Saturday, March 26, 2016

A New and Different Red Italian Wine

A few days back I wrote about selecting the wines for my wine and food pairing at the Winefest Renaissance coming up on April 9th. As it turned out, the two Italian red wines I chose were not going to be available after all, so I spoke with the wine representative, because after perusing the list again, I found that there were not two more Italian reds on the list at all. She called later to say they did have another Chianti available (which I wrote about a couple of days ago), but that second Italian red was proving elusive. Much later that day, she called to say they did find one more red Italian. She spelled it out for me, as I had never heard of this wine before! Planeta, Cerasuolo di Vittoria. 

Huh? 

Sausage and Cheese Crostini with Cherry Onion Relish
Sausage and Cheese Crostini with Cherry Onion Relish
With absolutely no knowledge of what this was, I went online again. This time I found that "Cerasuolo di Vittoria" is the only DOCG (the highest designation for controlled wines in Italy) wine in Sicily. It is, by law, a blend of two grapes: 60% Nero d'Avola and 40% Frappato. Again, I still had never heard of either of these two grapes - but then again, I don't believe I have ever tried a wine from Sicily before. After researching more on these two grape varieties, I learned much about what the flavors should be when made together. The first grape, Nero d'Avola, is a dark ("Nero" means black) grape, with some similar characteristics to Pinot Noir. It provides the deeper color in this blend, giving a deeper ruby and with fruity flavors that run strongly to blackberry. The second grape, Frappato, is a much lighter grape, and if made solo as a wine is quite light ruby, with particular flavors of cherry and strawberry. 

When blended together, creating Cerasuolo d'Avola, the descriptors for this wine are things like "deep color with cherry highlights, and pronounced flavors of cherry and strawberry." The Nero d'Avola provides structure, body and depth, while the Frappato component lightens and brightens and adds fruitiness.
 
Sausage and Cheese Crostini with Cherry Onion Relish
Sausage and Cheese Crostini with Cherry Onion Relish

So, with all that in mind, I couldn't quite think of a food that would pair with this combo. "Spicy sausage" and "strong, aged cheese" were both recommended. While there are hot Italian sausages available, I didn't want to use something hot, only to find the majority of people would not want to try it. Instead, I opted to just use Italian Sausage. I am still up in the air about which of two cheeses to use: Fontina or Pecorino. Pecorino would likely be the better choice, but I am concerned at slicing it without having it crumble. Stacked on a toasted crostini with sausage and the relish I was planning, well, it seemed a bit of a gamble.

Yesterday, while creating a Cherry Swirl Cheesecake for Easter dinner, I also created the Cherry Onion Relish to be used on these Crostini stacks.Today, I cooked some sausage, sliced some cheese, poured a little wine and sat with my husband to try these out. I found a Nero'dAvola wine in the store here, but not the actual combo wine (with the other grape, Frappato) I will be serving that night of the Winefest. Still, it was the darker and bolder of the two, and easy enough to gauge. I believe that this combination will be just fine for the Wine pairing, so I am proceeding with that in mind. For now. It could change!

Meanwhile, the Cherry Onion Relish is truly fabulous. It has just a little sweetness, just a little tartness and just a little crunch. It really couldn't fit the bill any better, and it would be fabulous on most any sandwich. It takes only a short while to make, and I got 2 pints out of the recipe. I recommend it highly!  

Cherry Onion Relish
Cherry Onion Relish, atop Sausage and Cheese Crostini
Cherry Onion Relish, atop Sausage and Cheese Crostini

makes 2 pints

2/3 cup Balsamic vinegar
2/3 cup red wine vinegar
3/4 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 pounds red onions, sliced in thin wedge-sices
1 bag (5-ounces) dried tart red cherries
zest of 1 orange
1 jalapeno pepper, seeded, minced
1/2 teaspoon fennel seeds

Set a 4 quart saucepan over medium heat with the first four ingredients, stirring to dissolve sugar. Once dissolved, add in all remaining ingredients and cook, stirring often for about 20 to 25 minutes, or until there is little liquid left and what liquid remains is syrupy. Spoon into clean jars and seal tightly. May be stored in the refrigerator for 2 weeks or so.   

I want to add here that because of the mention of cherry and strawberry flavors coming through on the Cerasuolo di Vittoria blend, I dried some strawberries, ground them into powder and added these to the relish while cooking. While I cannot specifically pick out the strawberry flavors in the relish, it is very good. I feel that not everyone will have dried strawberries at hand, so I left these out of the recipe. Should you have them to hand, please feel free to add them in. I used a whole quart box of strawberries, sliced them and dried them. Once well dried, I powdered them in a bullet blender, then passed the powder through a fine sieve, to remove all the little seeds. This was reduced to a usable 5 tablespoons of powder, and I used all of this in the relish. 


My passion is to teach people how to create a harmony of flavors with their cooking, and help pass along my love and joy of food, both simple and exotic, plain or fancy. I continue my journey in ethnic and domestic cuisines, trying new things weekly. Join me at A Harmony of Flavors Website and Marketplace, Tumblr, Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest. I am also on a spiritual journey and hope you will join me at my new blog, An Eagle Flies.  

