These recipes, while hopefully of use and interest to all, was written with the spring selections of our 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?
Molecular gastronomy, you’ve had your moment! Dry ice, foams and fizzes, move aside for those useful ingredients that happily absorb any others you may throw at them, depending on which bottle in your recently arrived Wine Without Fuss case you are most impatient to uncork.
I like to call this vehicular gastronomy, and you won’t find a better chassis than a chicken breast or an aubergine.
In the case of the chicken, I’m afraid needs must. Unless you happen to live on an island that time forgot, where chickens do what comes naturally, or you can justify the cost of a bird defined strictly by labyrinthine rules on breed, feed and, probably, what it’s allowed to read, bring on the garlic, pesto and garam masala.
By contrast, the aubergine needs neither towing nor jump-starting. It has a flavour engine of its own, not turbocharged, but definitely ticking over. Its glossy sheen draws me inexorably to those artfully piled ‘obo’s’ (sic) at the greengrocer’s. It matters not whether or not they were ripened by the sultry sun of the Levant: the ones grown in a Benelux hothouse can still do the designer haulage thing very nicely, and I’ll take half a dozen, please.
‘Versatile’ barely conveys its myriad applications. Consider (I can’t) an Indian take-away without a soft and shamelessly oily brinjal bhaji, or a Chinese one minus sea-spiced aubergine. The nearer east has countless variations on the theme, from baba ghanoush to imam bayildi: there are hundreds of recipes in Turkey alone as there are in any book by Yotam Ottolenghi. Moussaka, caponata, pasta alla norma and melanzane alla parmigiano bring us west and north, to the sunny tians of Provence, and an unforgettable dish I once had in Bordeaux – slices of aubergine, simply dusted with seasoned flour and fried, served alongside lamb so tender you could eat it with a spoon, and washed down with good claret.
If this sounds familiar, this is not my first paean to the aubergine. In fact, I said as much to Fuss subscribers many years ago when blogs were back pages that came with case notes. Online, I have space to go to town so in this, my last official Food Without Fuss blog post, after more, after more than a decade at the Wine and Dine coalface, I’m bowing out with a proper tribute.
Aubergines are ubiquitous, inexpensive and – you want more? – ready to do business with whatever you may have in the fridge or store-cupboard.
And I do mean ready. Salting is optional these days, and, as Jamie Oliver says, a microwave will reduce an aubergine to melting tenderness in 8 minutes flat (prick the skin first). I give thanks for this top tip every time I crave a squidgy little boat with a cargo of flavourful toppings that can be quickly flashed under the grill.
The recipe challenge for Easter has been whittling the possibilities down to a manageable six of the best, for casual snacking, for serving with the paschal lamb as those Bordelais did, or for inspiration at a time of year when seasonal produce may be a bit betwixt and between. The asparagus may be tardy and the Jersey royals, if the flag of residence is, indeed, up, at their wallet-wrenching dearest. An aubergine will always be there for you. Isn’t it time you loved it back?
It’s time to thank all readers of Food Without Fuss, firstly for reading,and also for the truly invaluable feedback I’ve received over the years, whether a resounding thumbs-up, a frank appraisal in the other direction or an impressive display of vigilance, most notably when I sent my fellow-members out for 800kg of fish for my Languedoc seafood pie. It’s been a blast, and you don’t get many of those with a fan oven!
I’m delivering the honour of writing this blog, and our Wine and Dine notes for ‘Fuss’ subscribers into very safe hands. They are those of my colleague Steve Farrow, The Society’s Database Editor by day, accomplished and adventurous cook at all other times. You’re in for a treat.
Janet Wynne Evans
Fine Wine Editor
Inspired by Claudia Roden’s carefully curated Mediterranean Cookery (BBC Books, 1987) this fuss-free dip, a variant of Baba Ganoush requires merely that you bake an aubergine until tender and mix the flesh with tahini paste, crushed garlic, lemon juice, a dash of thick yoghurt and seasoning, all to taste. Finish with a little olive oil and some chopped parsley and serve with flatbreads and black olives.
Wine: Like hummous (it must be the palate—coating tahini), this has a rapport with the piquancy of sauvignon. Try Saleta Moscatel-Sauvignon Blanc (Buyers’ Everyday Whites & £6.50) or Kaapzicht Chenin Blanc (Buyers’ Premium Whites & £7.95), accurately described by its producer as ‘chenin blanc for sauvignon lovers’.
There are countless throwaway recipes for this but the one I never discard belongs to Provence grand master Roger Vergé of Mougins, whose precision is palpable in Les Légumes de Mon Moulin (Flammarion, 1991). Slice your aubergine in half lengthwise and slice through the flesh to about a depth of about 2.5cm, stopping well clear of the skin,, in a diamond pattern. Rub in a lick of olive oil and a pinch of salt and bake, cut side down at 220C/Gas 7 for about 35 minutes, until tender.
Process the scooped flesh until tender, with a couple of peeled and deseeded tomatoes, half a clove of garlic, minced, and either a pinch of cayenne pepper or a few chopped basil leaves. Add a thin, steady stream of olive oil as for mayonnaise. About 150ml should suffice, unless your specimen is a veritable Titan from the Ray Harryhausen school of special effects. The texture should be luxuriously silky. I like to chill this slightly before bringing back to room temperature and serving with flatbreads and plump olives.
Wine: M Vergé is persuaded that the aubergine is a red wine kind of chap, recommending fruity southern Rhônes No shortage of this style in Easter Fuss, and I’d especially recommend Cairanne, Domaine Romain Roche 2014 (French Classic Reds), especially if you’ve gone the cayenne route. However, I love this with a, fragrant but upstanding white like Auzelles, Costers del Segre 2015 (Buyers’ Premium Whites & £9.95).
Simon Hopkinson’s Grilled Pesto Aubergines
The acknowledged Chefs’ Chef and my own personal pin up naturally preroasts his aubergines and makes his own superior pesto. Dare I suggest that this is such a glorious combination that you might get away with the quick Jamie method and a handy jar? I freely admit that I have.
To do it by the book – the seminal Roast Chicken and Other Stories (Ebury Press, 1994, and never, I think out of print since) – prepare and cook your aubergines exactly as above, but for a little less time, say 20-30 minutes. Remove for the oven, spread lavishly with your home-made pesto and grill until golden brown and bubbling. Mop up joyfully with a good baguette.
Wine: White is best here, and by all means play the Italian card with the concentrated, herb-friendly Orvieto Castagnolo (Buyers’ Premium Whites), but another good match is Limoux, Dédicace, Chateau Rives-Blanques 2014 (French Classic Whites & £11.50).
Steamy Oriental Aubergines
This light but natty roadster is fuelled by a five-star dressing comprising a couple of tablespoons each of rice wine (or dry sherry) and soy sauce, a teaspoon each of toasted sesame oil and clear honey, and a thumb of fresh root ginger, finely grated. Whisk all these together and put in a wide frying pan.
Steam two big aubergines, wedged into eighths, over a pan of simmering water for about 15 minutes. Let the steam subside before adding them to the dressing, on a low heat. Braise gently for five minutes or so until the dressing is absorbed. Scatter with toasted sesame seeds. The wedges will cool to a slight stickiness, lovely with chicken, lamb or fish, and equally toothsome in a salad with crunchy leaves or blanched mangetout.
Wine: on the guiding principle of a bit of grapy richness with salt, especially if there’s some honey about, I’d plump for Australia, where they know a thing or two about fusion cuisine, and go for Felix Swan Hill Victoria Chardonnay-Viognier 2016 (Buyers’ Premium Whites & £8.75). If serving with lamb, I’d plump for the sweet fruit of Wakefield Promised Land Shiraz 2015 (Buyers’ Everyday Reds & £7.75).
This bold dressing for grilled aubergines kicks off with a good pinch each of cumin and coriander seeds, dry-toasted with a couple of black peppercorns until they are dancing in the pan. If you bought a bag of dried poeja (pennyroyal) while on holiday in Portugal and are wondering what to do with it, now’s your chance! Lovers of smoked paprika or pimientón could add a pinch of that too, sweet or hot as you like.
Transfer this rhythm section to a small saucepan with a tablespoon of top-notch sherry vinegar, a dash of lemon juice and 5 tablespoons of fruity olive oil. You’ll need some coriander or parsley later on, so separate the leaves and pop the stalks into the dressing. Apply heat and as things begin to sizzle, take the pan off the hob and leave the contents to infuse for as long as it takes for the oil to cool.
Strain the dressing over your grilled aubergines while they are still warm and serve at room temperature with country bread and perhaps a platter of Ibérico ham.
Wine: an embarrassment of Iberian and hispanic richesse awaits in the Easter Wine Without Fuss selections. Our appealing Alentejo find Monte da Ravasqueira Tinto 2015 (Buyer’s Premium Reds & £8.95) will do admirably and my favourite white with these bold flavours is the intriguing Boplaas Cape Portugese White Blend (Buyers’ Everyday Whites & £6.95).
An Effortless Easter Curry
Aubergine is heavenly curry fodder, whether with lamb, or leftover turkey or, best of all in a vegetarian subzi dish. You can feed four people on one big aubergine, a large onion, thickly sliced, and a fat clove of garlic supplemented with pumpkin, sweet potato, green pepper and okra – about 600g in total, and all cut into generous bite-sized pieces as the aubergine should be.
