We continue to work our way through one of our favorite cookbooks, Jamie’s Italy (Hyperion, $34.95), by British chef and cooking personality Jamie Oliver. Many of the dishes he presents are eminently suited to the ferociously hot weather we’re enduring, that is, cooking is at a minimum (well, risotto takes some time at the stove) and the effects are light and delicious. We prepared these two meals on consecutive nights this week.

First was the Fennel Risotto with Ricotta and Dried Chili. This is basically a risotto, made the usual way, with minced onion and garlic (or shallot), white wine, a little butter, but halfway through, you add the thinly sliced fennel that you’ve slowly sauteed with pulverized fennel seeds, garlic and olive oil. You add ricotta, Parmesan and lemon zest before the cooking is finished and at the last minute sprinkle on the crushed — or “bashed up,” as Oliver says — dried red chilies, fennel tops and more Parmesan. This was a seriously tasty dish, bursting with sweet, earthy flavor and heat but not heavy or too spicy.

With the risotto, I opened a bottle of the Graham Beck Gamekeeper’s Reserve Chenin Blanc 2008, from the Coastal Region of
South Africa. Traditionally, the chenin blanc grape is called steen on labels, but that usage is becoming rare as the country’s wines are imported more widely into the United States. What a beauty this is! Scents of quince, yellow plum and pear are wreathed with crystallized ginger and cloves and a touch of honey. There’s more of a citrus tang on the tongue, like lime peel and grapefruit, with a hint of mango. The wine is notably crisp and lively, yet the lovely texture is neatly balanced between spareness and almost luxurious lushness. This aspect is tempered, as the minutes pass, by a tide of piercing minerality in the form of limestone and damp shale. At a bit more than two years old, the Gamekeeper’s Reserve Chenin Blanc 2008 offers an alluringly mature example of the grape. The winemaker was Erika Obermeyer. Alcohol is 13.5 percent. Drink through 2012 or ’13. Excellent. About $16, representing Great Value.

The wine was terrific with the risotto, the richness and fruitiness of the chenin blanc working well with the sweetness and richness of the risotto yet playing off the heat from the dried chilies.

Imported by Graham Beck Wines, San Francisco. A sample for review.
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The next night, we tried grilled swordfish with salsa di Giovanna, which could also be done with tuna. Giovanna sauce is really just a vinaigrette, but in addition to the olive oil and lemon juice, salt and pepper, it contains finely sliced garlic and chopped fresh mint and oregano. I mean, that’s it, but, mama mia, what a sauce it made for a wonderful, thick swordfish steak LL bought at Whole Foods. You just grill or saute the fish, and when it’s on the plate, dribble the sauce over it. Oliver gives credit to Giovanna, a cook at an estate in Sicily for teaching him this method. We tend to under-cook swordfish, so this was incredibly moist, tender and flavorful in the way swordfish can be when it’s not over-cooked, as it almost always is in restaurants. LL made roasted potatoes and bok choy sauteed in olive oil and garlic to go with the swordfish.

On this occasion, I opened the Margerum Klickitat Pinot Gris 2009, which carries a designation of “American.” That means that the grapes were grown in one state, in this case Washington, and the wine was made in another state, in this case, California. According to the TTB — Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau — you can make a cross-county wine and list the counties on the labels –as in, say, 65% Napa 35% Mendocino — but not so with an interstate wine; those have to be called “American.” “Klickitat” is a county in southern Washington named for a Native American tribe of the Yakima group. The winery is in the town of Los Olivos, in Santa Barbara County’s Santa Ynez Valley.

The Margerum Klickitat Pinot Gris 09 is a super-attractive wine on the model of the versions of Alsace, where the pinot gris grape can reach its apotheosis. Apple, lemon and pear aromas are woven with apple blossom and jasmine that develop, after a few minutes, lovely notes of tangerine and orange blossom. Plenty of flowers, yes, but the bouquet remains charming, balanced and compelling and not overwhelmingly floral. Spicy and herbal elements — spiced pear and lemon; dried thyme — make themselves known, both in the nose and mouth, and they increase their effect at the same time as the wine takes on more damp gravel-like minerality; while delicate in its constituent parts, the wine adds up to a substantial presence in its weight and lively, slightly lush texture. This all went down so easily, and it paired beautifully with the swordfish and Giovanna sauce. Winemaker was Doug Margerum. Production was about 1,450 cases. Drink through 2012. Excellent. Suggested retail price is about $16 (I mean at the winery), but here in Memphis, I paid $22.
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