Mon 23 Mar 2015

Food Without Fuss: Home Thoughts From Abroad


These recipes, while hopefully of use and interest to all, were written with the Easter 2015 selections of The Society’s Wine Without Fuss subscription scheme particularly in mind. Voted Best Wine Club by both The Independent and Which? magazine, Wine Without Fuss offers regular selections of delicious wines with the minimum of fuss. Why not join the growing band of members who let their Society take the strain, and are regularly glad they do?

Find out more about Wine Without Fuss in a short video on our website.

Janet Wynne Evans

Janet Wynne Evans

Holiday wine can either go down without touching the sides, never mind engaging the brain, or it can open the door to a wealth of food traditions. After all, what grows together usually goes together and some of my best ideas for ‘Wine and Dine’ notes have started with a casual and unpretentious glass of something local.

At the heart of every foodscape is a local hero. In the past, I’ve raved about Campania’s San Marzano tomatoes, Jamaican callaloo, Galician octopus, Corsican figatellu, Tudela peppers and much more besides.

I used to be frustrated by the difficulty of finding such ingredients here, though you usually can these days, thanks to the web-enabled global village we now inhabit. If not, I now just apply some lateral thinking to our own local produce – no less good, merely different, and so easy to take for granted.

Below, and guided by our Wine Without Fuss selection this Easter, are the home settings for some favourite food thoughts from abroad. They are the result of many years of devouring the world whether with a knife and fork on the spot, or from afar with a cookery book and a bit of imagination, while waiting for the chance to visit the many places that lie in store. There are many of them that I will probably never see now. But there’s a lot to be said for travelling in hope!

Jamón jamón
Jabugo and Teruel (Spain), Capocollo and San Daniele (Italy) and coppa (Corsica) are, for me, the last word in cured ham, a first priority to tuck into as soon as bags are unpacked. It’s funny how well a glass of something local, of any colour, works.

Cruz de Piedra: a cheerful choice for denser ham dishes.

Cruz de Piedra: a cheerful choice for denser ham dishes.

The small Croatian triangle of Istria produces another fine example called prsut, and I’m delighted that our Man in the Balkans Sebastian Payne MW has unearthed its soulmate in our Easter Wine Without Fuss selection: Vina Laguna Malvazija 2013 (Buyers’ Everyday Whites) is perfect with any prosciutto, either straight from the pack or a decorously draped platter. You’ll find a crisp chardonnay a good match too (Faldeos Nevados Chardonnay 2013 (Buyers’ Premium Whites) or Château de Beauregard, Saint-Véran Vernay 2013 (Buyers’ French Classic Dry Whites). A good red choice for the denser hams is a brisk, fruity garnacha like Cruz de Piedra in Buyers’ Premium Reds.

Know your onions
Calabria’s sweet Tropea onions are seldom seen in my neck of the woods but any old red onion, and even a ferocious English one can be slowly fried down to a caramelly mellowness which will make you weep in a good way.

As well as trying them under baked pork chops with Savuto Rosso, Colacino 2012 (Buyers’ Premium Reds) as suggested in the Wine and Dine note, try folding them into a creamy onion tart. In that case, a good option would be a white Alsace such as Cave de Turckheim Pinot Gris 2013 (Buyers’ Premium Whites).

Whatever their provenance, onions can be quickly promoted from rhythm section to solo by quartering them through the base and roasting them with fresh thyme and the merest drop of balsamic vinegar. Pile them on bruschetta or adapt the idea for a savoury tarte tatin. This extra notch of sweetness demands a bit more oomph from the wine and I’d head for Australia with Bleasdale The Broad-Side Langhorne Creek Shiraz-Cabernet-Malbec 2012 (Buyers’ Premium Reds).