Starting with the onion, simply brown everything in a bit of groundnut oil, stirring in a good pinch of your favourite spice mix and a crumbled red chilli to taste, remembering that you want to taste the wine too. Add can of light coconut cream and a generous squeeze of tomato puree. Bring to the boil, cover and simmer gently until the vegetables are tender and the juices thickened. At this stage you might wish to add a few cooked chickpeas for extra crunch, a generous scoop of thick yoghurt and some chopped coriander leaves. Serve with your favourite flatbread or rice.
To make use of that surplus Easter turkey, replace the extra vegetables with 500g cooked meat along with the coconut cream, bring to the boil and bake for 40 minutes or so at 190C/Gas 5, until the turkey is piping hot.
To give it a Greek or middle-eastern vibe, brown 500g generously cubed lamb neck fillet first, before adding your onion, garlic and aubergine. Instead of coconut milk, use stock or wine, and instead of curry spices, try dried oregano, za’atar and sweet, mild spices like ginger, cumin and cinnamon. Bake at 180C/Gas 4 for a couple of hours until tender.
Wine: Step forward multi-tasking Zarcillo Bío-Bío Gewürztraminer 2015 (Buyers’ Everyday Whites & £6.50) but I was also impressed with the spice-busting savvy of Boplaas ‘Tinta Chocolat’ Tinta Barocca (Buyers’ Premium Reds) which put in me in mind of the sweetness and layered spicing of Cape Malay cuisine. If you’re making the Greek or middle-eastern version, try the The Little Prince Cretan Red, Karavitakis 2014 (Buyers’ Premium Reds).
These recipes, while hopefully of use and interest to all, was written with the New Year selections of our 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?
National Chip Week, which traditionally sizzled into action, when our New Year Wine Without Fuss selections were safely in the rack, was surely a happy light at the end of the grim tunnel of atonement that is January for many of us. If only we could master the art of moderation. On that note, a recipe for recycling them, below, may help debunk the myth that an Extra-Large portion of chip-shop soggies has to be forced down or thrown away.
Of course, there is so much more to potatoes than chips and more varieties than you can shake a stick at. There’s more from me on that story in the February edition of Societynews and if I seem to have taken overly long to harness the humble tatty for the Wine and Dine aspect of a ‘Fuss’ selection, it’s because the choice of spuds before us today is a relatively recent phenomenon.
Regrettably, the vacuum has been filled with doom-laden denunciations from the carbs police, but let’s not confuse potatoes with pappy rolls and blotting-paper bread. Unlike those, potatoes contain a raft of useful vitamins and minerals. They can even take the place of flour in soufflés (see below), which suddenly become a gluten-free option. They are also very versatile as I have found over the years when using up the end of a sack of them that seemed like especially good value at the time – for a family of 20. There is certainly enough scope to cover the dozen intriguing bottles that awaiting the undivided attention of the Wine Without Fuss subscriber.
Once you’ve got the right one, potatoes are, essentially, magnificent shock absorbers, for the butter, milk and spring onions that turn Maris mash into champ, for the vinegar that wakes up a proper, chipped King Edward, for the riot of cream and garlic that transforms layered Désirées into gratin dauphinois and for the mayonnaise, chives and bacon bits that curl around Charlotte and her elegant pals to make a great potato salad.
So, at this grey time of year, I commend to fellow-members the infinite variety of the pomme de terre. Large or small, short or tall, spring or fall, there will, surely, always be a spud you like and always a Fuss-free wine to go with it.
Janet Wynne Evans
Fine Wine Editor
Mashed Potatoes with Fresh Truffles
Last year, we celebrated the foodscape of Istria, the small, but gastronomic triangle that hangs between the rest of Croatia and north-eastern Italy. The emphasis was on black truffles, which thrive here. This recipe was given to us by Robert Golic, in-house chef at Agrolaguna, who supply our Vina Laguna Malvazija (sadly currently out of stock), but it also works very well with any fulsome chardonnay.
Try it with Joseph Burrier’s buttery Mâcon-Verzé (French Classic Whites), or if you prefer a red, go for a lightish one: Moselle Pinot Noir ‘Les Hautes Bassières’ (French Classic Reds) will do nicely.
Born-Again Patatas Fritas
The perfect exit plan for the unwieldy portion of chips served up by the average chippie. With the rising cost of cod, I imagine the aim is to add value. I’m quite staggered when people throw away what they can’t eat, especially when these chips are so good reheated that I’ve even been known to order a ‘large’ to make sure we’re covered for Round Two. Given a Spanish twist as below, or cooked in duck or goose fat with a few sprigs of thyme and a splash of garlic oil , they are just plain delicious.
The secret is good flavourings and fresh cooking-fat at the proper temperature. Having your chips and your fish separately wrapped is wise, and at all costs, decline politely any offers of salt and vinegar at the counter. Once home, apportion your chips for now and later. Let the laters cool completely and freeze. I find that recycled chips are best thawed before reheating, so I allow time for that, but by all means recook them in their frozen state if you like.
Shallow-frying requires relatively little oil – about an inch or so, or barely 100ml for two portions of chips. It should be between 160-175C, or hot enough to make a test chip sizzle as soon as it makes contact. If it’s smoking vigorously, it’s too hot.
Dust the thawed chips in smoked paprika – sweet or hot, as you prefer – and fry in groundnut or sunflower oil to which you have added just a hint of chilli oil, to taste. Once the chips are brown, crisp and clattering in the pan, drain well on kitchen paper. Delicious with grilled chorizos or just dunked into a pot of spicy tomato sauce for that stereophonic patatas bravas vibe.
To drink: Spanish of course! 3C Premium Selection, Cariñena 2013 (Buyers’ Everyday Reds) is perfection, or try The Cup and Rings Mencia (Buyers’ Premium Reds). If you’re serving these without the fiery tomato dip, but with, say a bit of grilled fish, the brisk piquancy of Crego e Monoaguillo Godello-Treixadura (Buyers’ Premium Whites) will offset the smoked paprika and fat.
Ratte and Smoked Salmon Parcels
This recipe is reproduced with the kind permission of La Ratte du Touquet magazine.
An intriguingly spicy little purse of a starter. If your guests express interest in the recipe, I find it’s best not to spoil their appetite by telling them that they’re eating Ratte. And yes, there is a magazine dedicated to this potato variety.
Serves four as a starter
• 500g Ratte potatoes (or similar small new variety)
• 6 slices smoked salmon
• 6 sheets filo pastry
• 20g thumb of fresh ginger root
• a small bunch of coriander, leaves only, washed (save the fragrant stems for stocks and sauce)
• olive oil for frying
• a handful of fresh chives, washed and dried
• salt and pepper
Set the oven at 180C/Gas 4. Peel, rinse and chop the potatoes into 1cm cubes. Peel and grate the ginger. Roll up each of the salmon slices and cut into fine strips. Chop the coriander finely.
Blanch the potatoes for a few minutes in a pan of boiling water. Remove with a slotted spoon, drain and dry on kitchen paper. Plunge your chives into the same boiling water, for just one minute. Refresh them under a cold tap and dry well.
Once the steam has stopped rising from the potatoes, heat the oil in a frying pan. Add the potatoes and let them colour and finish cooking. Season with just a little salt and some black pepper. Mix well with the salmon , ginger and coriander.
Brush the filo sheets with oil, one at a time (keep the rest covered with a damp cloth to stop them drying out. Place one-sixth of the potato mixture in the centre of each sheet and draw the pastry into a purse shape, trimming the tops if necessary. Tie each purse with a couple of the chives.
Once all six are assembled, place them on a baking sheet, brush with a little more oil and bake for 8 minutes or so, until golden and fragrant. Serve without delay.
To drink: there’s salt, smoke, spice and greenery to contend with here, so go for a multi-tasking white like Percheron Chenin Blanc-Viognier, Swartland 2016 (Buyers’ Classic Whites). Three Choirs Stone Brook (Buyers’ Everyday Whites) would also rise to the occasion.
Potato & Goat’s Cheese Soufflés
Inspired by a recipe in SAVEURS magazine
Potatoes make healthy and tasty ballast for soufflés. They don’t produce an ethereal and majestically wobbly result, more a solid and comforting deliciousness.
The original recipe specified just enough flour to dust the ramekins to stop the mixture sticking, but using grated Parmesan instead not only adds an extra layer of flavour but makes the soufflés wheat-free. The specified spud is the yellow-fleshed Bintje, a variety rarely seen commercially here, but our more familiar all-rounders Wilja or Maris Piper will do the job perfectly.
(Photograph courtesy of Saveurs Magazine)Serves six as a starter, four as a light lunch
• 650g potatoes
• 4 eggs
• 100ml single cream
• 250g soft goat’s milk cheese, strong or mild as you like
• 25g softened butter
• 2-3 tablespoons very finely grated aged pecorino or Parmesan cheese
• Salt and black pepper
• A pinch of ground nutmeg or Cayenne pepper
You’ll need four ramekins, about 10cm across the top and 5cm deep, or six smaller ones measuring about 7cm across but of the same depth.
Peel the potatoes. Rinse them under the tap, pat dry and chop into small pieces. Put them in a pan of cold salted water, turn on the heat and give them 20 minutes from cold.
