Kerri Henman -


February 28, 2010

Food, glorious food ….!

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In a week where Toronto finally got a hit of winter, what better way to escape than to take a little trip to the Med?

This dinner was postponed from January. The company was definitely worth the wait; from the day-after reactions, they all seem to feel that the dinner was worth the wait, as well. Which pleases me more than I can possibly tell you!

Wines of the Med was the suggested theme for this evening … Spain, Portugal, Italy. As soon as I knew that, I knew what I wanted to serve for dessert, and immediately had half a dozen ideas for pairings. But more on that later….

As usual, the evening started with a sparkling wine and an amuse bouche. There are so many wonderful sparkling wines from the Mediterranean regions, I hardly knew where to begin. Cava, Prosecco, …. but really, I knew what I wanted. A fun, happy, pretty little wine that you can not possibly drink, and be in any kind of bad mood whatsoever. Yes, ladies and gentlemen – I went with Moscato! The bottle I chose was Bottega Petalo il Vino – one of the few Moscato that I’ve seen some under a champagne cork & cage. Moscato is a very light wine – this one’s only 6.5% alcohol. It’s lightly fizzy, refreshing, slightly sweet, and completely addictive. And it’s an affordable addiction – Moscato is usually in the $15-$25 dollar range. Petalo is a classic example of Moscato – it’s got a beautiful, soft floral nose, delicate bubbles, and a lush, mouth-filling burst of peaches, melon, floral sweetness and a lingering finish of rose-scented honey. It rings in at $14.95 – a total bargain.

To pay homage to the floral notes in the wine, I paired it with prosciutto and melon roses. Using a vegetable peeler, I shaved strips of canteloupe, and rolled them into roses with a mild, sweet 18-month old prosciutto. There was a vegetarian version, too – melon with shaved strips of cucumber, that I lightly pickled with a sauvignon-blanc vinegar. The melon notes of the Moscato played so beautifully with the canteloupe, which of course pairs so beautifully with the ham, that it couldn’t help but be a successful pairing. The wine really balanced out the richness of the food; they complemented each other so well – I was very happy with this.

Originally, I’d thought the second course would be paired with a pinot grigio. Then, I got to the shop. And lo….. there it was. Masi Modello. A wonderful blend of Garanega, Pinot Grigio and Pinot Blanco grapes, it’s a little herbal, crisp and nicely citrusy, with well-balanced acidity. Tasty. Easy. Uncomplicated. You really can’t ask for anything more from a wine at this price point ($9.95!!).

Inspiration came hard for this menu, and I was thankful to be reminded of this dish when I made it as a side last week. It’s a sautéed pepper and onion salad, with caraway, lemon and chili. I lightened up on the chili (maybe too much?), but the caraway came through so well. It wasn’t overpowering, and it really brought out the herbal notes in the wine. It’s a nice, light, workable dish that could be tossed with pasta; you could add shredded chicken or grilled shrimp; you can serve it as a side, or as a vegetarian main (it really is substantial and filling). I loved the subtle citrus notes in the salad (peppers sautéed in Meyer Lemon Grapeseed Oil) – they merged so well with the wine, that it was hard to tell which was supporting the other. I might have added more garlic, but might that have made it too much for the wine? In any case, I was very pleased with this pairing.

And now for the bombshell …..

I was looking for a nice Med rose. Nothing too pricey, something tasty, something that I could pair successfully with a nice tapas dish. One wine kept coming up, which I rejected out of hand. Then I read about it on a respected site. So – I decided to give it a try on my own. WOW, was I surprised! It was so *good* …. the nose was enticing – spicy, with soft berry notes. That was reversed on a palate bursting with rich berries, lifted by subtle, spicy, earthy notes. It was so well balanced; not too sweet, with a clean finish, and just a hint of effervescence. You can not imagine my shock that I was getting all of this from a bottle of Mateus.

YES. Mateus. THAT Mateus. The pink stuff your grandparents drank when they wanted the ‘good’ wine. It’s still Portugal’s number one wine, and there is a reason for it. It’s tasty, people. Deal with it. Oh yeah, and it’s only $8.95!

I hid the wine before I served it. I didn’t want anyone to have a pre-conceived notion of what they were drinking; I wanted them to judge the wine in the glass. A few minds were changed.