Follow the links….
You need a decent Italian deli for those densely meaty, fragrant sausages in which the old Boot excels. All they need is a quick browning in a hot oven and a leisurely 40-minute braise at a lower temperature with cannellini beans, tomatoes and a bit of red wine while you relax with an aperitif. I first tasted this deceptively simple dish in Greve, in the heart of Chianti Classico, where it was billed rather ghoulishly as Fagiolini all’ Uccelletto though the eponymous ‘little bird’ is conspicuous by its absence.

Even a very high-class butcher here tends to be trapped, banger-wise, between the traditional and the combustive, from Dragon’s Breath to Towering Inferno, so in extremis, opt for the former, the meatier the better (80% plus) and wild boar if possible. A generous pinch of toasted fennel seeds and a more controlled dash of chilli will give your sausage and bean casserole the Italian touch. Chianti Casale del Vento 2012 (Buyers’ Everyday Reds) would remind me of that first Tuscan encounter.

Who, having visited the Roussillon port of Collioure, could forget the magical light, a famous magnet for artists, or the bouillabaisse (zarzuela in Catalan) to eat while basking in it? Mine, which was consumed in a pieds-dans-l’eau restaurant of some repute called La Frégate, was like the Mediterranean in a bowl (in a good way), fragrant and stuffed with all manner of unfamiliar things like dogfish and sea-scorpion.

A fish stew is the most flexible feast there is and as long as there is a balance of any firm white flesh and flavoursome seafood, the key to conveying a sense of place is the rhythm section – in this case, a splash of vermouth, a pinch of saffron, onions, peppers and tomatoes, a bunch of herbs and some good stock made from discarded prawn or crayfish shells.

I like to serve mine with some spicy rouille and another Catalan speciality from over the border. Pan amb tomaquet is merely toasted bread, rubbed with garlic and spread with smashed fresh tomatoes, but the tomatoes must be good and ripe, not northern and peevish. Collioure, Domaine de Tremadoc 2013 (Buyers’ Classic Whites) is the obvious choice: you could also try Massamier La Mignarde, Coteaux de Peyriac 2013 (Buyers’ Everyday Whites).

..and Shade

David Baverstock

David Baverstock

A birthday treat in the Alentejo in October 2013 offered a long-awaited opportunity to visit the model Esporão estate. Here, Australian oenologist David Baverstock thrives alongside the indigenous Portuguese grapes he champions, coaxing from them focused, high-octane flavours that overlay the clean-cut, crisp, quality of really smart winemaking.

An equally smart on-site restaurant, open to the public produces a modern twist on traditional ingredients. On my visit the highlight of the autumnal menu was octopus roasted in a wood oven with a red wine sauce and potatoes infused with coriander, unexpectedly served with the estate’s Reserve White. It would have worked equally well with a red or a rosé, demonstrating yet again the sheer versatility of Portuguese wines.

In 2014, I spent my birthday in Puglia where, in the precariously perched seaside town of Polignano, I enjoyed a similar and equally delicious dish of polpo in primitivo, so the world is clearly catching up with the Bond villains among us, who dare to uncork red wine with fish.

A decent Portuguese Man o’ War is hard to source, but a pearly chunk of hake will do the trick. Firstly wash some baby potatoes (don’t peel them), pat dry and toss in olive oil and a liberal helping of toasted coriander seeds, smashed in a pestle and mortar. For a really authentic touch, add a pinch of dried pennyroyal (poejo) – a linchpin of Alentejano cooking. Fresh coriander leaves (add them at the end) are a good substitute. Bake in a hot oven for about 40 minutes until crisp and brown. Leave in the oven, but switch it off.

Brush one chunky, skin-on fillet of hake per person with oil, season well and fy skin-side down until the skin is crisp – about four or five minutes. Flip over and cook for just a minute until the fillet is opaque. Transfer to a plate and put in the oven to keep warm.

Deglaze the pan with a generous glass of red wine and a dash of concentrated shellfish stock. Simmer briskly until well reduced, syrupy almost, and season to taste. Arrange the fish on the potatoes and nap with the red wine glaze.

Both Esporão wines in the Easter Wine Without Fuss selection – Verdelho in Buyers’ Premium Whites, and Monte Velho Tinto 2013 in Buyers’ Everyday Bottles – will rise magnificently to the occasion.

