Grapevine Archive for Wine Without Fuss
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.
Buying wine for The Wine Society is a busy job. There are no wine lists or offers without wines to put in them, so the Buying Team’s year is understandably full of deadlines.
Sometimes though, an incredible wine will find the buyer when the buyer isn’t even looking for it. This sort of thing happens because each of the wine buyers at The Society are constantly being sent samples from producers.
If you are buying wine for a Rioja offer but the supplier sends you a bottle of their new white wine from another part of Spain too, it’s certainly not going to be purchased for the offer as it might stand out a bit! Nonetheless, the Buying Team will always taste these wines purely out of interest. More often than not, it is deemed that the sample is perhaps not up to scratch or there is nothing that they can do with it at that moment in time.
Every so often though, they will taste a wine that is so good that we simply must buy it!
Our Wine Without Fuss scheme is a fantastic tool for a buyer who has discovered a wine which they feel they simply must buy but don’t have an offering or List in which they can put it. As the buyers each have a number of slots to fill in the Wine Without Fuss cases every other month, it gives them great opportunities to buy wines that they might otherwise have been forced to pass by.
Likewise, every so often the buyer will have tasted something that we hold some stock of and been struck by how well it is drinking at the moment. If this is the case, it is in the best interest of the membership that they are able to try it for themselves!
We hold tastings for each of the six yearly Wine Without Fuss selections, before the cases are finalised and sent out to the members who subscribe. This gives the buyers a chance to taste through all of the wines that they and their colleagues have selected. Only when the buyers are happy with the selection and have made any changes to the wine notes they feel necessary, will the case be given the OK and sent to members.The most recent tasting was for the selection for summer 2016. Whilst I tasted through the wines with Pierre Mansour, we made the occasional change to a wine note here and there, to ensure that we were happy the notes would be a true reflection of the wines in the bottle.
We both remarked at how good the selection was, even at one point getting confused and saying to one another “…how good these Premium Selection whites are” only to find out we were tasting from the Everyday Selection! A couple of stand-out wines were the Nero di Troia Tufarello Puglia Vigneti Canosini 2015 from the Premium Selection and the incredibly good-value Victory Hotel Australian Chardonnay-Semillon 2015 from the Everyday Selection.
So the nice thing about Wine Without Fuss, it seems, is that it is a scheme which benefits all. The buyers are happy because they can share their latest finds with our membership and our members are happy because they get to discover and enjoy the wines!
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 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.
These recipes, while hopefully of use and interest to all, were written with the autumn 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.
Such an appealing name, isn’t it ‘pork tenderloin’? Or, as the French call it filet mignon – a darling bit of meat, if you will. It evokes melt-in-the-mouth succulence and conversation-stopping taste.
Alas, the reality is somewhat different. Pork fillet as we should more prosaically call it is one of the blandest cuts known to pig-fanciers everywhere. At its cheapest and worst, it’s the hatchet-faced, mean-spirted, soulless poster boy of the Fat is Bad brigade. To the wretched notion of breeding a beast specifically ‘for leanness’ add the drastic trimming of every vestige of adipose tissue from the joint itself. It’s ‘healthy’ and convenient. It cooks quickly. What more can you ever demand of food?
Taste, that’s what, and for enthusiastic eaters like me and producers who want my money in exchange for something worth having, the tide is slowly turning. Free-range production is on the up and old, rare breeds are making a comeback. In some countries, like Spain, they never went away, of course, and that sublime meat is increasingly available.
Life, as ever, is about choices if you are lucky enough to have them course. For the price of a loin of Ibérico pork, you could probably buy two of the very good British outdoor-reared variety and heaven knows how many of the imported, intensively-produced, husbandry-bereft price-warriors to be found on many supermarket shelves. I understand why they are there, but I‘d like to think that I would find something better on a tight budget, if only for the sake of the wretched animal at the source of this ghastly chain.
