Cooking at Home

O.K., on the left side of the plate, a slice of olive-oil toasted bread piled with marinated red onions, roasted red peppers, roasted eggplant, roasted Portobello mushrooms and arugula; on the right side of the plate, another slice of olive-oil toasted bread with match-stick slices of hard salami and shredded feta cheese. Slap ’em together, hold ’em with both hands, and dive it! I think LL and I each said, practically simultaneously, “This is the best freakin’ sammich in the universe!” It was; they were. We had all these marinated and roasted vegetables on hand because we had arranged for the catering of a reception last week and brought home a tray of leftovers. I used some of the stuff on Saturday’s pizza, and more went into a simple pasta dish.

Still on the theme of Prosecco sparkling wines from the Cartizze region, with these glorious sandwiches I opened the Bisol Cartizze Prosecco Valdobbiadene Superiore, non-vintage; the producer also makes a vintage version. Again, as with Le Colture Cartizze mentioned a few days ago, the Bisol Cartizze is an extraordinary effort, especially compared to all the soft, sweet, vapid Proseccos that dominate the market. This is a very pale straw-gold color. Pungent aromas of ripe peaches and pears, orange zest and lime peel make an immediately impression, followed by a subtle strain of almond skin and apple skin, all making for a super-seductive bouquet. A touch of sweetness entices the palate, but this is a sparkling wine largely about structure framed by steely acidity that gives you a taste o’ the lash and limestone that sings the highest poignant notes of minerality. What’s so intriguing about the Bisol Cartizze is a paradoxical quality that combines slightly sweet lip-smacking “drink-me” viscosity with a spare, bone-dry savory character. As always with sparking wines, the alcohol level is low, about 11 percent. Excellent. About — ahem — $43 to $48.

I’ll admit that I would feel more comfortable with the Cartizze category of Prosecco if the price range were $25 to $30 instead of $35 to $45 or so. When the cost of these (granted) superior sorts of Proseccos crosses $40, then we’re in the realm of non-vintage Champagne, and comparisons may start to falter.

Vias Imports, New York. A sample for review from a trade group.

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.

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.

LL visited one of our favorite restaurants last night, sans moi, but with colleagues from the university and a visiting curator. So, left to my feeble devices, I conjured an omelet aux fines herbes, with minced fresh oregano, thyme and tarragon and two chopped black olives. I dribbled olive oil on a couple of slices of whole-grain bread and grated on a little Parmesan and Pecorino cheeses and ran them under the broiler. Voila! My dinner, which I ate out on the screened porch as a gentle rain fell and dusk deepened to the point that I could no longer read.

One of the so-called truisms of wine and food pairing is that it’s difficult to match wine with eggs. Zut alors! All sorts of wines go with eggs, but they cannot be big, heavy or obvious wines. With omelets before I have consumed rosés, particularly the pale, delicate rosés of Provence and Languedoc (or on that model), rieslings and lighter pinot noirs. Last night, however, I took a chance on the chardonnay grape in the form of the Rully “Chatalienne” 2007, from the house of J.M. Boillot, and was happy that I did.

Jean-Marc Boillot worked for the Burgundian family domaine, Henri Boillot, from 1971 to 1984. After some disagreement with the family on philosophy and methodology, he went to work for Olivier Leflaive, while making wine from five acres under his own label. He set up business, based in Pommard, in 1988, benefiting from inheritances, in the form of exceptional vineyard acreage, from his paternal grandfather and his maternal grandfather, the renowned Etienne Sauzel. The firm of J.M. Boillot owns about 11 hectares — just over 28 acres — in Volnay, Beaune, Pommard, Meursault, Puligny-Montrachet and Chassagne-Montrachet, mainly in Premier Cru vineyards. J.M. Boillot’s wines from Rully, just south of Burgundy proper, at the top of the Côte Chalonnaise, are made from purchased grapes or wine that Boillot “finishes.” As with many houses in Burgundy that are both property owners (“proprietors”) and negociants (“negotiating” for grapes and wine), Boillot distinguishes between such wines on the labels; wines from the domaine are listed as “Domaine J.M. Boillot,” while those from the negociant side merely say “J.M. Boillot.”

