Fri 06 Nov 2015

Food Without Fuss: Try This For Starters


These recipes, while hopefully of use and interest to all, were written with the winter 2015 selections of The Society’s Wine Without Fuss subscription scheme particularly in mind. 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

One of the joys of discovering an unfamiliar wine is sharing it with friends and fellow enthusiasts. In fact it’s more than some of us excitable types can do to let guests get their coats off, their breath back and their greetings out before leaping upon them, corkscrew at the ready and a fistful of glasses.

Please note, on a Health & Safety note, that I can’t exactly recommend the latter, if bear hugs are in order from dear friends one is glad to see, hasn’t seen for some time, or are rugby players. Enjoyable as it is, this kind of ‘cwtch’ as we call it in Wales can be shattering enough without extra shards.

At this most sociable time of year, this post is dedicated to the fun to be had from a Wine Without Fuss subscription. Each delivery is a selection, made by our buyers for members who like the convenience and element of exploration the scheme offers, from good, everyday stalwarts to classic French reds and whites. These will include some tried and trusted members’ favourites, but we also recognise the importance and popularity of a bit of exploration.

As such Wine Without Fuss subscribers often have first call on some of our discoveries. The current selections, for example, include a new Liberator, from the eponymous Smash ‘n Grabber’s raids on some of the Cape’s best cellars; white versions of two styles much better known for their red incarnations – Côtes du Rhône and Faugères; a Romanian red that is much easier on the palate than the tongue and a new Saumur blanc.

Having put them all these through their gastronomic paces, I strongly recommend the seasonal ‘Welcome’ mats below. Christmas can rarely be completely fuss-free, but it’s good to have a few practical, make-ahead ideas in the bank, even as frightening amounts of taxed income are rolling out.

Janet Wynne Evans

For those not on the GI diet, or who have at least mothballed it for Christmas, a bit of warm, crumbly pastry on arrival is an instant feel-good factor.

Squiffy Mushroom Bouchées
A magical mouthful given the simplicity of preparation and a match made in heaven with a fragrant chardonnay, though any full-bodied white will work here. Just fry some sliced chestnut mushrooms or any other kind you fancy, in some butter with a minced shallot and a splash each of dry vermouth and sherry, letting the liquid reduce until syrupy. Add some chopped parsley and a little truffle oil if you like. Spoon into ready-made vol-au-vent cases, add a blob of cream and bake until sizzling. You can also use short pastry tart shells if you prefer. Australia Felix with its cunning dash of viognier (£7.95, Buyers’ Everyday Whites) is a good bet here, as would be Faugères Blanc Cistus (£11.95) in Classic French Whites.

Designer Sausage Rolls
A good sausage roll made with prime British pork is delightful but they rarely are, so make your own, and why not use a few exotic bangers too. Slip your favourites out of their soft casings, season well, adding a few complimentary herbs or spices, and follow your favourite recipe. Select your wine according to the nationality of your sausage. For the true-blue Brit, I recommend the gentle fruit of Fiefs Vendéens (Buyers’ Everyday Reds); for a spicier version, a syrah-grenache blend like The Society’s Australian Shiraz (Buyer’s Everyday Reds) or The Liberator Trample Dance (£7.95, Buyers’ Premium Reds) or Ventabren (£11.95) in Classic French Reds); for the fennel seeds and garlic of a traditional Italian sausage, a regional match such as Alberello Salento Rosso in Buyers’ Everyday Reds. Tougher-skinned sausages like whole baby chorizos are also delicious wrapped in puff pastry and served with a good, mellow Rioja like Castillo de Vinas Crianza (£8.50) in Buyers’ Premium Reds.

Smoked salmon blinis
A fridge/store cupboard star. Heat the blinis as directed to wake them up. Top with curls of smoked salmon or eel, a little dab of cream and finish with a sprig of dill and/ or a bit of lumpfish roe. By all means wheel out your finest Oscietra caviar if you are feeling flush but it just won’t be as colourful. Serve with a tangy, minimalist Chablis that hasn’t been anywhere near a barrel. Chablis Saint Claire (£11.50) in Classic French Whites is well-nigh perfect.


Cold Cuts and Potted Mediterranean Vegetables
Was there ever such an easy, delicious appetiser? All you need is a large platter and the ability to open a few packets and jars and to drape artistically. My favourite combination, for diversity both of appearance and taste, is mottled fennel salami, dark, lean bresaola and deep pink-and-white Spanish jamón, dotted with green olives, quartered artichoke hearts and piquillo peppers. You’ll need an upstanding red or white for this, and there is plenty of choice, including Finca Tempranillo Crianza and Alberello Salento Rosso in the Buyers’ Everyday Reds selection.

Inspired by Classic Italian Recipes by Anna del Conte


This impressive but easy sweet-and-sour fish starter or supperette is an authentic taste of Venice, where it’s traditionally made with sardines. Prepared well in advance and served at room temperature, it’s eminently practical and, with its glossy bay leaf garnish, beautiful to behold. Some of us with an out-of-control laurus nobilis, a reel of florist’s wire and too much time on their hands have even been known to garland the plat with laurel wreaths worthy of the Forum.

For four people, you’ll need 500g fillets of lemon sole, plaice or megrim. Choose large, meaty fillets if possible and cut them in half, or even half again if they are really big. Leave on the skin which will help keep the fillets intact. You can peel it away later if you wish.

Plump up a heaped tablespoon of sultanas in a little hot water. Toast a tablespoon of pine nuts in a dry pan. Fry a thinly sliced onion in a little oil with a pinch each of salt and brown sugar. When the onion is golden, add 125ml dry white wine and the same volume of white wine vinegar, and turn up the heat. When the liquid is reduced by half, lower the heat and simmer for 10 minutes. Drain the sultanas and add to the mixture along with the pine nuts. Set aside.

Shake some plain flour onto a board or plate and season with salt. Coat the fish fillets lightly and shake off the excess. Heat an inch or so of oil in a large frying pan or wok, add the fillets and fry for three minutes on one side and two on the other until done and golden. Drain each batch on kitchen paper and transfer to a platter. Once fillets have cooled a little, you can peel off the skin, which has done its job. It’s perfectly edible but the dark bits can look a bit unappealing.

Spoon over the saor and sprinkle with ¼ tsp ground cinnamon and a pinch each of ground coriander and powdered ginger. Finish with a tablespoon of peppercorns (perhaps a festive technicolor mix of black, white, pink and green – my idea, scusi, Anna) and festoon with as many fresh bay leaves as you like. Once the fish is completely cool, cover tightly with cling-film and refrigerate for at least 24 hours to let the flavours rock. You can leave it there for up to three days, but fridges are under pressure at Christmas, and I find that the job’s a good’un after a day. Remove from the fridge an hour before serving.

Wine Match: Saor demands a bit of sweetness in the wine. A fruity gewürz, demi-sec Vouvray or traditional German riesling would be lovely and some drier wines will work too. Try a white Rhône, or Saleta Moscatel-Sauvignon (£5.95) in the Buyers’ Everyday Whites mix. A Cape blend, adept at confronting exotic flavours could just about work too, for example, The Liberator Trample Dance (£7.95) in Buyers’ Everyday Reds.

Categories : Wine Without Fuss

Leave a comment