I wanted something earthy to serve with this. Of course, mushrooms came to mind, but they were my main, so that was out. After a lot of research, and hemming and hawing, discarding and re-examining, I decided on a frittata with spinach and brie. Originally, the recipe called for mushrooms, but I substituted sliced potatoes. It was soooooooo gooooood!! I added a handful of watercress, to give it a bit of bite, and used a lot less cheese than the recipe called for (no, I didn’t take out any brie … puhlease). I am definitely serving this again, at a brunch, or a late afternoon lunch. And the *look* on everyone’s face when I told them what they were drinking? Priceless! And a fantastic pairing.

The main course turned out to be very apropos for the weather – I put together a rich, hearty mushroom ragout with roasted garlic and onions. I put it in a baking dish and laid puff pastry over top; voila. Instant comfort food for a snowy February day!

I had this wine in mind almost immediately. I used to work for its agent here in Canada – when it first hit the market, I was stunned at the quality it offered for the price point. Believe it or not – it’s gone down in price in the past two years, but the quality has gone up (in my humble opinion). If you want a deep, full-bodied, satisfying red – and you don’t want to pay more than $15 – look no further than Los Molinos Gran Reserva. Last night, we had the 2002 vintage – it’s the one currently on store shelves. It is beautifully aged, with a deep brick-red colour, an intense nose, and a long, smooth palate. The finish begs you to have another glass. It’s marvellous!  You will never believe that you only paid $14.70 – this wine drinks like a $35 bottle.

The mushroom ragout really needed something big to stand up to it. Los Molinos fit the bill perfectly. It was strong, but not overpowering; rich and heady, with just enough acidity to cut through the richness of the ragout. This is a pairing to curl up with in front of a big roaring fire. Or …. that fireplace DVD. Whatever.

Ahhhhhhhhh, dessert. Is it wrong, that it’s my favourite part of dinner, a lot of the time? This dessert has been planned for a long time. Mini eclairs filled with butterscotch whipped cream, drizzled with dulce de leche, then sprinkled with vanilla salt. On the side, an almond brittle infused with orange zest. Many, many, MANY thanks to Andrea at Selsi (in the St. Lawrence Market – you’ve GOT to go!) for allowing me to purchase only what I needed. And it was good that I bought more than I thought I would need, because the salt got passed around, and we were all just eating it straight.  Sooooo tasty ….

The eclairs were very good – light, creamy, caramelly goodness, and the salt picked it up and made it something new and interesting. The look on J’s face when she realized there was orange in the brittle – classic. But after all, I chose the dessert wine with her in mind, so I did tweak dessert for her, as well.  The brittle was gorgeous paired with the port – I used raw sugar for a deeper sweetness, toasted almonds, and blood orange zest.  It took three batches to get the balance right, but the result was worth it.

Otima. Warre’s very special gift to port drinkers everywhere! It’s a ten-year-old aged tawny port; it’s lighter than you might expect a port to be, but it’s got a lovely raisiny character, with fig notes and a gorgeous burnt-sugar finish.  It is so wonderful and tasty.  Even my sister-in-law, who is not the biggest port fan, likes this stuff.  I discovered it along with a friend at the Gourmet Food & Wine show a few years ago, and it’s been a perennial favourite ever since.  We also discovered – as the baggie went around the table  – that if you let a grain or two of vanilla salt melt on your tongue and then take a sip of Otima, it is an experience you really have to have.

Many many thanks to our hostess for the evening, and my very capable sous-chef. Also, thank you to S, who helped keep the peppers from escaping.  Much appreciated!

And now – our little trip to the Med complete – it’s back to the Olympic hockey final. GO CANADA GO!

  1. For those of you who were salivating while reading this, can I say that the real things was just spectacular? Thanks for the mention, Kerri – the brittle was outstanding and I thank you for the thoughtful integration of the Otima into the dessert experience. Readers, you really must let Kerri plan and deliver and evening like this for you and yours. Laughter and deliciousness. Not only will you not be disappointed, you’ll be begging her to come and do it again like we surely will!

    Comment by Jessica Chaikowsky — February 28, 2010 @ 4:45 pm

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