Whatever the case, J.M. Boillot’s Rully “Chatalienne” 2007 is an exquisite expression of the chardonnay grape. The color is radiant medium gold; the bouquet is a subtle amalgam of lemon and baked pear with a hint of honeysuckle and spiced peach. These aromas grow more pure and intense as the moment pass, becoming almost deliriously attractive. Flavors of roasted lemon and milder pineapple take on a circumference of quince and crystallized ginger. The wine is quite dry, vibrant with burgeoning elements of limestone and damp shale and with crisp acidity, though the texture deftly balances leanness with talc-like lushness. A trace of mature earthiness joins a touch of apple custard on the long, lovely finish. Drink through 2011, well-stored, and consume it nicely chilled to keep that acidity high. Excellent. About $19 to $23, Great Value.

Imported by Vineyard Brands, Birmingham, Ala. I paid for this one.

Last night we made one of our favorite warm — make that brutally hot — weather dishes, the pasta with cold tomato sauce from a book we have been using for years, Sally Schneider’s The Art of Low-Calorie Cooking (Stewart, Tabori & Chang, 1990, large-format paperback edition, 1993). Our well-used copy of the book is thoroughly stained and grimy, surely a testimony to our affection.

Nothing could be simpler. While the pasta is cooking — last night it was fuselli farfalle (see response in comments below) — you strip the skin from fresh tomatoes by holding them over a flame for 30 seconds (Schneider’s method) or just hold them, one by one, in a slotted spoon in the boiling water for a few seconds (LL’s technique) and slip that skin off. Squeeze some of the juice out and then chop the tomatoes and put them in a bowl. Add chopped fresh basil and two tablespoons of a mixture of fresh chopped herbs such as thyme, oregano and tarragon, our choice last night, some minced shallots, salt, pepper and splashes of balsamic vinegar and olive oil and mix together. When the pasta is ready, drain it, divide it among the bowls and spoon on the sauce. Schneider doesn’t call for cheese, but we usually add some shaved salada ricotta and maybe a little grated Parmesan and Pecorino. The hot pasta gently warms the sauce. That’s it, and it’s incredibly refreshing and delicious!

I opened a bottle of the Georges Duboeuf Beaujolais-Villages 2009, from an exceptional vintage for that region, as indeed it is for much of France. Beaujolais-Villages is a designation and geographical area that lies between the more generic Beaujolais appellation, in the lowlands to the south, and the upland cru Beaujolais further north, where 10 villages or communes (the crus) are entitled to have their names alone on labels. All wines from Beaujolais, whatever the category, are made from 100 percent gamay grapes.

Georges Duboeuf Beaujolais-Villages 2009 is rapturously pure and intense. The color is dark bluish ruby-purple with a black cherry-magenta rim. Penetrating aromas of spiced and macerated black cherries, mulberries and currants are touched with briers and brambles and a hint of shale. The segue to black cherry and currant flavors is seamless, and after a few minutes in the glass, the wine expands with elements of dusty leather, damp shale, violets and potpourri while vibrant acidity keeps the wine lively and attractive. In terms of structure and personality, this is clearly the best Beaujolais-Villages I have tasted from Georges Duboeuf. Now through 2011. Very Good+. About $10 to $12, a Raving Bargain.

Imported by W.J. Deutsch & Sons, Harrison, N.Y. A sample for review. Despite the date on the bottle in the image, the wine under review is the 2009. Why can’t companies keep their websites up-to-date? It’s so freaking annoying!

“That’s perfect,” said LL, sipping from a glass of Girard Sauvignon Blanc 2009, Napa Valley. She was referring not just to the wine but to its quietly impeccable match with our dinner last night, an improvised dish of Fava Bean Risotto with Mint and Green Peas.

It’s always exciting to see fava beans in the markets in May and June, because I know that LL will buy a pound or so and turn them into risotto, an annual treat made more precious by its rare appearance. The younger and more tender the beans are, the easier they are to work with; they come double-clothed, first in the large pod and then in a tight, inner sheath. What LL made was really a combination of recipes from Alice Waters and Jamie Oliver; the Waters recipe called for asparagus, which we did not have, while Oliver included green peas and mint, which we did. The easiest way to deal with fava beans is to strip off the rather ugly pod, drop the favas in a pot of boiling water, turn down the flame and simmer them for one minute; then run them under cold water and either using your fingers or a small knife strip away the skin. Waters recommends cooking the fava beans for 15 or 20 more minutes, but these were so tender without cooking (except for that one minute) that LL just pureed them as they were, with olive oil and a handful of mint from the Memphis Farmers Market. She wasn’t going to use green peas, but relented at the last moment to give the texture of the risotto “some bumps,” to use her technical culinary term. The peas also came from the Farmers Market.