Grease the ramekins with the butter and veil with the Parmesan, shaking out the excess. Save that and add to the potato mixture. Preheat the oven to 180C/Gas 4. Drain the potatoes for at least 10-15 minutes to let the steam die down completely. Pass the potatoes through a ricer or mash by hand to achieve a thick, but not gloopy puree.
Separate the eggs. To the yolks, add the cream and the cheese and fold into the mashed potato, using a spatula to obtain a smooth puree. Add the black pepper and nutmeg or Cayenne.
Now add a pinch of salt to the egg-whites and beat to a firm peak. Fold them quickly into the potato mixture to retain as much air as possible.
Place the prepared ramekins on a baking sheet and fill almost to the brim with the mixture. Bake for 25-30 minutes, resisting any temptation to open the oven door. If your oven doesn’t have a glass porthole, be guided by the smell.
While the soufflés are cooking, prepare a little salad of interesting greens, dressed with a dash each of hazelnut oil and lemon juice to serve on the side. Remove the soufflés from the oven and serve without delay.
To drink: it may be a bit of a cliché but was there ever such a love affair as the one between goat’s milk cheese and sauvignon blanc? Step forward Touraine Chenonceaux, Domaine de la Renaudie 2014 (French Classic Whites), but if you fancy a red with this, a ripe cabernet franc – Chinon, Domaine de la Semellerie (Buyers’ Premium Reds) – is your man.
This recipe, while hopefully of use and interest to all, was written with the winter 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.
When icicles begin to show signs of hanging by the wall, make room for them by unhooking your trusty stewpot.
If, as mine are, your wrists are beginning to feel the strain of cast iron, a bit of earthenware makes just as cracking a slow braise – stew, daube, tafelspitz, ragout, ragù or whatever you might wish to call it. This is also a good time of year for owners of electrical slow cookers to justify to sceptical spouses why they are such an essential piece of kit, especially if dust has been gathering on them.
Far be it from me to start lecturing fellow members on the gentle, bubbling art of stewing, merely to issue a gentle, bubbling reminder and introduce a few seasonal bottles that will sit effortlessly alongside. Yes, the formula may be the same from cawl to caldo verde – rhythm section, protein, liquid and flavourings – but it’s all in the layering, from the sizzling alliums that kick off the exercise to the fragrant top notes of specific flavourings.
It’s in the difference between fresh and dried herbs, the latter having, for some reason fallen into undeserved disfavour, the subtle addition of white or cayenne pepper rather than black, perhaps the sneaky inclusion of star anise (without doubt my go-to intriguing spice with baked ham or fish) or clove, the secret to beef, brasato-style. These are what defines the glorious aromas that fill the kitchen, and inspire good wine matches, your reward for a bit of effort and a lot of patience.
Below are three all-time favourite stew recipes, chosen with this Winter Wine Without Fuss selection.
Janet Wynne Evans
Fine Wine Editor
Christmas Eve Pork
This recipe, shared both with colleagues and members in the past with the kind permission of its author Philippa Davenport, first appeared in the Financial Times. The clipping has gone from pristine pink to faded and splashed in equal measure – always a good sign. After three hours in the oven, the pork melts in the mouth and infused with the intriguing darkness of Agen prunes.
Wine matches: A dryish, slightly tannic red from, say the Loire or Bordeaux is good here. Touraine ‘Jajavanaise’, Domaine Paget 2015 (Buyers’ Premium Reds) and Château Saint-Hilaire, Médoc 2010 (Buyer’s Classic French Reds) are two that occur and anything Iberian is, of course excellent with pork. Having said that, a richer, rounder white will sit very happily with this. Try Delheim Chenin Blanc (Buyers’ Premium Whites) or Gewurztraminer Les Princes Abbés 2013 (£14.50, Buyers’ French Dry Whites).
For 4-5 people, lay 1 kg halved lean-end belly pork rashers (boneless but with rind on) in a single layer in a baking dish. Push 12 prunes into the gaps. Scatter generously with lemon thyme leaves, chopped coriander and parsley. Add some crushed garlic, salt, pepper and a corner of a chicken stock cube, crumbled. Veil the meat with paper-thin slices of onion and pour on 1 tablespoon tarragon vinegar mixed with 300 ml unsweetened grape juice. Cover tightly with oiled greaseproof and foil. Put the dish in the oven and set the timer to switch on to 150C/Gas 3 to bake the pork in time for dinner. It will take three and a half hours but a little longer will not hurt. By then, it will be so tender that, as Philippa writes, ‘even the toothless would rejoice in it.’ Good accompaniments are mashed potatoes, and a salad of peppery leaves.
Spiced aubergine and tomato ragout
I serve this store-cupboard special not only to vegetarian friends, but for my own entire pleasure. The original recipe, with which I’ve taken one or two liberties, was clipped many moons ago from a long-defunct foodie mag, so if its anonymous author is reading this, please get in touch so that I can heap you with praise!
Wine matches: Rich, velvety and imbued with Mediterranean warmth, it calls for a similar red, of which there’s an embarrassment of choice in the Winter Wine Without Fuss selections. A few that come to mind are Nero d’Avola Sicilia 2014 (£6.75, Buyers’ Everyday Reds), or, from Buyers’ Premium Reds, Concha y Toro Corte Ignacio Casablanca Merlot 2013 (£8.50) and Señorío de Sarría Crianza, Navarra 2012 (£8.25). Paradoxe Rouge, Domaine de l’Arjolle, Côtes-de-Thongue 2013 (Buyers’ Classic French Reds) is a premium comfort blanket.
For four people, heat a splash of oil in a big frying pan and temper – oil first, spices, then onions in quick succession – a spicy rhythm-section of diced onions (two medium ones are about right), two fat cloves of garlic, crushed, a pinch each of whole cumin and coriander seeds and a teaspoon of dried ginger. It’s punchiest freshly grated from a whole dried root, but powdered is fine.
Once it’s all looking soft and promising, throw in two large aubergines, cut into bite-sized pieces. Mix well and cook for a few minutes before adding half a bottle of fruity red wine, a 440g can of plum tomatoes and a good tablespoon of sun-dried tomatoes in oil, drained of the latter and snipped. You might also squeeze in a little tomato puree for good measure. As always with tomatoes, a pinch of sugar is a good idea at this juncture. Now bring it all to the boil, lower the heat and simmer very gently until the aubergine is tender. This might take anything from half an hour to 45 minutes. When it looks to be just about there, throw in a bag of washed spinach leaves and let their vivid green wilt graceully into the sea of red – a matter of moments.
You can serve this as it is with mashed roots, pasta or toasted sourdough bread, rubbed with garlic, or, for a genuine one-pot meal, stir in a can of chick peas, drained and rinsed, for the last five minutes of cooking.
For a festive wow factor, make it in advance, let it cool and pile it into four small soup bowls. I like the traditional French kind, with a pedestal and, inexplicably, a lion’s head on either handle, but anything with a small surface area will do. Cover each with a puff pastry hat, brush with beaten egg and reheat at 190C for about 30 minutes, until the pastry is risen and golden and a ferocious bubbling is apparent below it. Who needs meat?
Moro Fish Tagine with Potatoes, Tomatoes and Olives
Scene of many toothsome Society sherry dinners, Moro, Sam and Sam Clarke’s ground-breaking restaurant, was among the first to put thrilling Spanish and north African ingredients properly on our radar. This recipe is from their first recipe collection, simply called Moro: The Cookbook (Ebury Press, 2001) and it’s Moorish in more ways than one.
Wine matches: A conveniently quick simmer, rather than a stew, it responds to spicy whites such as Schlumberger’s heady Gewurztraminer Les Princes Abbés 2013 (£14.50, Buyers’ French Dry Whites) or even fruity, medium-bodied reds like Esteva Douro (Buyers’ Everyday Reds). Still with Portugal, Casa Ferreirinha Esteva, Douro 2015 (£6.25, Buyers’ Everyday Whites) is another good option, as is Costières de Nîmes, Tradition Blanc, Mas de Bressades 2015 (Buyer’s Premium Whites).
• 4 hake steaks about 250g or fillets of 225g each (you can use any white fish)
• 20 small, waxy new potatoes, peeled (Charlotte, Roseval, Ratte)
• 3 tablespoons olive oil
• 4 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
• 15 cherry tomatoes, halved
• 4 green peppers, grilled until blistered, then skinned, seeded and cut into strips
• a handful of black olives
• 100ml water
• sea salt and black pepper
• 2 garlic cloves
• 1 level teaspoon salt
• 2 teaspoons freshly ground cumin
• juice of 1 lemon
• ½ tablespoon good-quality red-wine vinegar
• 1 teaspoon paprika
• 1 small bunch coriander, roughly chopped
• 1 tablespoon olive oil
First make the charmoula, preferably in a pestle and mortar. Pound the garlic with the salt until a smooth paste is formed, then add the cumin followed by the lemon juice, vinegar, paprika, coriander and olive oil. Rub two-thirds of the charmoula mixture into the fish and stand in the fridge for between 20 minutes and 2 two hours.
Boil the potatoes in salted water for 10-15 minutes until just tender. Drain and halve lengthways.
In a medium saucepan heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil over a medium heat and fry the garlic until light brown. Add the tomatoes and toss for 1-2 minutes until they begin to soften. Stir in the peppers and remaining charmoula and check for seasoning.