A pork tenderloin is a very practical thing that can be sliced and flash-fried or braised or roasted whole. The trendy thinking these days is that the best way to cook a 1kg piece of fillet is to seal it in a pan for a few minutes and then transfer it to a very low oven – about 80C or less than Gas ¼ – for about an hour and a half. This gives a very pink result, beloved of leading chefs, but feared to be a bit dodgy by the food science community, which insists that our meat must hit a decisive 75C on a food thermometer unless we want a very antisocial character called trichinella spiralis to join the party. I’m easily spooked, so I haven’t tried this technique. I merely mention it to more fearless fellow-members with the useful tip that there are plenty of potentially suicidal recipes online to have a go at.
Instead, I pass on my favourite ways with pork fillet, two curated, one created. They range from super-fast to very leisurely. You don’t need to splurge on Iberian Black but, as ever, the better the meat, the better the result.
Our Autumn Wine Without Fuss selection has any number of excellent prospects for all these recipes. I’ve selected my favourites for easy reference, along with money-no-object options. Once you’ve bankrupted yourself with Ibérico, you may as well go down in flames, and what a way to go!
1) MEDALLION MEN
I once stayed at an enchanting posada in the hills just 20 minutes (and a world) from Granada and very handy for the Alhambra. Our hostess, a talented chef, fed guests who wanted to ‘eat in’ but a day’s notice had to be given. It was soon apparent why: it makes no commercial sense at all to buy more portions of prime Pata Negra pork than you have diners to eat them.
Having tried it once, my b.t.m was on my seat for most of our stay, in anticipation of another portion of medallions of Pata Negra, seared quickly with the estate’s own olive oil and the zest and juice of the bittersweet little oranges from the garden below – something to think about in January, when the Seville oranges arrive.
Meanwhile, I’m going large on elderberries in this wonderful 19th-century recipe from Anna del Conte, one I’ve already shared with members. For this is pays to pick copious quantities of the sharp little so-and-sos while you can to freeze for out-of-season use. A small elder has made its home in the Wine Society car park, where, I’m fairly sure, I was the first – and probably only – employee to have been caught scrumping by our security camera. It was worth it. Buy the very best pork fillet you can justify for this, and if it’s impossible to get elderberries, try using a jar of unsweetened black cherries.
With this, I’d serve a crunchy, curranty red, not to dry so that it can also mop up the sweet-and-sour elements. 88 Growers Barossa Shiraz (£6.95, Buyers’ Everyday Reds) would work as would Painted Wolf ‘Peloton’ Rouge (£8.95, Buyers’ Premium Reds). For a very special occasion, try a warm southern Italian red like Graticciaia (£32).
Fillet of Pork Cavalcanti-Style
From The Gastronomy of Italy by Anna del Conte (Pavilion, 2005)
600g pork fillets
40g unsalted butter
2 tbs olive oil
120ml good red wine
4 tsp sugar
a pinch of ground cinnamon
2 tbs balsamic vinegar
1 tbs very finely ground almonds
2 tbs elderberries
1 tbs capers preferably in salt, rinsed
Trim the fat off the pork fillets and cut the min half, if necessary so they will fit in a large sauté pan. Heat half the butter and the olive oil in the pan and add the pork. Sauté until brown on all sides.
Bring the wine to the boil in a separate small pan and pour over the meat with 2 tablespoons hot water. When the liquid has come back to the boil, add salt and pepper. Turn the heat down so that the liquid will just simmer, cover the pan tightly and cook for 10 minutes, or until the pork is done. Remove the meat from the pan and keep warm.
Add the sugar and cinnamon, the balsamic vinegar, almonds, elderberries and capers to the pan and cook stirring constantly, for 2 minutes. Break the remaining butter into small pieces and add gradually to the sauce while gently stirring and swirling the pan.
Slice the meat (not too thinly) and return to the pan for 2 minutes to absorb the flavour of the sauce. Serve immediately.
2) A SUPERFAST SUNDAY ROAST
Delia Smith’s ostensibly start-from-scratch series of three books had plenty to teach not only rookies but competent cooks. The recipe below puts a good roast dinner on the table in record time.
