Top Crop: Pairing PA Wines with Fall Produce

Welcome back to our series Top Crop where we connect with PA farmers, celebrate local produce, and pair seasonal dishes with Pennsylvania wines. Next up is fall, the season when comfort food beckons, root vegetables proliferate, and orchards wilt with apples.

Jarrah Cernas of Chicano Sol Farm grew up down the street from Spiral Path Farm, a 300-acre certified organic enterprise in Perry County. She had a summer job there during high school but swore that the agricultural life was not for her.

“I went to nursing school,” she says. “I remember it was a hot summer day. I can still see the room that I was standing in, looking out the window and thinking, there are other ways to help people be healthy than in the medical field. I somehow found myself back at Spiral Path. I found Augustin there.”

That’s Augustin Cernas, who became her husband. The couple bought a small, seven-acre farm in nearby Blain, PA — though there wasn’t much growing there at the time — while still working at Spiral Path.

“Our first child came along and the thought of working 70-80 hour weeks for someone else didn’t feel ideal,” explains Jarrah. “So I stopped working and was looking for something to do with our little piece of land. A nearby couple had gone out of business and they had nine greenhouses for sale. We bought them all and moved them to our place.”

Jarrah and Augustin seeded their first beds on January 1, 2010. These days, the Cernas’ Chicano Sol Farm sells organic produce at farmer’s markets and through a small CSA.

Because the family is so busy, mealtime is all about simplicity and using whatever is left over after selling at the farmer’s market. The PA Wine Land Post chatted with Jarrah about some of her favorite fall dishes — filling family staples that grace the Cernas’ table as the weather turns cold — and paired them with Pennsylvania wines.

Pasta with Arugula Pesto
Pairing: PA Noiret

“I’m always battling between farm and family,” says Jarrah. “I don’t have three hours to prepare a meal. I like things that we can do quickly. Pesto is a good one that we can whip up. Be it basil pesto, or cilantro pesto, or arugula pesto.”

Thanks to those greenhouses, Chicano Sol produces fresh baby greens year-round. In the fall, arugula is a wonderful choice. The tender, peppery greens can be blended with whatever nuts you have on-hand (give them a quick toast), olive oil, and salty aged cheese (parmesan is classic).

Pair this simple supper with a bottle of Pennsylvania Noiret. The varietal is beloved for its peppery notes, which will bring out the flavor in the verdant sauce.

Boston Red Lettuce with Thinly Sliced Carrots and Beets
Pairing: PA Riesling

“We have salad 12 months a year at our farm,” says Jarrah. “We’re well known for our Red Boston lettuce, so that’s usually the base. When we do beets, we usually eat them raw. Thinly slice them with carrots and then a little vinaigrette on top. It’s one of the best salads ever.”

This salad is all about the balance between subtle natural sweetness (beets, carrots) and acidity. Choose a wine that plays the same game: Pennsylvania Riesling is an excellent choice.

Roasted Vegetable Soup with Butternut Squash and Sweet Potatoes
Pairing: PA Cabernet Franc

“I don’t often follow recipes,” explains Jarrah. “It’s just about what we have around. In the fall, that’s winter squash, carrots, and sweet potatoes.”

Roasting is an easy way to maximize the flavor of fresh produce. Brown the vegetables on a sheet tray in the oven, and then combine with homemade broth (vegetable or chicken), and purée. The sweetness and umami from the roasting will carry through into the soup, taking a fall classic to the next level.

While the cooking method will emphasize the ingredients’ sweeter sides, a well-chosen wine will underline the inherent earthiness of the root vegetables. Pennsylvania Cabernet Franc has entrancing notes of tobacco and forest floor, with undercurrents of black pepper and herbs, making it an intriguing selection.

Cauliflower and Broccoli Bake with Béchamel and Cheese
Pairing: PA Grüner Veltliner

One of the upsides to selling at producer-only farmer’s markets is building relationships with other farmers and food entrepreneurs. The Cernas family routinely barters their vegetables for sustainably-raised meat from Pecan Meadow Farm in Newburg, PA, beans from Standing Stone Coffee Company in Huntingdon, PA, or cheese from Keswick Creamery. Those artisanal items can take simple meals to the next level.

“I’ll cook a cauliflower and broccoli bake with white sauce on it,” explains Jarrah. “The cream is from one of the vendors at the farmer’s market and the cheese is from Keswick Creamery in Newburg.”

This is a dream family dish — comforting, easy, and packed with healthy vegetables. While the kids chow down, parents should pour a glass of PA Grüner Veltliner. This dry, high-acid white will cut through the meal’s richness and the wine’s complex aromatics will bring out nuances in the grass-fed dairy.

(Not Homemade) Apple Tarts
Pairing: PA Sparkling Cayuga

“There are also several bakers at our farmer’s market,” says Jarrah with a laugh, when asked if she likes to bake. “There’s one guy who does these amazing apple tarts — just flaky, fall apart in your mouth. So often if I’m at market, I’ll trade produce for some of his stuff. It’s a great dessert, and also makes a great snack for the crew when we’re working long days.”

Apples scream fall, and whether you’re leaving the pastry-making to the experts or pulling out your rolling pin, this is the perfect moment to pop the cork on a bottle of sparkling Cayuga. This hybrid white grape often exudes notes of ripe pineapple, honey, and hints of foxiness. Go for an off-dry version to play up the sweetness of the apples.