Spread the potatoes evenly over the base of a 25cm tagine, saucepan or frying pan with a lid. Scatter three-quarters of the pepper and tomato mixture over the potatoes, then place the marinated fish on top. Dab the remaining tomato and pepper mixture on top of each fish, along with the olives.
Add the water, drizzle on the remaining tablespoon of olive oil , put on the lid and steam for 10-15 minutes until the fish is cooked through.
This recipe, while hopefully of use and interest to all, was written with the autumn 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.
Risotto is stirring, in every sense of the word. And, at my advancing age, there are times when I have to be shaken first, to confront the hob-watching, ladling and wooden-spooning vital to the creamy, nutty, silky-smooth perfection one hopes to achieve. Once you get going of course, helpful adrenalin kicks in. The difficulty is the getting-going.
The other short-grain classic, paella is no pushover either. It’s not about stirring, but catching’, that is to say catching the rice before it catches on the bottom of the pan. Being a bad workman of the worst order, I blame my tools, from the authentically shallow pan to a ferocious hob that doesn’t do ‘gentle’. I have spent many a weary midnight hour scraping burnt residues off both of these and it’s enough to make you leave the remaining half of your hessian sackful of prime calasparra gathering dust at the back of the cupboard. Next to the half-full box of arborio, once hot, and now not, from the Po Valley carb belt.
As far as I know, the first influential mainstream cooker writer to ‘fess up to risotto fatigue in print was – how could it not be? – the eminently practical and consumer-friendly Delia Smith. Rather than pitching a glossy world of elegant worktops, unlimited brio and hand-picked guests who park bums on seats the minute dinner is ready and enthuse obligingly into Camera Four, Delia felt that if you could bake a rice pudding, why on earth could you not apply the same principle to a risotto, and put your feet up while it cooked? Her Oven-Baked Wild Mushroom Risotto, lubricated with Madeira, is one of the stars of her Winter Collection (BBC Books 1995).
This was by no means the first of Delia’s tips on how not to get in a paddy. Her Summer Collection (BBC Books 1993) came up trumps with Pesto Rice Salad, a delicious and effortless buffet bowlful wherein good risotto rice is boiled in a light vegetable stock for 20 minutes and tossed with pesto sauce. Both these recipes can be found on deliaonline.com.
What Delia did for risotto fatigue, Bob Andrew, chef at Riverford Organic Farmers has done for paella. Many members will already be familiar with Riverford’s thoughtful meat and vegetable box schemes and the innovative recipes that often accompany them.
His Seville Duck is a glorious baked rice dish with an authentic Andalucian vibe, made salty by olives, smoky by chorizo and sweet by the surprise addition of a soupcon of Seville orange marmalade. I’m on record, and a cracked one at that, as recoiling in horror at the vinicidal potential of duck à l’orange, but this works and it’s pretty fabulous even without the duck: swap the chorizo for a good pinch of smoked paprika, it’s a vegetarian feast. Once the ingredients are combined, it goes into the oven for 40 minutes while you have a well-earned 40 winks, or at least a relaxing copita of chilled manzanilla.
It’s neither risotto nor paella but the combination of soft grains and really bold flavours is irresistible. As is the fact that there is no catch, and you won’t go stir-crazy making it.
Janet Wynne Evans
Fine Wine Editor
BOB ANDREW’S SEVILLE DUCK
Recipe by Bob Andrew, chef at Riverford Organic Farmers
• 2 duck legs
• salt and black pepper
• 2 tbsp light olive oil
• 1 large onion, finely diced
• 1 celery stalk, finely diced
• 1 cooking chorizo, 100g approx
• 3 tomatoes, roughly chopped
• 2 garlic cloves, finely sliced
• 1 sprig thyme, leaves only
• a pinch of saffron
• 1 bay leaf
• a pinch of cayenne pepper
• 150g calasparra rice
• 125ml fino sherry
• 2 tbsp marmalade
• 30g black olives
• 500ml hot chicken or duck stock
• a handful of flat-leaf parsley, chopped
• Lightly score the fat on the duck legs. Season with salt and pepper. Put a casserole pan on a medium heat and warm the olive oil. Fry the duck until golden brown on both sides, remove and keep to one side.
• Add the onions and celery to the pan and fry in the duck fat over a gentle heat for ten minutes until soft. Preheat the oven to 180C/350F/gas mark 4.
• Skin the chorizo and break into 1cm chunks. Fry in the pan for 2-3 minutes. Add tomatoes, garlic, thyme saffron, bay and cayenne. Cook for a further 2 minutes before adding the rice. Turn everything gently to mix. Add the sherry and cook until mostly absorbed.
• Gently stir in the marmalade and olives, Pour in the hot stock and bring to a simmer. Tuck the duck into the rice, skin side up. Pop the lid on and bake in the oven until the rice and duck are tender – about 40 minutes. Check the seasoning and garnish with the parsley.
This is a dish of many possibilities, easily adapted to suit just about any bottle that tickles your fancy in the autumn ‘Fuss’ collection.
Served as it is, it’s perfect with Zorzal Garnacha (£6.50) in the Buyers’ Everyday Reds or our other hispanic hero Koyle Carmenère (£7.95) in Premium Reds. It also works with the resolutely foodie Navajas Blanco Crianca (£7.50) in the Premium Whites selection.
But then again, it could come over all Italian, with pancetta, sun-dried tomatoes and basil, topped with grilled bream fillets (Pieralisi’s £7.95 Verdicchio in Premium Whites), seasonally mushroomy like Delia’s (De Morgenzon Chardonnay, £8.95, in Buyers’ Everyday Whites) or even a bit exotic with coconut milk, lemongrass and coriander (The Winery of Good Hope Chardonnay, £6.75, Buyers’ Everyday Whites).
These recipes, while hopefully of use and interest to all, were written with the summer 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.
Whether it’s holidays, food or wine, finding something that works and resolutely sticking is a natural and understandable policy. Why go trawling the unknown, looking for potentially unpleasant surprises?
A Wine Without Fuss subscription holds no such dangers, of course. This is a corner of the unknown that comes not only with our buying team’s well-documented reputation for unearthing buried treasure, but also with The Society’s guarantee of satisfaction lest any of our selections fail to strike gold.
In fact, it’s about as risk free as any adventure can be, and a new gem could be waiting. Even after over three decades in the wine trade, more than two of them at The Wine Society and at least one on the Wine Without Fuss team, I always find something thought-provoking to inspire me with ideas for the Wine and Dine notes that accompany each case.
Food needn’t fall into a fearful rut either, especially a so-called ‘classic’ dish that, frankly, isn’t. A case in point is lasagne, literally pasta sheets that could be interleaved with anything. However, the word has become synonymous with just one version, properly called lasagne al ragù and stratified with meat and tomato sauce.
The best of these, made luxurious by prime ingredients and long, slow cooking, are delicious and comforting. I won’t dwell on how easy or tempting it is for cynical ready-meal purveyors to gravitate to the lowest common denominators, with worst mince, ketchup and mousetrap. Or, more recently, lest we forget – and we really shouldn’t – secret horse.
The very best lasagne I’ve ever tasted, however, had not a scrap of meat in sight. It came from a smiling Italian stallholder at my farmers’ market and had been lovingly stuffed, in someone’s kitchen, not a factory, with walnuts, spinach and Gorgonzola cheese, spiked with nutmeg. Inexplicably, I’ve never seen it since and enquiries yield no more than a rueful shake of the head. Perhaps it was a leap too far.
So I make it at home, though I still haven’t quite captured it. Perhaps you have to be Italian, just as Yorkshire-born cooks seem to have unique sensors in their fingertips that register when the batter for God’s Own Pudding has reached the perfect consistency and can be poured into sizzling fat.
Nevertheless, this is a good and flexible feast with untold variations, not to mention fridge clearance potential. One of the tastiest came from the last knockings of a somewhat eclectic spending spree in Caseus, Montreuil’s leading fromagerie, and a past-its-best bag of spinach, rocket and watercress salad. I do, however, draw the line at stale nuts, one form of poor stock rotation for which there is only one destination – the food waste bin.
The recipe below is infinitely adaptable with the summer selections.
Janet Wynne Evans
Fine Wine Editor
LASAGNE WITH SPINACH, WALNUTS AND GORGONZOLA
Serves four heartily, or six daintily.
• 550ml full-fat milk
• 2 heaped tablespoon plain flour
• 60g butter, plus a small extra knob to cook the spinach
• A couple of dried bay leaves, or use three fresh ones, torn
• A small onion or banana shallot, peeled and halved
• Two whole cloves
• Half a nutmeg
• 250g ready-washed baby spinach leaves
• 8 – 10 sheets (about 120g) dried lasagne, softened (see cook’s nips below)
• 250g mild, creamy blue cheese, eg dolcelatte or gorgonzola dolce (not
piccante), cut into small cubes
• 60g aged parmesan or pecorino cheese, freshly grated
• 75g shelled walnuts, roughly chopped
• I don’t trust so-called ‘no-cook’ dried pasta sheets so I simmer them for about 5 minutes on the hob in a deep roasting tin, with a good pinch of salt and a dash of oil. I then top up with cold water and leave the sheets submerged until ready to layer. They will stick and tear a bit but are easier to trim and at least I know they’ll be properly cooked.