Blast from the past
Continuing the fish and red theme, I spent one of my student years at the University of Montpellier. I say University, but most of our time was spent honing an outrageous accent du Midi in various bars, clubs (one of which was called Le Pou Qui Pleure – the ‘Louse with a Grouse’) and, on sunny days, the Mediterranean-side resorts of Palavas –Les-Flots or Sète. Ubiquitous in the restaurants we couldn’t afford were mussels from Bouzigues on the Bassin de Thau, a large saltwater lake nearby. The recipe below is a classic bit of Sétois surf and turf. A real pro would open the mussels before cooking and stuffing them, but this method ensures you can sort out any bad boys before they do the same to you.

If you’re not keen on mussels, try putting this delicious stuffing into large field mushrooms and baking them in the sauce.

Serves 4-6

First make a simple tomato sauce, or use a good bottled variety. For the stuffing, combine 300g lean pork mince with 120g sourdough breadcrumbs, 3 cloves garlic, crushed and 2 beaten eggs. Season with salt and pepper and a little chopped continental parsley.

Rinse and debeard 500g large mussels, discarding any open ones. Bring a large pot of salted water to the boil and throw in the mussels. Give them 4 minutes and drain well, discarding any that are still closed. Separate the shells at the hinge, loosen the meats and spoon in some stuffing. Replace the top shells and secure each mussel with a bit of kitchen string into which you have tucked an optional fresh bay-leaf. This is a bit long-winded but adds to the rustic charm.

Add 100ml concentrated fish stock and a splash of pastis or dry white vermouth to the vermouth and stock to the tomato sauce in a pan big enough to take the mussels. Bring to the boil, cover and simmer gently for 30minutes. Taste the sauce and boil a bit longer lid-off if it seems too thin. Season well. Bring to the table in the pan, along with some scissors to snip the string. Tuck in with plenty of crusty bread and a glass of local hero Domaine Magellan Rouge, Pays de l’Hérault 2012 (Buyers’ Premium Reds).

From the mind’s eye
When I finally get to South Africa, one of two things I plan to do if my timing is right is to catch and cook my own sardines on the beach in Durban, armed with a juicy lemon, some sea-salt and a chilled bottle of Piekeniers White 2013 (Buyers’ Everyday Whites).

The other is to sample Karoo lamb. This hardy breed grazes on unpromisingly scrubby soils covered with intensely flavoured wild herbs that apparently make their way into the meat. It can be braised slowly in the traditional European style with garlic, rosemary and olive oil, or given a more cosmopolitan and spicy Cape Malay approach as in the ‘potjie’ below. The key here is a good garam masala, made from freshly toasted spices and it’s best made to order. The beauty of South African reds and whites, for that matter, is that they cope brilliantly with these fairly demanding flavours. The Liberator Francophile Syrah (Buyers’ Premium Red) is a perfect example.


A potjie is a large casserole or Dutch oven. A lidded cast-iron one works well. Set your oven at 150C /Gas 2. Brown four shanks well in vegetable oil and set aside. Throw in two large onions, wedged into eighths and brown them too, before adding 2-3 crushed cloves of garlic and a thumb of root ginger, finely grated. Sprinkle in two heaped teaspoons of garam masala, a pinch of turmeric and some crumbled chilli flakes, to taste. Let it sizzle away gently before adding a 400g tin of peeled plum tomatoes. Fill the empty tin with water and add that too, along with a glass of red wine. I also add some smoked sun-dried tomatoes for an extra boost. Simmer for a few minutes, then, return the lamb to the pot, cover very tightly with foil and put on the lid. Transfer to the oven for two hours, ensuring it doesn’t boil dry (add a little more wine or water). Finish with a spoonful of mango chutney if you like and serve with wedges of roasted butternut squash or baked sweet potatoes.

Janet Wynne Evans

Categories : Wine Without Fuss

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