This made an absolutely wonderful dish, filled with the redolent and flavorful freshness of early summer made sprightly with the hint of mint.

Fresh and sprightly, too, was the Girard Sauvignon Blanc 2009, made all in stainless steel and seeing no malolactic process, so the acidity flashes like a bright, keen blade. The color is pale straw, the next cousin to the color of water, yet conveying its own subtle radiance. An utterly entrancing bouquet of lilac segueing to camellia, of talc and pears, of pine resin and sea-salt and some lemony-herbal tisane draws you in irresistibly; a few minutes in the glass bring in touches of hay, grass and lime peel. The wine is very dry, brisk and lively, deftly balanced between the spare-crisp-chalky median and moderately lush suavity. Flavors of roasted lemon and just a bit of some tropical element — pineapple and mango — are subdued in the finish by a tang of pithy grapefruit bitterness. The alcohol content is 13.9 percent. Winemakers for Girard are Marco DiGiulio and Zach Long. Excellent. About $16, a Raving Bargain.

A sample for review.

Last night we made the Orecchiette with Cauliflower, Anchovies and Fried Croutons from the May 2010 issue of Bon Appetit. The recipe is included in an article about the cuisine and wine of Puglia, the Achilles heel and actual heel of the Italian boot. Simplicity is the byword in that rugged region, and not much could be simpler than this dish. The most complicated part is dicing bread to make croutons and cutting a few zucchini into 1/3-inch cubes. The cauliflower is trimmed, cut into 1-inch florets and roasted in a 425-degree oven. There are garlic, anchovies, Italian parsley, Parmesan and Romano cheeses, and basically the whole thing comes together at the last minute before you add the cute, al dente orecchiette, “little ears.” This is a terrific pasta that needs no side dishes because your vegetables are already there! You could have a salad, of course.

I wanted something crisp and beguiling for the wine, and not anything overbearing or flamboyant — not the triteness of the brash New Zealand style — so I opened a bottle of the Gainey Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc 2008, from California’s Santa Ynez Valley, and got exactly what I wanted. Made from grapes derived from Gainey’s Home Vineyard, the wine is a blend of 75 percent sauvignon blanc and 25 percent semillon. It’s made completely in stainless steel, so its vivid freshness and vibrancy make themselves known immediately, yet beyond that aspect, the wine is a model of restraint, a tissue of nods and nuances. Aromas of pears, watermelon and grapefruit are highlighted by notes of thyme and tarragon and a bit of grass; the semillon makes itself known by hints of leafy fig and lemongrass. The wine is crisp and lithe, but not angular, and it layers flavors of roasted lemon and pear with spice, lavender and a resonant limestone quality that sweeps a tinge of grapefruit sass into the finish. The complete effect is of balance and integration, of each element permeating and permeated by the other elements, plus, the whole thing is damned delightful. The winemaker is Jon Engelskirger. Production was 1,450 cases. Excellent. About $15, a Raving Great Value.

A sample for review.

There’s no need to dilate upon the extraordinary career of Manhattan chef and (now) entrepreneur David Chang, so this recapitulation will be brief. Chang is Korean American, and his culinary stomping ground is the East Village. First, in 2003, came Momofuku Noodle Bar, then, in 2006, Momofuku Ssãm Bar and then, in 2008, Momokufu Ko, which propelled Chang into the heady glare of celebrity, multiple awards and two Michelin stars. Adjacent to Ssãm is now Momofuku Bakery and Milk Bar, and in April, Chang made a move into Midtown Manhattan and opened the French-Vietnamese restaurant Má Pêche in the Chambers Hotel; chef is Tien Ho.