• Though a mucky bunch of what I call ‘free-range’ spinach is worth fumigating and destemming for its vastly superior taste, this recipe is definitely one for a bag of ready-washed baby leaves. They are more tender, need no trimming, wilt very quickly and need no squeezing dry or chopping.
• Allow yourself plenty of time to infuse the milk. It really does make all the difference to the resulting taste and full-fat makes for a much better texture than semi-skimmed. Skimmed is a very bad idea.
• Self-styled lasagne dishes come in different shapes and sizes, so consider volume rather than dimensions. This recipe works for a capacity of about 1.5l. For 4 layers of lasagne and four neat portions, I use a pie dish measuring roughly 20cm x 20cm x 7cm.
First infuse the milk. Set a pan on the stove and pour in the milk. Add the bay leaves. Impale each onion half with a clove and add those too. Grate in a generous amount of nutmeg. Bring the milk to boiling point, then remove it from the heat. Cover and leave for at least one hour. Strain into a jug before adding it to your béchamel.
Next, prepare your spinach, which you can also do well in advance. Put the leaves straight from their bag into a large saucepan with a very small knob of butter. Do not add water. Season well with pepper and more grated nutmeg if you like. Let it collapse on a gentle heat, standing over it and turning it about to stop it sticking. Remove it from the heat, transfer to a bowl and set aside.
Place your chosen dish in a roasting tin or oven tray to contain spillages.
Melt the butter in a large saucepan (a broader base speeds things up). Once it’s melted dip in a pastry brush and grease your dish. Next, add the flour, stir briskly with a wooden spoon to integrate it and cook for a couple of minutes, to get rid of its raw tang, stirring all the while. When the mixture resembles honeycomb, reduce the heat a little and start adding the infused milk. Keep stirring. As it begins to thicken, add more, redoubling your efforts with the spoon to disperse any lumps. Once all the milk is incorporated, reduce the heat again to very low and let the sauce finish thickening, stirring from time to time. It should be really thick and creamy.
Next, add a tablespoonful each of the blue cheese and the Parmesan and stir in the spinach. Taste now, and add a little salt, along with more pepper and nutmeg if you like.
Cover the base of the dish with a lick of the sauce and cover that snugly with a single layer of lasagne, trimming them to fit your dish. Set aside enough of the sauce to cover the final layer of pasta, along with a tablespoon of the Parmesan which will add crunch to the topping. Cover the pasta in the dish with some of the remaining cheeses, a scattering of the walnuts and some more of the sauce, then another layer of lasagne. Continue in this vein, finishing with a layer of pasta. Top that with the reserved sauce and sprinkle with the last of the Parmesan. You can now set the dish aside if you wish, for several hours or even overnight in the fridge.
Bake on the middle shelf of a preheated oven at 180C/Gas 4 for 35 minutes until burnished and just firm.
Serve warm with a sharp green salad.
What makes this wine-friendly is the mildness of the cheese. A strong one will murder the dish but if you avoid Stilton, Roquefort and the pillaging Danes, any number of reds and whites will do the job as long as they have the acidity to match that of the cheese, and to balance its richness. A brisk, northern Italian red would be good: Dogliani Clavesana 2015 (£7.50, Buyers’ Everyday Reds), with its sweet dolcetto fruit is well-nigh perfect.
A tangy goat’s milk cheese instead of the blue, with hazelnuts instead of walnuts are a nice combination too. Try that with a sauvignon blanc or similarly aromatic white: Three Terraces Sauvignon Blanc 2014 (Buyers’ Premium Selection – or find the 2015 vintage here for £8.95) is a good option as is the vermentino from Chartreuse de Mougères (£6.25, Buyers’ Everyday Whites).
Add a layer or two of roasted red peppers and sundried tomatoes to your lasagne, with toasted pine nuts and basil instead of walnuts and spinach, and you’ll have the elements of a mondo bizarro sauce – a kind of zingy red pesto. For this, use a young pecorino or grated mozzarella rather than blue cheese. Treat it to a tomato-friendly grape like Puglia’s nero di Troia (Tufarello in the Buyer’s Premium Selection) or Australia’s expression of the Mediterranean triumvirate, Blind Spot Grenache-Shiraz-Mataro 2014 (£7.75, Buyers’ Everyday Reds).
These recipes, while hopefully of use and interest to all, were written with the spring 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.
This recipe was inspired by poor stock control, although, in fairness, that doesn’t happen often. My very first wine-trade job involved reconciling book balances with bottles, some of which would be missing while others had reproduced, surreptitiously and parthenogenetically. That annoyed me immeasurably and I’m usually pretty attuned to the contents of my own cupboards.My downfall is a siege mentality. Unable to procure an ingredient for a recipe I’m impatient to try, and immeasurably annoyed by that too, I tend to lay in vast stocks of it when I do manage to run it to ground.
In this case, the item is rouille, that lovely orange garlic and saffron goo you stir into proper Provençal fish soup. It’s not on most supermarket shelves, so when we offered a Wine Society Christmas gift pack containing a jar both of fish soup and rouille, I snapped up a canny few and stashed them away. I got through most of them, but two escaped my notice. By now, the soup was well out of date, with an irretrievably manky aroma that consigned it to the bin. The rouille, at least, was still a goer, but due for consumption by the end of the month.
Mulling over alternative uses s for my orange treasures, I came up with a sort of mediterranean fish pie, with a splash of pastis instead of vermouth and the usual dollop of cream replaced by the rouille. Buttery pastry or mash on top felt out of kilter in olive oil country, so the pie became a hotpot, topped with thinly sliced potatoes dipped in herby oil, and cooked to brown crispness.
Sort of Morecambe-sur-Med.
This is a recipe that makes satisfying use of everything, from parsley stalks to prawn shells. It’s also versatile.
The fish content should include strong flavours – monkfish, bream, mullet – to stand up to the sauce, but the choice is then yours. In fact the world is, quite literally your oyster, for which the Bassin de Thau near Sète is famous, just as it is for mussels. Use these by all means instead of prawns, just don’t serve the blighters to me. Do make sure, in the case of mussels, that you take the important precaution of steaming them first, just until they open , so that you can discard any wrong ‘uns that don’t. Or buy the labour-saving frozen and already shelled variety and defrost them thoroughly.
The obvious partner for this deeply fishy, garlic and herb-infused feast, with its glints of orange and whisper of aniseed, is a rich Languedoc or Rhône white with just a bit of bite. Marsanne, roussanne, grenache blanc, viognier and rolle (vermentino) are good options, and if there is some fresh but firm picpoul in the mix, so much the better.
A spicy shiraz or Portugese red would not come amiss either.
Janet Wynne Evans
Fine Wine Editor
• 800g fish off the bone, skinned and trimmed – a mixture of monkfish, bream, hake and red mullet
• A dozen large prawns, shelled and deveined
• Plain olive oil
• 1 banana shallot, finely diced
• Six anchovies from a jar or tin, rinsed and dried
• Six sun-dried tomatoes in oil, blotted on kitchen paper
• A generous splash of pastis, eg Pernod
• 300ml fish or shellfish stock (see below)
• 2 dried bay leaves
• 2 tablespoons fresh parsley, thyme and dill, leaves only, chopped
• 2 tubs rouille, about 180g altogether
• Some thyme sprigs, leaves removed
• Two large baking potatoes
NB Owing to the difference in surface area between baking dishes of the same volume, I err on the side of caution here and prepare far more spuds than I think I need. I can promise that there will be no leftovers.
If you buy your prawns whole, the heads and shells make good stock. Rinse them well, crush roughly and add to some diced celery, carrot, garlic and onion, browned in olive oil in a smallish, deep saucepan. Add a glass of white wine, the stalks from your parsley, above, a few white peppercorns and a couple of fresh bay leaves and let it all bubble for a few minutes. Cover with 500ml water and simmer for 30 minutes or so. Strain through a sieve lined with kitchen paper. Taste and if you want a stronger flavour return to the hob and reduce, but remember that it will be boiled down and further concentrated in this recipe. On no account bother trying this with mussel shells.
Ask your fishmonger nicely to prepare all your fish for you. All skin, bones, membranes and mucky bits will thus end up in his bin, which is already a lost cause.
Cut the fish into generous chunks and arrange in a baking dish. Wash the deveined prawns in salted water and dry thoroughly. Add them to the fish. Cover and refrigerate.
Peel the potatoes and cut into slices. A mandoline on its normally thickest setting (one up from gratins, two up from crisps) is perfect. Manually, aim for between the thickness of a 10p piece and a £1 coin. As you slice them transfer them to a pan of water and leave to soak for about 20 minutes to remove excess starch. Then rinse thoroughly, shake dry in a colander and finally wrap in a clean tea-towel. Leave for as long as you can.
In a saucepan that will hold the stock, heat some olive oil and when it’s hot, add the shallot. Lower the heat and let it become translucent. Using a pair of kitchen scissors, snip in the anchovies, along with the sun-dried tomatoes. The pieces should be quite small, so that they will melt into the sauce.
Now add the pastis and let it bubble and sizzle, stirring to deglaze the pan. Finally add the stock and herbs, and let it boil down to about half its volume. Take the pan off the heat and let it cool thoroughly. Fish out the bay leaves. Season with black pepper – the anchovies should contribute enough salt.