It’s a versatile plateful that would work well with wine of any colour, though I have a marginal preference for white. A good core of fruit, lively acidity and a notch just above bone dryness are what’s required which points me towards riesling. Our Autumn Wine Without Fuss selections have plenty of choice, from Blind Spot Clare Valley (£7.95, Buyers’ Everyday Whites) to the patrician Alsatian Les Princes Abbés from Schlumberger (French Classic Whites). Having said that, Painted Wolf ‘Peloton’ Blanc (£8.95, Buyers’ Premium Wines) has what it takes too. If you are pushing the boat out, demi-sec Vouvray or a fine German riesling with a sweetness codes of 3-4 are perfect. On the red front, head for the Loire and a fresh cabernet franc, or Portugal.
Fast Roast Pork with Rosemary and Caramelised Apples
An online recipe by Delia Smith, adapted from her How to Cook, Book 2
2 thick British pork fillets (weighing 12 oz/350 g each after trimming)
1 rounded tablespoon fresh rosemary leaves
500g Cox’s apples (about 3 large apples), skins left on, cored and cut into 6 wedges each, or quartered if they are small
2 cloves garlic, peeled and cut into thin slices
1½ oz (40 g) butter
1½ tablespoons cider vinegar
1 small onion, peeled and finely chopped
1 level tablespoon demerara sugar
225 ml medium cider
2 heaped tablespoons half-fat crème fraîche
salt and freshly milled black pepper
Pre-heat the oven to gas mark 8, 450°F (230°C). First of all, using a small, sharp knife, make little slits all over the pork and push the slivers of garlic into them, turning the fillet over so the garlic is in on both sides.
Next, place the rosemary leaves in a mortar and bruise them with a pestle to release their fragrant oil, then chop them very finely. Now melt the butter and combine it with the cider vinegar, then brush the meat with some of this mixture, sprinkle with half the rosemary and season with salt and pepper. Scatter the onion over the buttered baking tray and place the pork on top. All this can be prepared in advance, then covered with clingfilm.
When you want to cook the roast, prepare the apples by tossing them with the remaining cider vinegar and butter mixture, then arrange them all around the pork on the baking tray and sprinkle with the sugar and the rest of the rosemary.
Place the baking tray in the oven on a high shelf and roast for 25-30 minutes (this will depend on the thickness of the pork), until the pork is cooked and there are no pink juices. After that, remove the baking tray from the oven and transfer the pork and apples to a hot serving dish, cover with foil and keep warm. Meanwhile, pour a little of the cider on to the tray, over the heat, to loosen the onions and juices from it, then pour into a saucepan over a medium heat, add the rest of the cider and let it bubble and reduce by about a third – this will take about 5 minutes.
Then whisk in the crème fraîche, let it bubble a bit more and add some seasoning. After the pork has rested for about 10 minutes, transfer it to a board and carve it into thick slices, then return them to the serving plate to rejoin the apples. Pour the sauce over and serve as soon as possible. Roast potatoes are particularly good with this.
Copyright © 2009 Delia Smith/New Crane Internet Limited, ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.
3) LIFE IN THE OLD CROCK (POT) YET
(All my own work!)
A slow, leisurely roast seems to bring out the best both in expensive and cheaper tenderloins. The meat gets a good browning and then 4-5 hours in a slow cooker. The benefit of buying your fillet from the butcher is that you can request (a) a nice layer of fat which will melt away in the cooking and flavour the juices, and (b) the bones. These I use as a trivet for the meat and don’t discard them when their work is done. Hold the icky-sticky barbecue sauce, for they will be the best ribs you have ever had. I have often sneaked a couple while pretending to be so busy in my very small kitchen that all boarders are repelled. Now guests will know why!
The bonus here is that you can be your own woman or man for several hours, while the house gradually fills with outrageously good aromas.
This is an immensely forgiving recipe which wallows happily with any mellow, fruity wine of any colour. Building on the rapport of riesling with pork, so Riesling Tradition, Kuentz-Bas (£9.25, Buyers’ Premium Whites) is a good choice. For reds, try Corbières Château Ollieux Romanis (Buyers’ Premium Reds) or celebrate another great pork producer, Corsica, with Fiumeseccu from Domaine Alzipratu (£12.95, Buyers’ Classic Reds); but this is gentle enough not to scare off a good Bordeaux. You’ll find both shades of Vieux Château Gaubert in the French Classic selections but if you can wait no longer to uncork a precious bottle of Domaine de Chevalier that’s fine with me!
