Sat 27 Jun 2009
In warm weather, we eat differently. Of course there’s the occasional steak cooked out on the grill, but mainly we’re after lighter fare that won’t sit heavily on the stomach, that’s more refreshing and delicate than winter’s hearty cuisine. Up until a week ago, LL and I ate out on the screened porch off the kitchen every night; here’s the table set at the end of May for a twilight meal of seared scallops on spinach with bacon, shallots and balsamic red onions and a charming, uncomplicated Trivento Select Torrontes 2008, from Argentina’s Mendoza region (Very Good, about $10). Frankly, now, it’s too hot to eat outside; with the temperature in the high 90s every day, even at 10 p.m., the heat and humidity feel stifling, so we’re dining inside where it’s cool.
The motif of today’s post, as you probably guessed, is summer fare and summer wines, so cue the theme music from Summer Place or The Summer of ’42 or even John Sebastian, and have a read.
Let’s start with a lovely pasta of Brussels sprouts leaves, onion, garlic and tasso, a variation on a recipe in Alice Waters’ Chez Panisse Vegetables (HarperCollins, 1996), a cookbook that I sometimes mention. (Instead of red pepper flakes, LL used spicy tasso ham.) This is a lighter dish than it may sound, because the leaves of the Brussels spouts are fairly delicate, and LL just used a little diced tasso, more for a bit of bass note emphasis than for full-fledged flavor. I fried some bread crumbs in butter to go on it. The pasta was delicious on a torrid summer night.
For wine, I opened — easy to do; all Bonny Doon wines are closed with screw-caps — the Bonny Doon Beeswax Vineyard Le Cigare Blanc 2007, Arroyo Seco, Monterey County. This blend of 64.3 percent roussane grapes and 35.7 percent grenache blanc is one of the best of the current crop of Rhone-style white wines made in California. It offers lemon curd, waxy white flowers, meadows and dried herbs in the nose, with hints of crystallized ginger and quince, roasted pears and lavender honey. Yes, it’s heady stuff. In the mouth, the wine, which sees a modicum of French oak, delivers pleasing weight and substance; it’s a bit fat, a little sassy, but balanced by spare, scintillating acidity and mineral elements. Notably clean and fresh, the wine is shot through with flavors of ripe lemons and limes and pears, highlighted with hazelnut skin and, on the finish, a touch of astringent grapefruit rind. Clearly not a sauvignon blanc or chardonnay and all the better for it. Excellent. About $22.
O.K., here’s one of our favorite hot weather dishes, broiled shrimp with mint and cannellini beans on watercress, though watercress can be hard to find — as in never, so just forget it! — so arugula is a good substitute. You make the mint into a sort of pesto. The recipe comes from a book I have mentioned many times over the years, a magazine-size publication of Food & Wine called Fast. This came out in, well, I think 2005. I can’t tell you for sure because the first few pages of the book are missing; it got left out in the rain one day and the cover warped and loosened. Many other pages are stained with oil or wine or vinegar or substances now unknown. It has become sort of an archeology of cooking. Anyway, this is an easy dish, especially if you buy peeled and deveined shrimp; if not, the hardest part is undressing the reluctant crustaceans.
When we had this dish recently, I opened a bottle of the Hazard Hill Semillon Sauvignon Blanc 2008, from the Plantagenet winery, established in 1968 and the first producer in Western Australia’s Great Southern region. Made completely in stainless steel, the wine is notably fresh and attractive, featuring aromas of leafy fig and roasted lemon with hints of melon and mint. Citrus flavors with a touch of grapefruit are highlighted by dried thyme and tarragon, all nestled in a sleek structure jazzed by lively acidity. A lovely quaff. Very Good+. About $13. a Great Bargain.
Imported by Old Bridge Cellars, Napa, Cal.
Next is a dish, also from Fast, that marries chicken thighs, garlic and cilantro with a piquant red miso glaze that, with the addition of white wine, turns into a savory sauce. The whole operation takes about 35 minutes, with most of that time spent idling the minutes away with a glass of champagne as the chicken cooks under the broiler. It’s a delicious combination that looks good, too, always an important point when food may end up as an illustration on this blog.
I was going to open a riesling with this dish, but LL, after tasting the broth, suggested something with a little more body, so we went with a Joseph Drouhin Chablis 2007, which turned out to be a good choice. Drouhin, a large and venerable negociant and grower in Burgundy, owns 67 acres of “regular” Chablis vineyards that are farmed organically. The juice is pressed at Drouhin’s facility in Chablis and then trucked to the company’s winery in Beaune, where it ferments and ages seven or eight months in stainless steel.
This Chablis — one hundred percent chardonnay — is clean and fresh and steely, with hints of spicy lemon, green plum, green grape and sauteed mushrooms over layers of earthy limestone. The wine displays gratifying tone and presence, with a hint of Burgundian fatness and weight, though it’s essentially spare and elegant. The spicy nature expands on the finish as well as the intensity of the mineral element. Drink through 2010. Very Good+. About $24.50.
Imported by Dreyfus, Ashby & Co,. New York.
Finally, here’s a dish we enjoy throughout warm weather, a pasta with a cold tomato sauce. This is utter simplicity. You halve some tomatoes, squeeze them to get rid of the excess juice and then chop them. Put them into a bowl with chopped shallots and basil and some good olive oil and balsamic vinegar and a few grinds of salt and pepper. Let it all sit for an hour to marinate, a good time for more champagne. Cook the pasta — this is best with a short curly-shaped pasta — drain, and toss it with the tomato mixture and grate on some Parmesan. The heat of the just-cooked pasta will warm the tomatoes but not too much, and the tomatoes will cool the pasta. Basically, this is a room temperature dish, and its variations are infinite.
Obviously something cool and clean and fresh was required, so we tried the Famiglia Bianchi Sauvignon Blanc 2008, San Rafael, Mendoza, Argentina. Cool and fresh, indeed, and bright and very drinkable, the wine features lemon and lime aromas woven with almond, almond blossom and jasmine. There’s a hint of the tropical, a sort of mango married to pear quality, and sheaves of leafiness and dried grasses. A lovely soft texture is enlivened with shimmering acidity and an audacious limestone element. The finish brings in a bit of grapefruit edginess to the package. Very attractive. Very Good+. About $16.
Imported by Quintessential, Napa, Cal.