Earlier this week, I had Jamie Oliver’s Parsnip and Ginger Soup and Coda alla Vaccinara (Roman Oxtail Stew) ready for LL after her teaching night; she gets home about 8:45 or 9. The soup is from Jamie’s Food Revolution (Hyperion, $35); the oxtail stew is from the April issue of Saveur, and can be found here. While both dishes require some chopping and mincing, once you’ve done that, they’re easy.

Oliver’s book is subtitled “Rediscover How to Cook Simple, Delicious, Affordable Meals.” Recipes are simple but inflected with the chef’s habitual enthusiasm. The soup truly is delicious, smooth and earthy, but needed more gingery flavors. Oliver calls for “a thumb-sized piece of fresh ginger root,” and I guess that thumbs come in different sizes.

The triumph was the Coda alla Vaccinara, a superbly rich and flavorful rendition of oxtail stew in an intense tomato sauce that simmers for about three hours, the last 40 minutes or so with stalks of celery that turn meltingly tender. This is the dish that requires a lot of mincing: pancetta or guanciale, onion, celery, carrots, garlic. After you brown the oxtails, which are cut into small sections, and remove them from the pan, you soften all the minced stuff in the remaining, highly flavored olive oil, add red wine and cook until it evaporates — this process adds to the intensity — and then put the oxtails back in the pan with the contents of a large can of tomatoes (squashed by hand) and some water. Cover the pan and go about your business for two hours. Then, for the last 45 minutes to an hour, with the celery stalks, you leave the lid off the pan, so the sauce reduces and the flavors and texture become concentrated. Altogether, it cooks about three hours. Yeah, this is a great dish, and the sauce alone would be fabulous with pasta. In fact, I prepared the recipe for four people, so I think when it’s time to hit the leftovers, I’ll scrape the meat from the bones and serve meat and sauce with penne or farfalle.

I know that I should have served an Italian red wine with the oxtails, but the only Italian reds I have on hand are some Barolos and Barbarescos from 2005, and I’m not touching those for five years. Instead, I turned to the Loire Valley, cabernet franc and the Clos Cristal Hospices de Saumur 2008, from the Saumur-Champigny region. Along this stretch of France’s longest river, the appellations of Anjou, Saumur, Bourgueil and Chinon all cultivate the cabernet franc grape, known in these areas as côt. Unlike in Bordeaux, where cabernet franc is an integral factor among other grapes in the red wines, in the Loire cabernet franc is not blended with other grapes.

Since 1928, profits from the Clos Cristal Hospices de Saumur wines have benefited a local children’s hospital.

The first impression is of a smoky, dusty, earthy wine that faintly emits hints of black currants and black cherries; a few minutes in the glass bring out touches of cedar and tobacco, powdered shale, and more deeply spiced and macerated black fruit. Dusty, graphite-laced tannins deliver not a little austerity for the first few hours the wine is open, though the next morning the wine had smoothed out beautifully, revealing lovely balance and tone– and more smoke and a whiff of black olive — though retaining a tight grip on vibrant acidity and a spare, reticent character. A textbook model of Loire Valley cabernet franc that could be a bit less unbending. I recommend opening the wine three or four hours before serving. Drink now through 2016 or ’18. Very Good+. About $20 to $25.

A Bourgeois Family Selection, Asheville, N.C. A sample for review, but not from the importer.
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So last night, we did use the rest of the oxtail stew for a pasta sauce, first carving and scraping all the tiny shards and shreds of meat from the chunky little bones. This was such a rich, hearty and deeply flavorful sauce that we didn’t even grate any Parmesan cheese; it would have been superfluous.

For wine, I opened the Grgich Hills Estate Zinfandel 2007, Napa Valley, made from a biodynamic vineyard certified by Demeter (if that means anything to you and if you care). The year saw much less rainfall than normal, so yields were reduced and grapes were smaller, a factor reflected in this wine’s intensity and concentration. What’s interesting is that in contrast to the ideal (or delusion) of heavily extracted zinfandels in California, this zinfandel offers a lovely medium ruby color rather than the dark purple nigh unto black that we so often see. (Remember, the opaque darkness of the color of a red wine has nothing to do with its quality.) This zinfandel is very spicy and peppery, bursting with notes of blackberry and blackcurrant with a back-tone of strawberry. Dusty, velvety tannins are palatable but firm, while the oak influence — 15 months in large French casks (no new small barrels) –contributes subtle shape and suppleness. Layers of briers and brambles, a distinct mossy/foresty element add complexity to the ripe black fruit flavors, which include hints of mulberry and boysenberry, and the wine finishes with a filigree of wild fruit and exotic spice. Alcohol content is 14.9%. A model zinfandel made in a thankfully non-exaggerated manner. Drink now through 2014 to ’15. Excellent. About $35.

A sample for review.
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