Slow-cooked Tenderloin, Pure and Simple
1 kg pork fillet, in one piece, tied, with bones if possible
1 large onion, wedged into eighths
2 tbs olive oil
A bouquet garni of bay leaves, thyme and parsley stalks
Salt and pepper
120ml double cream
Note: slow cookers vary enormously so always follow your handbook, and have a meat thermometer at the ready. Some need to be preheated, others don’t. This dish takes a good four hours on my HIGH Crock-Pot setting, correspondingly longer on models offering AUTO or MEDIUM. I tend to avoid LOW unless keeping cooked food warm.
Firstly, ensure the meat is at room temperature by removing it from the fridge an hour before you are ready to cook. Preheat your slow-cooker for 20 minutes if your model requires it.
If you have the bones , preheat the oven to 200°/Gas 6-7. Lay the bones in a roasting pan and brown for 20-35 minutes until the rawness has disappeared.
Heat a large frying pan and add the oil. Season the joint generously with salt and pepper and carefully lower, fat side down into the pan. Brown it thoroughly, for a few minutes on each side, including both ends. I find it helps to stand it on end wedged in long barbecue tongs.
Remove from the pan and keep warm. Add the wedges of onion and brown them too.
When all that’s done, remove the bones from the oven and drain off the rendered fat (save it for roast potatoes).
Remove the lid of the cookpot and work fast now to minimise heat loss. Place the loin of pork at the bottom, in contact with the heat, and tuck the bones and onion wedges around it. Push in the bay leaves and the herbs. Replace the lid and don’t touch for 4 hours. If you do sneak a peek, be willing to atone for your impatience with an extra 15 minutes on the cooking time. I know they eat late in Spain, but really, don’t be tempted!
After 4 hours, remove the lid of the cookpot and insert your meat thermometer. It should register at least 75°C. If it does, it’s done and you can remove it to rest for 20 minutes in a warm place. If not, give it another half-hour. It won’t come to any harm if you leave it longer, but the meat will become ever-more tender and friable, not conducive to a nice slice. The joint will also have shrunk quite a bit. If you like your pork pulled rather than manicured, this matters not.
Strain the contents of the pot into a bowl or jug, retrieving the bones as advised, for instant gratification, or even a little appetiser for your patient guests.
Strain the cooking liquid through some kitchen paper into a small pan to defat the cooking juices and reduce these until it tastes right – if there is very little juice, add some wine to what there is and boil down until syrupy and concentrated. Finish with a couple of tablespoons of double cream whisked in until bubbling thickly. Pour into a warmed sauce-boat and bring to the table with the pork.
I serve this with roasted Savoy cabbage and baby potatoes with their skins on.
Janet Wynne Evans
This recipe, while hopefully of use and interest to all, was written with the summer 2015 selections of The Society’s Wine Without Fuss subscription scheme particularly in mind. Voted Best Wine Club by both The Independent and Which? magazine, Wine Without Fuss offers regular selections of delicious wines with the minimum of fuss. Why not join the growing band of members who let their Society take the strain, and are regularly glad they do?
Find out more about Wine Without Fuss in a short video on our website.
Buying one, or several, at the Coquelles terminal is de rigueur before grabbing my last tarte au citron and a shot of caffeine and heading for border control.
Invariably one of these will contain a recipe for a ‘cake’ which in France is essentially a savoury loaf packed with wholesome ingredients.
The beauty of le cake is that it can be a beacon of seasonality, bursting with braised leeks, spinach, courgettes and the like, pepped up with tender fresh herbs, or a convenient pantry piece, assembled from bottled peppers, sun-dried tomatoes and exotic spices. A slice or two in the hand or lunchbox is nothing short of uplifting, and the last knockings, gently warmed and topped with well-dressed designer greenery make a fine starter.
Moreover you can say adieu to picnics that arrive at their destination somewhat the worse for wear. This will never happen to un cake, which can be replaced in its tin for transport and sliced to order.
As the bounty of summer and the call of the great outdoors seduce our senses, here are some of the fruits of those Shuttle reads, the souvenirs of which remain, dog-eared and cream-spattered in – what else? – a cavernous food hamper. I can’t bear to throw anything away, that’s the trouble.
