Thu 29 Oct 2009
The demise of Gourmet after 68 years as America’s high-toned food and cooking magazine — the November issue will be the last — is sad, though some would say, I among them, that while Ruth Reichl brought a new, contemporary sensitivity and sensibility to the venerable publication, under her editorship the line between editorial and advertising blurred shamelessly. And despite Reichl’s important concerns for sustainability and local products, such articles as the one in the October issue in which restaurant critics were asked how they would spend $1,000 going out to eat in their home cities, when many Americans would love to have $100 to eat out, reveals a tone-deafness inspired, perhaps, by the free-spending attitude at Condé Nast.
Still, one is sorry to see it go. LL and I cooked from the recipes in Gourmet fairly frequently, and when we recently purchased the new Gourmet Today cookbook edited by Reichl (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $40, but with a deep discount at Costco), we were disconcerted to see a sticker on the cover that said “A subscription to Gourmet magazine is included with the purchase of this book.” Um, Big Oops there.
We cooked, in elegiac mood, from Gourmet Today, which offers more than 900 pages of recipes, two nights in a row.
First comes what the book calls “Garlic Shrimp,” but is much more complicated than that brief description. The dish involved, well, yes, shrimp and lots of garlic, but also dried guajillo chilies, onions and tomatoes. As is typical with dried chilies, you heat them in a skillet, pressing them down, until they darken a bit and turn a little smoky. Then you add the garlic and onions and after a few minutes the tomatoes; it’s important to let the sauce stand for 30 minuts or so, so that the cut up chilies soften, otherwise they’ll be pretty darned chewy. After that, you heat the sauce again, add the shrimp and let them cook briefly. This is incredibly smoky, intense, heady stuff, spicy but not hot-spicy, to be eaten wrapped in warm tortillas or with rice, which is what we did, along with sauteed kale.
For wine, I opened something rather unusual, a vermentino from Corsica. This was the Clos Teddi Patrimonio 2008, a really lovely vermentino that incrementally built character in the glass as moments passed. Sporting a radiant straw-gold color, the wine offers scents of roasted lemon, yellow plum and ginger, with touches of almond and verbena. It’s quite spicy in the mouth, brisk with acidity and a hint of limestone, yet with a beguiling texture of talc-like smoothness, softness and density. To roasted lemon and lemon curd flavors, it adds glimpses of grapefruit and spiced pear and dried thyme. Not wishing to romanticize the wine too much, but it struck me as the essence of a Mediterranean white wine. Very Good+. I paid $26 for this wine, but prices around the country start at about $20.
Imported by Bourgeois Family Selections, Swannanoa, N.C.
The knock-out of this duo of dishes was the Wine-Braised Chuck Roast with Onions. For a four-pound boneless chuck roast, you use two pounds of sliced onions, and as the meat slowly braises in the oven for three hours or so in wine and water, the onions almost melt into the sauce, creating a texture and flavor of incomparable richness. We altered the recipe, which curiously calls for no vegetables, by adding chopped carrots, potatoes and turnips. Boy, oh boy, after emerging from the oven after that long cooking, the meat was supernaturally tender and succulent! By the way, everything on the plate, except for the carrots, came from the Memphis Farmers Market, including the chuck roast and the green and yellow beans.
Clearly something big, rich and succulent was called for to march hand-in-hand with this dish, so I opened a bottle of the Benovia Zinfandel 2007, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County. Now some commentators assert that no table wine displaying an alcohol level over say 14.5 or 15 percent can be balanced, that the presence of that much alcohol overwhelms all other aspects and automatically precludes an integrated and palatable wine. Certainly I have railed against the upward creep of alcohol levels in California and have criticized wines that flaunt their gonzo alcohol for sake of sheer size and power. So, I hope you will believe me when I say that despite sporting an alcohol content of 15.8 percent, the Benovia Zinfandel 2007, while, granted, a powerful and intense expression of the grape, is completely balanced and integrated, a sort of marvel of risky engineering. Black as the night that covers us from pole to pole (with a violet-purple rim), the wine bursts with notes of blackberry, blueberry and cranberry (with cranberry’s pert edge) infused with baking spice, licorice and a scent of damp shale. Terrific presence and substance without being weighty or obvious; lush and ripe, yes, but tempered by the rigor of brushy, briery tannins and slightly smoky oak, all this wrapped around an intense core of lavender, licorice and gravel-like minerals. Tremendous with the braised chuck roast. 197 cases made, so mark this wine Worth a Search. Excellent. About $38.