppers on a toasted--ok. That would probably never be old.

But March Madness also brackets the Spring Equinox, so I thought it might be an interesting exercise to make some lighter faire for the Gator's latest victory over UCLA.

Appetizer Plate

Finger food is a must. And while chips and dip are a crowd favorite, no one's going to turn down cheese and salami, especially if that cheese is a wonderfully flavorful, hearty goat's milk cheese, chevre.


  • Ciabatta bread
  • Hard salami
  • Chevré
  • Olives (I used large green olives stuffed with sun-dried tomatoes)

AntipastoThis is all about the cheese, so get a good serving dish or large dinner place and place a disc of cheese right in the center. Slice the bread and arrange in a flower pattern around the cheese (I toasted about half the slices and arranged them on one side of the plate) Finish up by arranging the hard salami and olives in small groups around the plate and serve.

Artichoke Nachos (Steamed artichokes with salsa verde)

I altered a recipe from this month's Bon Appètit magazine to make this dish.

Salsa Verde:

  • 1/2 cup chopped parsley
  • 2 tablespoons drained capers, rinsed
  • 3 tablespoons chopped green onions
  • 1/2 clove elephant garlic, coarsely chopped
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons fresh tarragon leaves
  • A pinch of crushed red pepper
  • 1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons whipping cream
  • 2 teaspoons rice wine vinegar

Artichoke and salsa verdeToss the parsley, capers, green onions, garlic, tarragon leaves, red pepper and vinegar into a blender or food processor (I used a hand mixer with the chopping blade attachment) and give those ingredients a whirl. When you're done, scoop the mixture into a bowl and whisk in the olive oil and cream. Set aside.

Set up a steaming rig: Many are fortunate enough to have one of those flying-saucer streamer racks that fit into the bottom of a pot. But you could use anything that would allow steam to flow while keeping the artichoke out of the water, even aluminium foil rolled into a ring and set in the bottom of the pot.

Get the rack, pot and water on the stove and bring the water to a boil. When it's boiling, reduce the heat to medium and place the artichoke(s) on the rack. Cover and let steam for about 30 minutes. Remove from the rack and let cool for about 10 minutes. Serve with the salsa verde or melted garlic butter.

Fresh Papaya Salad with Kumquat Vinaigrette and Feta


  • A large handful of fresh kumquats (approx. 10. Substitute: the juice of two monroe lemons and 2 tablespoons of orange juice)
  • 1 teaspoon light brown sugar
  • Balsamic vinegar to taste

PapayaJuice the kumquats into a small ramekin Stir in the brown sugar, a little bit at a time, until thoroughly mixed in (less can be used, depending on your taste)
Begin drizzling in the balsamic vinegar slowly. It is easy to mix in too much. The taste should be bright, citrusy, but also slightly sweet with an additional hint of the savory. Experiment! Find the combination that works best for you.

Peel and seed a medium red papaya, then cut into bite-sized pieces. Transfer those pieces to a bowl Sprinkle with feta (optional--the feta will give the dish an additional flavor profile that might not be top of everyone's list) Splash on the dressing. Can be served cold or at room temperature.

What to pair it with? A grazing meal as varied as this is going to need a wine that's is highly versatile, and I know of no other more versatile wine than pinot noir. For this weekend's eating I chose a non-vintage pinot, Pinot Evil.

Pinot Evil, non vintage Vin de Pays de I'lle de Baute

What to pair it with?Color: a dark, dusty ruby with none of the translucence or luminescence I normally associate with Pinot Noir

Nose: Absolute fruit. Very strong cherry and slight strawberry notes with a hint of some brightness--perhaps grass. Certainly had a green quality to it.

Palate: Light body and fairly high tannins given the rather lithe mouth feel. Definite fruit on the palate and some of the distinct minerality that comes with many old world wines.

Finish: very quick. Little lingering fruit, but does sweep the palate. One concern was the lingering alcohol heat I felt, something I don't normally associate with Pinot Noir.

While this wine was fair, it's probably not one I would buy again. Rather, I'd go to my old stand-by, the Rex Goliath NV Pinot Noir (California), a wine that consistently over-performs for its price point. I still haven't found a Pinot Noir that I would go to over my faithful Rex Goliath.

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