Once it’s cool, stir in the rouille and once it’s incorporated, add to the fish and coat it all well. You can now cover and refrigerate the dish until ready to cook, but remove it an hour before cooking starts to bring it to room temperature.
Preheat the oven to 200C/Gas 6. Unwrap the potatoes and put in a large bowl with enough olive oil to coat. Strip the leaves of the remaining thyme sprigs and add, along with salt and pepper. Use your hands to ensure every slice is glistening with oil and flecked with herbs and black pepper. Arrange them in one layer on one or two baking sheets. I like to give them a start before adding them to the fish to make sure they cook thoroughly.
Cover loosely with foil, put them in the oven and set a timer for 10 minutes. This should be enough for them to soften without browning, but if not, give them just a few minutes more.
Let them cool just enough to handle, then lay them on top of the fish in overlapping slices, making sure the top of the dish is completely covered. Leave any remaining slices on the baking sheet and return to the oven, along with the fish, but on a lower shelf and without the foil.
Set the timer for 35 minutes, or until the fish is bubbling and the potatoes are browned.
When the hotpot is done, you may find that the potato topping has shrunk a little, leaving the odd gap. This is what your spares are for, so tuck them in as needed before serving.
Serve the hotpot with a simple green vegetable like tenderstem broccoli and hand round any remaining potatoes unless you have shamelessly nibbled them in the kitchen. And why would you not? They are a cook’s perk of the highest order.
Fine matches for this fishy feast include Undurraga Cauquenes Estate Maule Viognier Roussanne-Marsanne 2015 (Buyers’ Everyday Selection, available for sale at £6.95 per bottle), Domaine Magellan Blanc, Hérault 2015 (Buyers’ Premium Selection) or Collioure Blanc Tremadoc, Domaine Madeloc 2015 (Buyers’ French Classics).
Red wine aficionados need not panic – the rich, tomato and herb flavours here are lovely with spicy Med Reds: Australia Felix Swan Hill Victoria Shiraz-Sagrantino 2014 (£7.95, Buyers’ Everyday Selection) will do it as will the pescivore’s friend, Mouchão Dom Rafael, Alentejo 2012 (Buyers’ Premium Reds). Vacqueyras Domaine des Genêts, Delas 2013 (Buyers’ French Classics) is a real treat.
Janet Wynne Evans gets into hock without breaking the bank…
What could be better than a classy bottle and a meal that cost next to nothing – apart perhaps from the sterling advice that it doesn’t really work the other way round?
Should you be tempted by our current crop of German wines, here’s a recipe to bring some joy to plate, palate and domestic balance of payments.
It involves that most Germanic of ingredients, ham, a riesling soulmate if ever there was one. The racy acidity of the grape offsets saturated fat while the roundness underlying even in the trockens soothes salinity. And the nobility of the fruit counters the pigsty so elegantly.
But let it also be said that a supple German pinot noir with a thick slice of baked ham is an Ode to Joy in itself.
A ham hock weighing a generous kilo will set you back little more than a couple of your hard-earned sovereigns. Slowly baked in the oven on a rhythm-section of onions, herbs and spices, it will feed four people adequately, or two very generously, with scrumptious leftovers. The cooking juices and not-quite-spent veggies make a superb sauce or can be blended into soup fit for a king, with shreds of the ham and a few pulses thrown in. The meat itself makes hearty terrines and well as peerless sandwiches.
When meat is this cheap, some other kind of investment is needed. Here, it’s time and, by extension, the cost of a longish tour of duty, albeit at low wattage, for your trusty oven. Even so, this meal is belting good value. It’s a much better destination than a food waste bin for unprepossessing bits of vegetable: the unglamorous outer leaves of fennel bulbs, slightly elderly celery sticks, the too-green bits of leek you’re always advised to discard. Any superannuated wine, cider or ale you happen to have around can be pressed into service too.
You can boil ham hocks for lipsmacking flavour and pleasing, pull-apart texture, though not photogenic beauty, which this baked version has in abundance. During the cooking, the flavoursome fat renders into the meat, rather than being lost in cooking water. A final blast of hot air gives them a beautiful burnished glow, and – praise be! – crackling!
Don’t try to make the recipe below on impulse. Snap up your hocks, vacuum-packed for extra shelf-life, or store them in the freezer. ready for a call to action. The impending arrival of a Wine Society van, for instance.
Janet Wynne Evans
Fine Wine Editor
BAKED AND ROASTED HAM HOCK WITH BEANS AND ONION SAUCE
One hock will serve 4 – but why not cook two for safety and leftovers?
• 1 or 2 unsmoked ham hocks, skin on about 1.2kg each
• 3-4 onions, or a combination of onions, fennel and leeks, roughly wedged or chunked, enough to cover the base of the dish
• A small bunch of sage leaves, washed and dried
• 2 bay leaves, fresh or dried
• 2-3 star anise
• 1 teaspoon of whole white peppercorns
• 100ml dry or medium cider or white wine
• 2 x 400g cans or jars white, butter or cannellini beans or flageolets, drained
• Salt and freshly ground pepper, white or black
• A small bunch of fresh parsley, leaves only, not too finely chopped (put the stalks under the ham before it goes into the oven).
• A pinch of mustard powder (optional)
Ideally, soak your ham in cold water the night before to remove excess salt. If you are seized by impulsiveness, a quick cheat is to cover your joint with cold water in a large pan and bring slowly to the boil. Once the water begins to bubble gently, pour it away and rinse the joint thoroughly in fresh water. In both cases, dry it thoroughly with kitchen paper.
Now score the rind all over with fine lines, close together. This is a simple task provided you have a Stanley knife, the point of which does the job admirably without cutting too deeply into the fat.
Preheat the oven to 150C/Gas 2 and choose a deepish roasting tin or ovenproof dish that comes with a lid.
Line the bottom of the tin with the vegetables, herbs and spices.
Stand the ham on top, and pour over the wine or cider. Grind in a generous amount of black pepper. Cover and bake for between three and four hours, or until really tender, basting from time to time with the juices. Add a little more liquid if necessary.
Remove from the oven and increase the temperature to 220C/Gas 7.
Transfer the ham onto a platter and carefully pour the juices and vegetables into a clean pan. Fish out the bay leaves and star anise. If you have a stick blender, use this to puree the vegetables into a thickish sauce. If not, cool them slightly and use a blender or food processor. A mouli, or vegetable sieve will also work and if none of these is to hand, simply chop the vegetables for a pleasantly chunky effect. Season and add a judicious pinch of your favourite mustard if you like.
Put the ham back in the tin, scored side up. Rub a little salt into the skin and return to the oven for about 25 minutes or a little longer if the crackling is elusive.
Add the drained beans to the onion sauce and heat through gently on the hob. Sprinkle abundantly with the parsley and keep warm.
Transfer the ham to a board and carve into thick slices or let it fall into shreds.
Serve in rustic fashion with the beans and provide contrast with a short, sharp, crunchy salad, dressed with mustard vinaigrette.
These recipes, while hopefully of use and interest to all, were written with the Easter 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.What’s to be done about a non-fixed festival at a meteorologically capricious time of year? Among the annual dilemmas between thermals and shirtsleeves, fireside and alfresco, slow-cooker and barbecue, the only constants, at Easter, apart from spiritual ones, are chocolate and good wine.
But what wine? The viscous reds evoked by the fireside option instantly become unsuitable in bright sunshine, just as the fuller whites suddenly need to be crisp and verdant.
Here’s where a Wine Without Fuss subscription proves its worth. Our buyers’ selections are not, primarily, seasonally led – the aim, as ever, is to provide a mix of styles and a balance between the comfortingly familiar and the thought-provoking. A useful side-effect is that every case, be it Everyday, Premium or French Classic, should manage the meteorology.
Inspired by that, and this Paschal selection, I’m thinking semi-seasonal. Plenty of fresh ingredients are shining at the moment, to be sure, but a blast of hail, late cold snap or gales fit to wipe the welcoming smile off the face of your friendly fishmonger can easily derail the best of schemes. This is a good time for the butcher and the greengrocer, along with a few store-cupboard and freezer standbys.A star ingredient for my money, and not much is needed to buy it, is neck fillet of lamb. A compatriot and fellow-member recently asked me to recommend a wine for cawl, our Welsh take on Irish stew. We made do with the scrag end of the neck in Carmarthenshire, so I was intrigued to learn that they enjoyed the best end next door in Ceredigion, despite that county’s well-documented reputation for thrift. In either case, cawl is classically a thin but flavoursome broth, packed with very tender, sweet meat on the bone, leeks and root vegetables, showered with fresh parsley and best consumed with a chunk of bread and a wedge of cheese. Whether it’s my chapel upbringing or the soupy consistency (too wet!), It is one of the few things that don’t make me crave a glass of wine.
However, it did remind me what a very versatile cut the neck can be. It has just enough marbling of fat to make up for the removal of the bone. It will sizzle merrily on the hob or turns to unctuous tenderness in the oven. Most of all, it actually tastes of something, even before the endless pimping we feel obliged to indulge in these days. It’s available in useful packs of two, ready trimmed, and freezer-friendly. I like to know they are on standby, like the jars of roasted vegetables in the cupboard.