Nevertheless, I find this a throwaway recipe of the best kind. You could even say it’s a piece of cake…
Janet Wynne Evans
Fine Wine Editor
NOW MAKE YOUR CAKE
My thanks to Cuisine et Vins de France and Saveurs, two magazines the reading of which is almost as good as eating lunch on board, for the ideas below. Once you’ve made the basic batter, just add imagination and don’t hesitate to explore all possible permutations. The Society’s summer Wine Without Fuss selection has the bottle for every conceivable one.
The Batter and the Baking
• 3 eggs
• 150g plain flour
• 2 tsp baking powder
• 120ml whipping cream or full-fat crème fraiche
• 75ml olive oil
• 75g freshly grated Parmesan or similar dry, well-aged cheese
• freshly ground black or white pepper (depending on the filling)
Beat the eggs in a large mixing bowl. Put the flour and baking powder in a sieve and add gradually, beating briskly to obtain a smooth batter. Now beat in the cream, the oil and the grated Parmesan and season well with the pepper. The cheese should take care of the salt. Mix well and refrigerate for half an hour.
Once you have added your chosen flavourings, below preheat the oven at 180C/Gas 6. Grease a loaf or cake tin with a capacity of 1-litre – small and deep gives a nicer slice than wide and shallow. I use an old-fashioned 2-lb loaf tin with a base measurement of 16cm x 10cm and 8cm deep. Line the base and sides of the tin with baking parchment or greaseproof paper, the better to extract the cake when it’s cooked.
Bake for about 45 minutes, or until a skewer emerges clean and dry from the depths of the cake. Let it cool in the tin for 10 minutes before turning it out. The best way to do that is to put a plate over the tin and invert it. Peel away the papers which will look very oily but fear not. Repeat the operation with your chosen serving plate. Serve in thick slices.
The Flavourings (see below for four of the best)
Fold these very carefully into the batter once it has had its rest. Try not to overmix or bludgeon all the precious air out of the mixture – this is what gives the cake a lightness of touch that balances the density and richness of its texture. The beauty of Le Cake is that you can use whatever you happen to have around as long as the proportions are right. Just add imagination, using the ideas below as starters.
Triple Tomato and Feta Cake with Olives and Capers
My first ‘cake’, which turned the contents of the fridge into a motorway lunch before a weekend away. Its bold colours and flavours have kept it at the Number One spot.
In a frying pan, combine 100g each of sun-dried tomatoes (some smoked ones are good) and fresh cherry tomatoes, halved. If you like, add a mild red chilli, deseeded and finely chopped. Next, a squeeze of double-concentrated tomato puree and a handful of stoned and chopped black olives. Bring slowly to a gently sizzle, and let the tomatoes and chilli soften. Throw in some baby spinach leaves and let them wilt down. When all the liquid has evaporated, season well with black pepper – the olives and preserved tomatoes will take care of the salt – and set aside to cool while the batter is chilling. Dice 200g feta cheese and mix in, along with a tablespoon each of well-drained capers and freshly chopped herbs – basil, tarragon, coriander, as you like. Fold it all into the batter, and proceed as directed above.
Wine match: what’s needed here, though not on the M4, of course, is a punchy, tomato-friendly red like Lascar Merlot 2014 (£5.50) in the Buyers’ Everyday selection. A white taking this on needs to be quite full and, expressive and Corsica comes to mind. Try Corse, La Villa Angeli 2014 in the Premium Whites case.
Spanish Larder Cake
A terrific exit pan for half-opened or dust-gathering jars of Mediterranean vegetables in oil. You’ll need 200g drained weight of any combination of bottled aubergines, sun-dried tomatoes, red peppers, artichokes and even fat white asparagus. Decant them into a sieve over a bowl for a good half-hour to get rid of as much oil as possible, but keep the drained oil to lend extra panache to the batter recipe (though not the one from the asparagus jar, which is usually overpowering). Chop the vegetables into bite-sized pieces and add some stoned green Manzanilla-type olives, sliced vertically into little rings along with 150g grated Manchego cheese. Finish with a Spanish rhythm section made from a pinch each of coriander and cumin seeds, freshly toasted and ground in a pestle and mortar and of hot or sweet (your choice) pimentón or smoked paprika. Nothing shouts olé! quite as loudly. Combine well with the batter and proceed as directed in the basic recipe.
