An Intimate Send-Off to the Year of Being Together

In the end, 2020 was the year of being together. We might as well go out the same way.

Unless we are intent on prolonging and intensifying the Covid-19 pandemic, Americans will celebrate the New Year in the same small circle of constant companions with whom they have spent most every other day this year, holiday or not.

Forget the crowds. The long, catching-up conversations at New Year’s Eve parties with old acquaintances and the getting-to-know-you chats with the new will have to wait until next year, as will the after-midnight flirtations and the long walks home through the still-vibrant city at 4 a.m.

Instead, your spouse, your children, your small friendship pod, the people with whom you’ve shared every step of this pandemic — they will be New Year’s Eve company.

Even the closest couples don’t ordinarily spend as much time together as they have this year. Many people have not only survived the enforced isolation, they have discovered new levels of love.

With so much to loathe about 2020 — the needless losses; the grief; the social, political, economic and psychological wounds that will take years to heal — perhaps this holiday can be a glimmer of something positive. For that, I think we should celebrate.

Why not take this New Year’s Eve to toast those with whom you are most familiar, whose company you’ve kept and enjoyed even more than anyone could have imagined?

These small parties can take several different forms: A romantic dinner for two, a family dinner with the kids, a meal with the neighbors who are in your Covid pod. Or maybe you’re a single parent with your children, or a couple with a parent who’s been living with you. It could be just you.

Why not dress up for dinner to celebrate a year spent in pajamas and sweatpants? Light some candles. Put together a decorative centerpiece. Play some favorite music.

In whatever form the festivities take, sparkling wine or Champagne is in order to set a festive tone. Yes, I know, sparkling wines are not only for celebrations. But a celebration wouldn’t be complete without bubbles.

No need to finish the whole bottle. Just have a glass for a toast, a second if you like. Cap the bottle and save it for midnight, if you’re in the mood then for another toast.

Perhaps you’re having a booze-free celebration. Plenty of great recipes for cocktails without alcohol are available.

I thought I would suggest a few options for small celebratory meals, along with the wines that might accompany them. Here are eight ideas, in no particular order.

Roast Duck

Roasting a chicken is a great meal for all seasons. For something unusual, how about roasting a duck? It’s a slightly more complex operation because of the volume of fat that a duck can yield. But that fat is precious. Save it for potatoes and popcorn, and even for rubbing the skin of your next roast chicken. For accompaniment, maybe wild rice or sweet potatoes and this terrific brussels sprouts dish with garlic.

Few things go better with a roast duck than an assertive pinot noir. I’d open a good Gevrey-Chambertin, or a bottle from Oregon, New Zealand or California. You could also try a Pomerol if you’re in a Bordeaux mood.

Lasagna

For the last few years, since we gave up on New Year’s parties, my wife and I have ritually made lasagna our last meal of the year. This recipe, from Regina Schrambling, is so filling it requires nothing more than a salad as an accompaniment. You will have delicious leftovers for the next day, and, if you freeze the rest, for months on end.

I love sangiovese with lasagna. Chianti Classico is my choice, but Brunello or Rosso di Montalcino will do more than nicely. Montepulciano d’Abruzzo is also a good option.

Griot

Years ago I used to live near a tiny Haitian restaurant that made wonderful griot, a dish of chunks of pork shoulder that is classically marinated in chile, citrus and vinegar, braised and then fried. Oh my, it was so good. The thought of it makes me feel like celebrating, which is reason enough to make it for a party. Serve it with rice and beans — either Haitian-style or Cuban black beans — and don’t forget the pikliz, a traditional accompaniment.

With a spicy dish like this, you could go all the way with your bottle of Champagne or sparkling wine. Or for a change, a modestly sweet German riesling, like a spätlese, would be wonderful. Afterward, you can toast with a glass of cremas, the wonderfully sweet Haitian celebratory drink.

Pizza

If you have the kids at home, and maybe even if you don’t, making your own pizza is the way to go. With kids, it can be a collaborative effort. Without kids, it’s an act of self-care. Top it with whatever you like, throw together a salad, and you’ve got a meal.

In Italy, pizza calls for bubbles, whether Lambrusco, beer or Coca-Cola. For a celebration, you could most definitely keep drinking Champagne. It’s a tried-and-true combination, for me at least. Or you dispense with the bubbles imperative and pull out a fine Barolo, Chianti Classico, Brunello di Montalcino or any other red with lively acidity.

Bay Scallops

It’s been a rough year for the scallopers. The Peconic Bay season was a bust, and the Nantucket Bay season has not fared well in the pandemic. Yet scallops are such a treat if you can find them. I like them done simply, sautéed in butter with garlic. But maybe this is the time to cook them as the French might, with a recipe for coquilles St.-Jacques Bordelaise, maybe with rice and a fennel salad.

Scallops are a wonderful dish for a fine white Burgundy, though, if you want to be Bordelaise about it, a good white Bordeaux from Pessac-Léognan would be delicious, too.

Tournedos Rossini

Steak is a celebration any time, and I’ve got a bottle of 2001 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon from Cathy Corison waiting for the next time I cook a dry-aged porterhouse. But if you really want to get fancy, how about this throwback to the days of sumptuous haute cuisine. Tournedos Rossini incorporates not only filet mignon but foie gras, truffles and the sort of rich sauce that nobody makes anymore. You could add some sautéed spinach and maybe a baked potato, but only with plenty of butter.

It’s one complex dish, but a good, aged Burgundy or a red from the Northern Rhône, like an older Côte-Rôtie should be up to the task.

Pasta With White Truffles

Speaking of truffles, December is the end of white truffle season in Italy. If by chance you should manage to acquire one, it could have no better fate than to be grated over pasta with butter. Tajarin is the pasta of choice in the Piedmont region, where the truffles grow. It’s just Piemontese dialect for tagliatelle, but any long, wide pasta right down to linguine will do. Serve it with salad.

This is the dish for an older Barolo, if you have one, or even a younger one (by which I mean 10 years old or so). No old Barolo? You could try an older vintage Champagne or white Burgundy, but if aged wine is not in the cards, a youthful Dolcetto d’Alba or Dogliani will do nicely.

Black-Eyed Peas With Ham Hock and Collards

Throughout the American South, black-eyed peas are a must-have on New Year’s Day. They are considered good luck in the New Year, and do we ever need it. Adding a green like collards (the color of cash) helps to assure prosperity.

If I were to stretch the tradition and serve this dish on New Year’s Eve, I would suggest a chardonnay, white Burgundy or a St.-Joseph or Cornas from the Northern Rhône.

Strict adherents, however, will serve it after midnight or wait until Jan. 1 dawns bright. In that case, I’d open another bottle of Champagne and drink to 2021 and the prospect that we’ve got nowhere to go but up.

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