Here are two Easter ways with the same ingredients which may be assembled in advance and deployed nearer the time. A char-grill pan and a roasting pan or casserole with a lid will equip you for whatever the weather has in store, even up to the night before the occasion. If things are too changeable even for that, just shorten any marinating time. Good ingredients will never let you down and there is a great deal of scope between what’s ideal and what’s not worth doing.
What could be more fuss-free than that? Well, the wine of course – as any subscribing members will, we trust, confirm!
Both recipes involve a fair bit of spice, but neither is wine-threateningly fiery. In this Easter Fuss selection, I’m drawn to bold reds made from Mediterranean grapes in the Cape and South America. Gutsy Rhônes will work while restrained ones may not.
Spain is a happy hunting ground, Finca Antigua Tempranillo 2012 giving a blast of authenticity (Buyers’ Everyday Reds). Also primed for the job in this selection is De Martino 347 Vineyards Carmenère 2014 and the same producer’s ramped-up Legado Maipo Carmenère 2013 in Buyers’ Premium Reds works a treat too.
Another Premium red, A Fistful of Schist Shiraz-Cinsault-Mourvèdre 2013 (£6.50) is a champion heat-absorber and of the Buyer’s French Classics, I’d opt for the all-enveloping brambly charm of Corbières Champs des Murailles, Château Ollieux Romanis 2012 and save the understated syrah-driven Rhône-villages, Saint-Maurice 2012 (the 2013 is currently available to non-subscribers for £9.95) for a quieter recipe.
THE SHOPPING LIST (for four, with seconds)
• 900g lamb neck fillets, trimmed
• 3 medium-sized red onions
• A large bag of salad-quality spinach leaves
• A couple of vines of baby plum or cherry tomatoes
• A juicy lemon
• 2 bayleaves
• A small bunch each of fresh rosemary and coriander
• 2 or 3 large baking potatoes, ready-washed to save time or thoroughly scrubbed.
• 450g (undrained weight) grilled red and yellow peppers in oil (6 whole peppers)
• 200g (undrained weight) grilled aubergines or courgettes
• Regular olive oil (or reserve the oil from the vegetable jars)
• Extra-virgin olive oil for dressing
• A small pot of stoned black olives
• 2-3 heaped teaspoons of roasted spice rub (see below)
• A pinch of smoked paprika, sweet or hot, to taste
WORK IN HAND
Let it be said that I’ve made both these dishes on impulse, including the spice rub and the vegetable timbales, and it didn’t kill me or them. But a bit of advance prep is always better for flavour, not to mention sociability on the day.
The spice rub can be made up to a month ahead. Many, if not all of the ingredients may well be sitting in your spice rack or kitchen cupboard, but if in any doubt about their age/freshness, replenish them.
The vegetable timbales (see below) will be all the firmer and less unwieldy for a night in the fridge, under their weights. They will be easier to turn out and likelier to stay put once they are on the plate.
If you can start the lamb the night before, it will have the benefit of a leisurely bath in its aromatic marinade. Pat the fillets dry. Season with a little salt and black pepper and rub well with the roast spice mix and the smoked paprika before placing them in a large glass or ceramic bowl Add a clove of garlic, peeled and thinly sliced. Cut the lemon in half, and squeeze the juice from one half over the lamb. Put the spent shell into the marinade too. Add two tablespoons of oil from the roast pepper jar. Finally, select a few sprigs of rosemary and a generous handful of coriander, wash, dry and chop the leaves finely. Add half of these to the marinade, combine well (hands are best), cover and leave to infuse in a cool place, ideally overnight. Turn the meat once or twice if you can. Remember to give it an hour to regain room temperature before cooking.
It takes the potatoes a while to dry thoroughly after being rinsed, so if you can, prepare them a couple of hours in advance. Wash them thoroughly, unless they are already washed. There is no need to peel them. Slice them to about the thickness of a £1 coin, and put them into a colander. A mandoline is a useful gadget for that. Rinse well under cold running water to remove excess starch and maximise crispness. Shake dry and wrap in a clean tea-towel. Leave until all moisture has been absorbed.
RECIPE ONE: SPICED GRILLED LAMB WITH MEDITERRANEAN VEGETABLE TIMBALES
This is a welding of three favourite recipes I’ve shared with members over the years. Credit to Alastair Little (Keep it Simple by Alastair Little and Richard Whittington, Conran Octopus, 1993) for the basic lamb idea, Skye Gingell for the roast spice mix used in both recipes and our own Wine Society cook Etta Ware for the timbale inspiration. That they work beautifully together is something for which I’d like to take credit, if you don’t mind.
Marinate the lamb and potatoes as described above in Work In Hand. Make the timbales according to the recipe below.
When you’re ready to roll, preheat the oven to 200C/400F/Gas 6. Shake the potatoes from their towel into a large bowl. Add a couple of tablespoons of oil, a clove of garlic, crushed, and the reserved herbs. With your hands, make sure every slice is coated. Arrange the slices in slightly overlapping layers on a large sheet pan. Slip them into the oven and give them about 25-30 minutes. They may well be done before the lamb, so once they are ready, switch off the oven, prise them loose with a spatula as above, and keep warm in the residual oven heat.
Meanwhile, bring a large char-grilled pan or two smaller ones to a brisk heat on the hob. Using tongs, lift the whole fillets out of their marinade and shake off the excess oil. Place carefully in the pan, along with the spent lemon half from the marinade, and sear on all sides before lowering the heat to medium and cooking for 15-20 minutes, turning frequently. This gives a tender pink result, which is as should be. If you prefer your lamb less rare, finish them in the oven as the potatoes complete their cooking, rather than scorching them at this high and fiery contact temperature.
When the fillets are attractively striped, use your tongs to squeeze the last knockings of the charred half-lemon over them – not compulsory, but adds a bit of zing – and let them sizzle briefly before removing from the heat. Wrap them in foil and rest for at least ten minutes, alongside the potatoes. This will make them easier to carve. At the same time put your plates in the oven to warm.
Put the watercress leaves in a bowl and dress lightly with your best extra-virgin olive-oil and a little juice from the reserved half-lemon from the marinating stage.
Remove the timbales from the fridge and take off the weights. Peel the clingfilm away from the surface. The best way to turn them out is to don some oven gloves, put a warmed plate upside-down over a mould and invert the whole arrangement. Before lifting off the mould, move it to one side of the plate to make room for the potatoes and lamb. Once it’s in position, carefully remove the clingfilm. Repeat three times.
Slice the lamb into thick noisettes. Put a circle of overlapping potato slices on each the plate and top each with three or four noisettes. Spoon over a decorous amount of the juice that will have been released during the resting. Finish with a sprig of rosemary.
Garnish with a neat pile of dressed watercress leaves and serve.
RECIPE TWO: MEDITERRANEAN BAKED LAMB
A warmer approach that works very well with chops too. Allow two loin or chump chops, or one Barnsley chop per person. In this recipe the Mediterranean vegetables go in with the meat, adding sweetness to the spice while the spinach is added the last minute to wilt in the steam.
Preheat the oven to 200C/400F/Gas 6. You’ll need two shelves, one in the upper middle and a lower one with enough space to take the roasting pan.
Rub and marinate the lamb fillets and prepare the potatoes as directed above, to the drying stage.
Remove the fillets from the marinade and cut each in half. Arrange them in a shallow but roomy roasting tray that can take everything – onions, peppers, and tomatoes – in one layer. One that comes with a lid is handy but a couple of layers of aluminium foil will do.
Wash and dry 4-6 sprigs each of the rosemary and coriander. Strip the leaves and chop finely. Drain the peppers and aubergines, reserving the oil. Peel and wedge two onions through the root in quarters that will hold their shape and brush them well with the reserved oil before adding them to the roasting tin, jigsaw fashion between and around the lamb pieces. Add the peppers and aubergines, torn into wide strips and tuck them in with the bay leaves. Plug gaps with 8-12 tomatoes (leave them whole) and a few black olives. Scatter half the chopped herbs on top, season with a little black pepper.
Cover tightly and put in the oven on the upper shelf. Set your timer for 30 minutes. Meanwhile, unwrap the potatoes and prepare exactly as above.
When the lamb has had its 30 minutes, remove the foil and check progress. It should be almost cooked but may be slightly pallid, so turn the pieces over and distribute the cooking juices among the vegetables to keep them moist. Return to the oven uncovered, on the lower shelf this time. Put the potatoes on the higher one. They should take about 25-30 minutes, but keep an eagle eye on them and the lamb.
When it looks elegantly bronzed, transfer the casserole dish from the oven to the hob on a gentle heat. Throw in the spinach and leave to wilt gently while the potatoes finish cooking. If little too much liquid remains, let it boil away, but not dry.
When the potatoes are golden and crisp, prise them loose with a spatula and arrange in an overlapping circle on each of four warmed dinner-plates. Top with a mixture of the pleasantly collapsed and wilted vegetables and finish with the lamb.
For the roast spice mix
From A Year in My Kitchen by Skye Gingell (Quadrille, 2006)
I’ve rarely found a more intriguing ‘garam masala’ than this one. It makes a good quantity, which will keep well for a month or so, after which it loses its mojo slightly. I store mine in the fridge for an easy, instant and exquisitely spicy lift. It works best, says the author, in combination with heat, sweetness, sourness and saltiness, provided in these recipes by smoked paprika, lemon juice and olives.