Wine match: two lovely, juicy Spanish reds that will do it are Aranléon Blés 2014 from Valencia (Buyers’ Everyday Reds) and Finca Constancia Parcela 33 Tempranillo, Castilla 2012 (Premium Reds) but Finca Lallana, Verdejo 2014 (£7.50 / Buyers’ Everyday Whites) has the stuffing for these flavours too.
Summer Vegetable and Goat’s Cheese Loaf
For this fresh, tangy, green-studded loaf you’ll need 150g (shelled weight) garden peas, 75g green beans and 75g mangetouts, destalked and halved if very long. This makes the loaf easier to slice. Blanch them all in boiling water for a couple of minutes (they should retain some crunch) and refresh under cold water. Dry thoroughly. Tear 150g soft but tangy goat’s milk cheese into litte pieces and fold gently into your chilled batter along with the peas, 4-6 spring onions, pale green and white parts only, finely chopped. Season well with salt and black pepper. Now put a third of the batter into the prepared tin and cover with a layer of mangetouts, laid lengthwise to cover the surface area. Top with another third of batter then add the beans, also laid lengthwise so that each slice has two green stripes. Finish with a layer of batter and bake as above.
Try a variation on this theme when fresh asparagus is in season. Use the tips instead of the peas, and the stems instead of the mangetouts/beans to provide one of the striking green stripes in each slice.
Wine match: A glass of pinot gris or not-too-trenchant new-world sauvignon is lovely with this and so is a lightish Loire cabernet franc. Try Blind Spot King Valley Pinot Gris 2014 (£7.50) or Concha y Toro Corte Ignacio Casablanca Sauvignon Blanc 2013, both in the in the Premium Whites mix. Chinon ‘Le Paradis’ 2014 (£7.95) in the Premium Reds category would be good too.
Leek and curry cake
An exotic idea, given an Anglo-Indian vibe with paneer, fresh coriander and a good tandoori-style garam masala. Paneer, a kind of sub-continental cooking mozzarella, is available at most supermarkets. Somewhat neutral on its own, it does a sterling job of absorbing heat and flavour.
Make this batter with grated gruyere cheese instead of Parmesan and add a pinch of garam masala to it before resting it.
Wash 3-4 medium-sized leeks, and trim off the dark green ends. Finely slice the palest green and white bits and gently braise until soft, but never browned, in a knob of butter, a splash of garlic-flavoured oil, a small glass of fruity white wine and a good, fresh grinding of white pepper. This will take a good 20 minutes on a low heat. Add a pinch, more if you like, of garam masala turn thoroughly and cook for a couple of minutes more. If you like things hot add some chilli flakes if you wish but be careful you don’t swamp the sweetness of the leeks and the subtlety of the other spices. Fold into the batter with 200g diced paneer and a generous tablespoon of chopped coriander leaves. Proceed as above.
Wine match: much depends on how spicy you like your cake. Unless you happen upon a truly ferocious garam masala, this should match a rounded, fruity white. Silbador Rapel Gewürztraminer 2013 in the Buyers’ Everday section is picnic-perfect and the gentle spice of Schloss Maissau Weinviertel Grüner Veltliner 2013 (not to mention the 2014, currently available for sale at £9.50) is worth trying too.
Janet Wynne Evans is simmering gently with slow-cooked, tasty and reassuringly unpretentious post-festive ideas.
This recipe, while hopefully of use and interest to all, was written with the New Year 2015 selections of The Society’s Wine Without Fuss subscription scheme particularly in mind. Voted Best Wine Club by both The Independent and Which? magazine, Wine Without Fuss offers regular selections of delicious wines with the minimum of fuss. Why not join the growing band of members who let their Society take the strain, and are regularly glad they do?
Find out more about Wine Without Fuss in a short video on our website.Foodwise, the New Year slot in the Wine Without Fuss calendar is always a bit of a paradox. We feel the need to tighten belts that have rarely felt tighter. Our freezers and larders are still groaning with the remains of festive excess, but we crave healthy things. January is all about life-affirming cabbage, but – praise be! – February brings National Chip Week!