Much of this brilliant career is related with verve, considerable drama, good humor and surprising modesty by Chang and Peter Meehan in Momofuku (Clarkson Potter, $40), a cookbook and autobiography written as closely as possible in the chef’s own salty language. It’s a tale of fits and starts, of experimentation, insane goofiness, failure, lots of beer and incredible success. The recipes fall into the order of the successive restaurants, Noodle, Ssãm and Ko. The Asian influence is profound, but more pronounced is the willingness of Chang and his various chefs to work New World variations on Asian themes, such as making the traditional Japanese dashi soup stock with bacon or to serve Brussels sprouts with a fish sauce vinaigrette.

I have not eaten at Noodle or Ko, which has only 12 seats, but I have dined at Ssãm four times: twice on consecutive nights in March 2007, again with LL in September 2007 and in May 2009. Every dish is a revelation of strangely complementary flavors and textures, but there’s nothing weird or excessively (that is, phony) witty about the food.

I was excited to get a copy (not free) of the cookbook, and of course I wanted to make something from it, but ingredients are sometimes exotic, and while many dishes seem entirely simple, others require several prep and cooking steps before the dish is finally put together. After reading the book several times and poring over the recipes obsessively, I settled on a dish from Ko, the Roasted New Jersey Diver Scallop, Kohlrabi Puree and Iwa Nori, part of the multi-course dinner from the original menu at Ko. These are the elements of the dish: 1. the scallop (I used two for each of us since this was our main dinner course); 2. kohlrabi puree; 3. pickled chanterelles; 4. finely julienne scallion; 5. bacon dashi; 6. iwa nori, or unpressed nori, the kind of seaweed (when compressed) that sushi rolls are made from.

First, I couldn’t find kohlrabi, so I emailed Peter Meehan and asked if fennel would work as a substitute; he said that fennel would be fine. Then last week, at the Memphis Farmers Market, several vendors had kohlrabi, so that was taken care of. The bacon dashi called for konbu, another form of pressed seaweed. Whole Foods stocks konbu but not iwa nori, used as a garnish on the dish, so I substituted the dried seaweed wakame, which looked very pretty on the plate as well as providing a welcome bit of crunch. Nor could I find chanterelles, so I substituted shiitakes. (Mea culpa, chef!)

Last Sunday morning, I made the bacon dashi, the kohlrabi puree and the pickled mushrooms and put them in the fridge. No food processor used here; the kohlrabi puree is made the old-fashioned way, simmering chunks of kohlrabi until they’re soft, mashing them with a hand masher and forcing the mash through a fine sieve with the back of a wooden spoon. That night, it was just a matter of slicing a scallion “incredibly fine,” as the instructions say, and soaking the strips in cold water, where they curl around very nicely, and gently warming the dashi and the puree. From that point, things happen quickly. I had the plates ready and warmed. I salt-and-peppered the large sea scallops and seared them in grapeseed oil and after about 90 seconds, added butter to the pan and when it had melted used a spoon to scoop the butter over the scallops. This all takes about three and a half minutes, tops.

The assembly is: A smear of kohlrabi puree and then the scallops on top of that, in a wide, shallow bowl; the slices of pickled mushrooms, the tendrils of scallions, artlessly arranged; a scattering of wakame; a few spoonfuls of bacon dashi ladled into the bowl; sea salt. The result is captured in the image above. I was, frankly, damned proud of myself; the dish looked beautiful and tasted fabulous, with layers of contrasting and complementary textures and flavors that were playful and satisfying. Particularly important were the smoky bacon dashi and the briny pickled mushrooms and the manner in which they infiltrated the rich succulent sweetness of the scallops and the smooth, sapid earthiness of the kohlrabi puree.

For wine, I opened the pale straw-blond Plantagenet Riesling 2008, from Western Australia’s cool Great Southern region. Founded in 1968, Plantagenet was the first winery in Great Southern.

A few sips taken while I was cooking were quintessentially lively with scintillating limestone and actually puckery with animated acidity. The dish gently moderated the wine’s aggressive stance and emphasized the camellia-jasmine floral elements and scents and flavors of lemon and pear delicately touched with notes of lemon-grass, lime peel, ginger and quince. This is a riesling of lovely purity and intensity whose pert cool crisp character is enveloped in a seductive texture of talc-like softness. The alcohol content is a comfortable 11.7 percent. I’ll drink to that! Drink now through 2015 to ’18 (well-stored). Excellent. About $20, representing Great Value.