Make sure your whole spices are fresh and use a pestle and mortar for best results. To save time, try a spare coffee-grinder – not the one you use for your coffee beans, obviously, unless you want a rude awakening with your morning brew!
• 1-2 cinnamon sticks, snapped in half
• 50g coriander seeds
• 50g cumin seeds
• 50g fennel seeds
• 50g mustard seeds
• 50g fenugreek seeds
• 5 cardamom pods
• 2-3 star anise or cloves (I use both)
Place a dry, heavy-based frying pan (preferably non-stick) over a low heat. Once a clear smoke begins to rise from your pan, add all the spices and cook, stirring frequently, to toast them. Be careful not to burn them. Once the seeds begin to pop, they are ready. Remove from the heat and grind to a fine powder. Store in an airtight container until ready to use.
For the vegetable timbales
We often serve these versatile little treasures as starters, interleaved with slices of avocado and mozzarella cheese. They always go down well in summer with a good rosé or a fruity, southern French white, but I think they also do a sterling job a vegetable side dish. The most cost-effective approach is to do your own veg roasting, but the bottled variety give a stunning result and save time. Peppers form the basis of the dish here, but any combination of other Mediterranean vegetables of your choosing will work beautifully, as summer herbs like basil.
Drain the peppers and aubergines well, reserving the pepper oil for marinating the lamb, brushing onions and all kinds of other uses. Trim them into short, wide strips that can be easily layered in a small space. Cut 8-10 of the baby tomatoes into 4-5 slices. Line four dariole moulds or small ramekins with clingfilm, letting the excess hang over the sides.
This is a no-cook layering job, done upside-down. The bottom layer will end up on top and needs to be photogenic. Begin with a coriander leaf, and place it vein side down in the base of the mould. Cut the olives in half and arrange three halves around it, again curved side down. This will be the first thing on display when the moulds are turned out. so make sure it looks the part.
Now start layering the peppers, aubergines and tomatoes in the mould, seasoning with a little pepper (there wil be enough salt in the bottled veggies) and finely chopped coriander as you go. When the moulds are reasonably full, draw over the excess clingfilm to cover the top. Place on a roasting tray and weight each down with an unopened 400g tin, bottle of oil or vinegar or any heavy object with a base that fits he the mould. Refrigerate overnight, if possible to firm up.
Turn out as advised above.
These recipes, while hopefully of use and interest to all, were written with the New Year 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.I was once moved to pen a Food for Thought piece titled A Recipe for Disaster. It was a rant about cooking instructions that don’t make sense.
Try, for example, preheating a superfast fan-assisted oven before defrosting your meat or adding the stock which you suddenly find (in brackets) you should have made by roasting and simmering veal bones for four hours. Good luck with marshalling ingredients that don’t feature in the method, and vice versa. These are merely the tip of an undefrostable iceberg for titanic kitchen egos.
A very famous name has the prize for my favourite blooper of all time: an instruction to simmer some mushrooms for exactly twenty minutes – and then throw them away. The importance of reserving the cooking water for stock went – you’ve guessed it – down the drain.
I do see that successful chefs may take for granted boxes ticked by their large brigades but I strongly suggest that if they intend to break into publishing, they should consider adding to their smoke-boxes, dry-ice dispensers and foam aerosols the magnifying glass, nit-comb and big red pen any sense-checker needs. A chef de cuisine does not a Chief Sub make.
I know from experience just how easy it is to add or omit a zero or to insert a ghost k before a g. I try hard, but even when I get it right, a gremlin in my laptop occasionally likes to undermine my authority by mischievously replacing the degree (Centigrade) symbol with, of all things, a question mark. Fortunately, gimlet eyes and better technical skills than mine at HQ spare my blushes, and the odd escapee, swiftly picked up by members at least reassures me that you are actually reading my work!
Earlier this year I attended a Guardian workshop on food writing, wherein the excellent food journalist Felicity Cloake, who must get as frustrated as I do, stressed the importance of checking one’s recipes. In an ironic twist, I recently read the following, in the same paper’s Corrections and Clarifications section:
“A recipe for kedgeree among our 10 best all-day egg recipes… listed the wrong amounts for the haddock, rice, water, curry powder and salt…”
Finally, I think I understand the expression ‘as sure as eggs is eggs.’
Nothing, however, prepared me for the clutch of Bordelais tapas recipes we presented in our Christmas Sauternes spread and which I hope members enjoyed trying as much as I ended up having to, if only to make sense of them.
These recipes originated at a brilliantly conceived Bordeaux tapas-and-sweet-wine workshop, whence some inspirational ideas emerged from top traiteurs. Clearly, you had to be there, as I wasn’t. Unfortunately, the only written records, posted online, are variously missing weights, measures, oven temperatures and cooking times, number of servings and, in some cases, even the ingredients mentioned in the name of the dish. The world of private catering is competitive if not cut-throat. What a clever way of withholding trade secrets!
Having deconstructed and reassembled the least baffling of the recipes for The Society’s website, I have saved my favourite until now. Not because it was the one in least need of sub-editing (it was), but because we all need a bit of glamour in January. All I added were a suggestion for cooking the prawns and a serving idea.
What’s more it’s the perfect freezer and store-cupboard standby and, although it was designed to match a Sauterenes or Barsac, it works equally well with any number of the aromatic whites in this New Year Wine Without Fuss selection.
What more could you ask from a recipe? Proper instructions, that’s what. I have done my level best here, and if that web-gremlin is not on a well-earned winter break, I will simultaneously hang up my quill, my tastevin AND my cook’s knife.
Janet Wynne Evans
OLIVIER STRAEHLI’S PRAWNS WITH CARDAMOM, VANILLA AND COCONUT
Olivier Straehli has written a number of cookery books, including one dedicated to that Bordeaux über-bun the cannelé. He also presides over the kitchen at La Maison des 5 Sens in Bordeaux – not a restaurant but an espace culturelle dedicated to the pleasures of the senses. Here he combines sweetness, spice and richness to delicious effect, all eminently absorbable by a sweet wine and spice-friendly whites like gewurztraminer,and viognier and rich chardonnays.
M. Straehli’s instructions are merely to cook your prawns so I have taken the liberty of sharing my preferred method of roasting them with a little sesame oil. I do hope he approves, both of that and my presentation. If not, I had better practice my most elegant Gallic shrug.
Serves 8 as a tapa, 4 as a starter
Note: you’ll need four ramekins for starter portions, or, for tapas, eight 5cl shot glasses and a ready supply of cocktail sticks, which can snap very easily if you’re excited!
• 16 tiger prawns, defrosted if frozen
• 2 tablespoons of sunflower or similarly neutral oil
• a scant teaspoon of toasted sesame oil
• a handful of baby onions or very slim shallots, finely sliced
• 200ml coconut milk
• 150ml full fat crème fraîche
• a vanilla pod, split
• 5 whole cardamom pods, lightly crushed
• a green or red medium-strength chilli (jalapeño is about right), deseeded and very finely chopped
• 1 lime
• 16 photogenic coriander leaves, washed and dried, to decorate
Firstly, deal with the prawns.> Remove heads and all shells, including the tail. With the point of a knife, make a cut along the back and remove all traces of the black digestive tract. I always feel better for having done that. Give them a good rinse in two lots of well-salted water (an excellent tip from Ken Hom). Pat them with kitchen paper and leave them on a plate until completely dry.
Preheat the oven to 200C/Gas 7. Put the prawns in a small roasting dish. Add half the sunflower oil and all the sesame oil and season well with salt and pepper. With clean hands, make sure every prawn is well coated. Roast for just 6-8 minutes until the prawns are pink, opaque and firm to the touch. Set them aside to cool, and once they have done so, refrigerate them until you are ready to assemble the tapas.
In a frying pan, heat the rest of the sunflower oil and brown the onions or shallots. They should be golden and crisp. Lift them out and let them drain on kitchen paper.
Give the pan a wipe before adding the coconut milk, crème fraîche, vanilla and cardamom, along with half the diced chilli. Bring up to a simmer and let this mixture reduce gently to half its volume, tasting as you go. It may need a little seasoning, but remember that the prawns will be quite salty and toasty.
Once it tastes right – rich, creamy, subtly spice and hauntingly sweet – fish out the vanilla pod and count out the cardamoms. Stir in the rest of the diced chilli and finish with the juice of half a lime, adding a little more if you feel it’s needed.
Divide the mixture into 8 shot glasses or 4 ramekins. Sprinkle with the reserved onion ringlets, and put in the fridge to chill and thicken.
An hour before serving, remove your components from the fridge for the fun part. For the ramekins, arrange four prawns jauntily on top of the sauce, interleaved with the coriander leaves. For the shot-glass option, impale a coriander leaf, glossy side up, with a cocktail stick, add a prawn, then another coriander leaf and a second prawn. Your ‘kebab’ should stand up nicely in the glass without touching the sauce. Repeat the operation seven times.
Equip your guests with little teaspoons so that every morsel of the sauce can be scraped up and savoured. Oh, and do grant permission to lick fingers and glasses at table.
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.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
PLAY YOUR CARBS RIGHT
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.
WHAT HO ( HO! HO!) ON THE RIALTO
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.