Cue the stew, I say. Animal, vegetable or mineral (relish the Mosel slate in that coq au riesling, folks!), they can be as lush or as virtuous as you like, depending on your commitment to trimming, degreasing, skimming and other calorie-saving devices. Because the meaty ones can be made from the cheapest cuts imaginable, the only truly valuable investment needed to produce them is time, but it’s effectively hands-off time, spent doing other things while the house fills with wonderful smells.
I wouldn’t insult fellow-members with a lecture on how to braise, but I‘ll share a few thoughts about the three elements that, for me, turn a stew into a star. Firstly the rhythm section, which need not absolutely be onions: fennel is a fantastic base for lamb and fish, as are leeks and the subtle shallot for poultry. Secondly, the cooking medium juice, which really deserves proper stock. Any wine used should be sound and boiled down by at least a third to boost flavour. That means that any faults will be rendered in stereo, so if your bottle is not up to scratch, and especially if it’s corked, don’t consign it to cooking – see The Society’s Promise and get your money back! Thirdly, the proper layering of top and bottom notes – freshly toasted spices, woody herbs like bay and rosemary and the finely chopped stalks of parsley and coriander in at the beginning, leaves at the end to add lift and colour.
Our New Year selection is crammed with wines that will add new dimension to the concept of stewing in one’s own juice. Here are some ideas, and good companions for them, along with my best wishes for a happy New Year of food and wine enjoyment.
A BALKAN WINTER WARMER
It seems only right to welcome the juicy, herb-scented Melnik in the Premium Selection with kavarma, the national stew of Bulgaria. It can be made with pork, lamb, beef or chicken, to which fresh tomatoes and aromatics are added. Leeks figure predominantly in the rhythm section while fresh green herbs add a pleasant lightness. The recipe below is from Anne Willan’s appropriately named Good Food No Fuss (BBC Worldwide Publications, 2003), and the addition of wine is mine.
A LOW-FAT DAUBE
When catering for a friend condemned (I can think of no other word) to an ultra-low-fat diet, I came across the notion that it is perfectly possible to make a beef stew without browning everything in great slicks of oil. A non-stick pan, primed with some very lean bacon sets the scene for the well-trimmed cubes of lean meat which just go in along with thinly-sliced onions and a sprinkling of garlic. Two hours in concentrated stock (try beef consommé or the soaking water from some dried porcini), a bottle of good red wine boiled down by half, a squeeze of sun-dried tomato puree and a bunch of serious herbs combine as much flavour as you could possibly wish for with a much lighter feel. Plain ribbon pasta is some carbs are needed. A juicy, berried red – our own exclusive Bordeaux Rouge (Buyers’ Everyday Reds), Domaine Bòsc Petit Verdot (Premium Red) or the dark notes of Saint-Chinian, ‘Etienne’ Château La Dournie 2011 (French Classic Reds) – is a fine option in the glass.
Noble Atlantic fish tastes sublime in the colder waters of winter and the tempation is simply to give it a wipe and stick it under the grill. However, if a well-dressed slab leaves you in agonies of indecision, be bold. It is for such moments that the terms bouillabaisse, matelote or even choucroûte de la mer were coined by our neighbours over the Channel, for whom ‘fish stew’ would have been a cop-out. My favourite fish-pie chorus line of halibut, smoked haddock, salmon and a couple of scallops, corals and all, simmered with a dash of Noilly Prat, wine, fish stock, dill and cream makes a lovely symphonie de poissons (sic) without the pastry hat that makes it somehow less formal. I need hardly add that this idea scores nul points for economy and, despite the carb saving, only your wallet will be visibly slimmer. However you need something to look forward to when the New Year resolutions go by the board, so make sure you reserve François Villard’s unctuous Contours de Mairlant (Buyers’ French Classic whites), David Baverstock’s flavoursome Esporão Alandra (Buyers’ Everyday Selection) or the crystalline but concentrated Pazo de Villarei Albariño, Rías Baixas 2013 (Buyers’ Preium Whites) for the purpose.