Imported by Old Bridge Cellars, Napa, Cal. A sample for review.

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.

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.

As those of you know who have read this blog faithfully and in a state of more than semi-consciousness, Saturday marks Pizza & Movie Night in our house and has for 15 years or so. Last night was no exception. I had purchased some very cute baby eggplant and beautiful basil at Whole Foods, and yesterday, from opening day of the Memphis Farmers Market, we brought home, among other green things, garlic sprouts and spring onions.

I sliced the eggplant thinly, doused the pieces with olive oil, salt and pepper, and slide them under the broiler, watching carefully so they didn’t burn. For the rest, I used thin slices of Roma tomatoes, one of those garlic sprouts — they’re quite peppery — , chopped spring onions, diced applewood smoked bacon, and mozzarella, parmesan and pecorino romano cheeses. The dough had rolled out perfectly, so I was entertaining intimations of this being a great pizza, perhaps one of the best.

Now, to fill in the background of this story, we have been fostering a pit bull-boxer mix dog since December. Her name is Mary Sue. She’s not particularly large, weighing probably 35 to 37 pounds, but she’s very strong. I mean the muscles in her thighs are terrific; it looks as if she goes to the gym every day and works out with a personal trainer. Mary Sue’s obsession is fabric. When she first came to stay with us, she slept on a pallet of dog mats, blankets and towels that she carefully arranged when it was time for a nap or to settle in for the night. I mean, she would actually move the blankets and towels around and put them in what was to her proper order. (She sleeps in a crate now.)

When Mary Sue was intoduced into the kitchen/sitting room with the rest of the dogs, she transferred this fabricophilia to dish-towels, hot-pads and napkins, which at every opportunity she would filch from counter-tops and towel racks and dash off with, to chew and mangle and generally have fun. We find this activity quite annoying and try to stop her at every opportunity.

So, last night I had finished making the pizza, which takes me about an hour, with all the chopping and dicing and rolling out the dough and laying on the ingredients. Just before the moment of truth, that is, sliding the pizza from the wooden paddle onto the hot stone in the oven (always a tense interlude), I turned for a moment to store the cheese in the refrigerator. This action took all of five seconds, and when I turned back, there was Mary Sue, dragging the uncooked pizza off the counter.

I shrieked with the pain of any artist seeing a creation (and dinner) being destroyed by the teeth of a ravaging canine. LL came running and we managed to get the pizza out of Mary Sue’s mouth — by this time of course all the dogs were jumping around, snatching pieces of bacon, tomato and mozzarella from the floor — and fling it back on the paddle, a deconstructed heap of sticky dough clotted with food-stuff. I, ever the pessimist, said, “Well, that’s it. The pizza’s ruined. So much for Pizza & Movie Night.” LL, however, said, “Maybe we can salvage it.”

And so, working slowly and meticulously, we managed to pull the inter-folded dough apart and gingerly spread it out into an irregular shape. We picked through the ingredients and placed them back in some semblance of a pattern. It looked bizarre, but I slid it into the oven.

Mary Sue looked completely untouched by regret or remorse and, in fact, when the pizza came out of the oven thought she saw a second chance to grab the thing, though I kept it beyond her reach. It looked pretty damned good, and actually turned out to be a Great Pizza and One of the Best in the History of FK’s Pizza-Making.

To drink with it, I opened a bottle of the Domaine Bernard Baudry Chinon 2007, a 100 percent cabernet franc wine from France’s Central Loire Valley, where cabernet franc is the dominant red grape. The domaine, founded in 1975, is fairly young by the standards of the Loire Valley. Bernard Baudry produces four levels of Chinon cabernet france, of which the “Domaine” bottling, produced from 35-year-old vines, is the second. Domaine Bernard Baudry Chinon 2007 is made from two terroirs, 50 percent gravel and 50 percent limestone soil. The wine is fermented in concrete vats and aged about a year in a combination of large casks and small barrels. No herbicides or chemicals are used at the estate.

This is classic Chinon, smoky and fleshy, though a bit broodsome in its notes of blueberry and black currant and its layers of black olive, dried thyme and leather. The wine is quite dry, and slightly woody tannins and dusty shale-like minerality produce some austerity from mid-palate back through the finish; I left the bottle with the cork in it overnight and by morning it resolved nicely, bringing in elements of Oolong tea, sage, bergamot, patchouli and bitter chocolate, though the tannins, bolstered by lively acidity, still cut a swath. Yes, it’s pretty heady stuff. I would recommend letting the wine breathe for an hour before serving. Drink now to 2016 or ’17, with hearty fare such as braised or roasted meat or eggplant-and-bacon pizzas. Very Good+. About $18 to $22.
Imported by Louis/Dressner Selections, New York. A sample for review.

Yes, friends there’s the eternal battle between Good and Evil, and then there’s the martini, dispensing its chilly balm with the chaste aplomb of a wordless nun. Here’s the end of the workweek and the end of a day on which nothing bad or embarrassing happened (not speaking of the world at large), and obviously it was the perfect time for a dose of the purest, most radiant of cocktails. The formula is five parts Tanqueray gin to one part Noilly-Prat vermouth. What you see floating in the drink is neither twist of orange rind nor goldfish but a sliver of kumquat skin.

We have been enamored of the kumquat, smallest of citrus fruit, for several days. Thursday night, LL made a sauce for seared tuna with sliced kumquats and jalapeno peppers, and I tell you, that made the taste-buds jump and jive. And last night, in addition to the kumquat twist in the martinis, I squeezed about 10 of the little suckers to get enough juice for a vinaigrette, by-passing the usual lemon.

I had taken a grass-fed, organic ribeye from the freezer, thawed it and then marinated it in soy sauce, Worcester, red wine, salt and pepper for a few hours. I cooked it in the simplest manner possible, in olive oil and butter is an ungodly hot cast-iron skillet, about four minutes per side, so it came out a rosy-colored medium rare. I had also sliced fingerling potatoes fairly thinly, doused them with olive oil, salt, pepper and minced rosemary and put them under the broiler, and guess what I discovered, guess what revelation was granted unto my grateful spirit? If you use parchment paper under a broiler, it will catch on fire! No harm done, though these tiny moments of drama do spark up a life, so to speak.

I opened a bottle of the Robert Mondavi Cabernet Sauvignon 2005, Oakville District. This is available at retail for a range of about $30 to $48; I paid $60 at a silent auction to benefit a dog rescue group. (A different silent auction than the one I’ve been writing about recently.)

Many wine consumers know the story of the Robert Mondavi Winery, how Robert Mondavi quarreled with his brother Peter about the operation and goals of the family’s Charles Krug winery, and Robert split away from the family and started his own winery in 1966; how he achieved remarkable success, building Robert Mondavi into one of the Napa Valley’s great wineries and brands; how he collaborated with Baron Philippe de Rothschild, owner of Chateau Mouton-Rothschild, in the creation of Opus One; how lofty ambitions and lavish spending began to chip away at the family’s wine empire, forcing the family to take the private company public; of conflicts among the father and his sons, Tim and Michael; how the winery, at the end of 2004, was sold to Constellation (which still uses the image and words of the late Robert Mondavi himself in advertising and on the website). This chronicle is related in sometimes brutal detail in Julia Flynn Siler’s highly readable and cautionary The House of Mondavi: The Rise and Fall of an American Wine Dynasty.

While the winery produces often excellent wines in a variety of genres — the Fume Blanc 1 Block is one of the best in sauvignon blancs in California — the reputation mainly rests on its Bordeaux-style cabernet sauvignon blends, especially the reserve bottlings. This “regular” Oakville cabernet is a blend of 89 percent cabernet sauvignon grapes, 6 percent cabernet franc, 3 percent petit verdot and 1 percent each malbec and merlot. The wine aged 18 months in French oak barrels.

At a bit over four years old, the Robert Mondavi Cabernet Sauvignon 2005, Oakville, rests in a state of perfect equilibrium among all qualities and functions. This is a sleek, polished wine, smooth and savory and packed with spice, black currant and black cherry flavors, graphite-like minerals and the dry, slightly briery character of dense, chewy tannins. A few minutes in the glass bring up classic notes of cedar and tobacco, black olive, potpourri and bitter dark chocolate, finishing with a beguiling hint of mint and iodine. The wine embodies a gratifying sense of unassailable vitality and unshakable purpose. Drink now through 2014 or ’15. It was wonderful with the steak. Excellent. About $30 to $48.

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