Despite the trendy gorgeousness of cavolo nero – the Italian bella-figura brassica designed by the creative team behind Captain Bertorelli’s hat – the easiest way to make cabbage palatable to those who don’t care for it is by presenting it in a good, rustic stews of smoked pork and pulses. As I have said many times before at this time of year, the king of these is for me is Portugal’s caldo verde, a blissfully easy, tasty and wholesome one-pot supper. You can even keep it semi-virtuous by rationing the sausage – if it’s a good one, there will be plenty of flavour. With the kind of natural national dynamic between food and wine that sets Portugal apart, this dish suits the country’s characterful whites and reds to perfection. Try the dry, herby punch of Quinta das Maias Branco (Premium Whites) or Quinta Nova Pomares, the chunky Douro in the Premium Reds selection.
STARS FROM THE EAST
There are plenty of squashes still around, to be deployed with leafy greens and pulses that are good for us are in vegetable curries. A mild garam masala (always easier to control by roasting and grinding your own spices) and a larder standby of canned coconut milk add the right warm but not palate-numbing note. For such concoctions I like to head for Chile, and the pure, sweet fruit of The Soc’s Chilean Cabernet Sauvignon (Buyers’ Everyday Reds) or Concha y Toro Corte Ignacio Casablanca Viognier 2013 (Premium Whites).
It’s a good time to defrost the last knockings of the turkey and any delicious bits of gravy and schmalz that you may have cluttering up freezer space. Turn out the cupboards too. Personally I love a few dried morels and feel I can’t be without them, but evidently not so much that I don’t invariably find them exceeding their best-before date. Sometimes I also have a bottle of Vin Jaune on the go, but if not, some leftover dry sherry, mixed with white wine impart a fairly similar flavour. You may have some good stock frozen for just such a day, in which case out with it, or buy a good one. Procure a tub of cream, and you (almost!) have the classic Savoyard poulet aux morilles, another luxurious but easy feast. This is a dish for chardonnay.
Now that our better supermarkets obligingly combine trimmed chunks of rabbit, venison, pheasant and suchlike in handy bags, a game stew is within easy reach and moreover cooks very quickly. The leanness of such meats and the absence of flavour-boosting bones can often lead to a somewhat bland result, to make sure you subject it all to a serious overnight marinade of, bacon, onions, wine and a little olive oil. A little belly pork, added to the mix can also work wonders. Pinot noir is a classic light game wine. Try Reuilly Rouge ‘Les Pierres Plates’ in the French Classic Red selection, or if your mix is heavy on venison and your marinade spiked with the allspice and juniper berries that bring it so efficiently out of its shell, go for the spicy suppleness of Mountainside Shiraz from the Winery of Good Hope (Buyers’ Everyday Reds).
• 900g boneless leg or shoulder or lamb
• 2 tbs vegetable oil
• 450g leeks, sliced including some of the green tops
• 2 onions, sliced
• 4 garlic cloves, chopped
• Salt and pepper
• A glass of white wine (my addition, and entirely optional)
• 330g tomatoes, seeded and chopped
• 225g mushrooms, sliced
• 3-4 tbs chopped oregano or savory (a Bulgarian would use chubritsa, or wild mint)
• 2-3 tbs chopped parsley
Heat the oven to 200C/400F/Gas 6. Cut the lamb in 2.5cm cubes, discarding skin and fat. Heat the oil in a casserole and brown the pieces of lamb on all sides, working in 2-3 batches. Remove it and add the leeks, onions, garlic, salt and pepper Fry over medium heat, stirring often, until the vegetables are wilted. Stir in the meat and add water to just cover (along with the wine if you are using it). Top with the tomatoes, mushrooms and oregano or savory. Stir together and bring the stew to the boil. Cook it, uncovered in the oven for 30 minutes. Stir again, cover and continue cooking until the lamb and vegetables are very tender, 1-1½ hours longer. Taste and adjust the seasoning. Sprinkle the stew with the parsley just before serving.
Serve with dark, crusty bread and a glass of Melnik 55 (Premium Reds) or, if you are not a Fuss subscriber, any cabernet or merlot-based red of your choice.