 

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Caponata to Pair with Chianti

The Winefest Renaissance this year, scheduled for April 9th, has me working on creating appetizer foods that will pair with and set to advantage both the wine and the food with which it will be served. Often, when tasting a wine, some will immediately reject it out of hand. This has actually happened to me, and I fancy myself better than that in general! When trying a particular wine and the flavors do not agree, it is worthwhile to find a food that is meant to pair with the wine and try again. Some wines are meant to serve with food, and while all wine goes well with food, some wines do just fine all on their own.

In my case, my snap judgment came when long ago I tasted a Santa Marghuerita Pinot Grigio. I kept seeing ads about it, and hearing others say how they loved it, and yet, when I tasted it, it just struck me wrong. I did not try it later with food - it just tasted that bad, to me. I have had many most excellent Pinot Gris, which though the same grape, is made in other parts of the world.

I love Italian wines, and have had so many great ones, I just dismissed the Pinot Grigio as an aberration, and stayed away. That said, obviously that style of wine goes well for a great many people. So when this year's Winefest meeting came around, I ended up selecting four Italian wines. Pinot Grigio is among them. I decided enough prejudice! Time to try again. As I wrote a few days back, I did a test run of a Lemon Artichoke Pesto with Chicken to pair with a Pinto Grigio, and the pairing was perfect - and delicious.

Caponata with Italian Sausage atop Toasted Ciabatta
Caponata with Italian Sausage atop Toasted Ciabatta
On this note, my whole purpose in pairing foods to a wine is specifically to set both the food and the wine in their very best light. Too often, though a wine may not be specifically to one's taste on its own, it will still taste great when paired with an appropriate food. So today I chose to test run a recipe to pair with a Chianti. The Chianti I will be pairing is Rocca delle Macie Chianti Classico. It is recommended that such foods as lasagna with meat, antipasti, or anything with a tomato sauce would pair excellently with this wine. To serve as an appetizer at the Winefest, I prefer to make them as easy to handle as possible, with a minimum of fuss. What first came to mind was Ratatouille, though that is a French version. I looked up "Italian Ratatouille" and came up with Caponata.

I chose to eliminate the zucchini, and add in some capers and green olives, as well as Italian sausage. I wanted this to be easy to pick up and eat, so I will serve a scoop of the Caponata atop a toasted slice of Ciabatta or Focaccia bread. I prefer to make my own breads, but today I just bought some thin, narrow Ciabatta breads and sliced them into approximately 3 x 3-inch squares. Brushed with garlic oil and broiled and they were ready. Next I set to making the Caponata. 
Cherry tomatoes to roast, eggplant browned, sausage cooked, basil chiffonade
Cherry tomatoes to roast, eggplant browned, sausage cooked, basil chiffonade


I used cherry tomatoes for that component, as they are already small and less juicy. I cut the small tomatoes into quarters or halves, depending on size, set them onto a baking sheet, sprinkled with salt, pepper and olive oil and baked them. They came out just as I wanted - slightly dried and more concentrated in flavor. They went into a bowl. I sliced the eggplant about 1/4-inch thick, sprinkled with salt and broiled until nicely browned and cooked through, then chopped to small bits and added them to the bowl. Blackened green and red bell peppers, peeled and chopped were added. I quartered an onion and set it to broil, tossing as the tips and edges began blackening. Once nicely charred and cooked, they were chopped and added to the other ingredients. I slightly blackened some garlic, then chopped it and soaked it in a little vinegar to avoid any strongly raw flavors. I used Italian sausage and removed the casings, frying it quickly to a nice brown, while breaking it up into small bits to add to the bowl. With some chopped parsley, oregano and basil, and some capers and olives it was all set. 

I couldn't wait to try this out!
Toasted Ciabatta breads and Caponata all ready
Toasted Ciabatta breads and Caponata all ready

I set a scoop onto one of the toasted Ciabatta slices and opened a Chianti. Wow!!! This was a most perfect pairing! Here is what I did:


Caponata with Italian Sausage

makes 40 to 45 appetizer sized scoops

4 narrow Ciabatta loaves, about 15-inches long, cut appropriately to size (or use focaccia breads)

1 eggplant, about 3/4 pound, cut in thin rounds
Caponata with Sausage, atop Toasted Ciabatta Bread
Caponata with Sausage, atop Toasted Ciabatta Bread

1 3/4 to 2 pounds cherry tomatoes, quartered
1 red bell pepper
1 green bell pepper
1 onion
2 - 4 cloves garlic
salt for sprinkling (about 1 1/2 teaspoons, divided
fresh cracked pepper for sprinkling
olive oil for sprinkling
2 teaspoons capers
6 to 8 green olives, chopped
1 1/2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh oregano
1/2 cup finely chopped fresh Italian flat-leaf parsley 
1/2 cup fresh basil leaves in fine chiffonade
8 ounces fresh Italian sausage, casings removed
1 tablespoon Balsamic vinegar

Set oven to 400 degrees. Spray a rimmed baking sheet with cooking spray. Set all the cherry tomatoes on tray, cut sides upwards. Sprinkle with some of the salt and pepper and sprinkle with olive oil. Bake them for 20 minutes, until nicely shriveled and beginning to brown. Remove to a bowl.

Change oven setting to broil, with a rack set in the 2nd position from the element. Line a large rimmed baking sheet with foil and spray with cooking spray. Set the bell peppers whole onto the sheet. Lay the eggplant slices onto the sheet and sprinkle with a little of the salt. Broil these vegetables, watching carefully. The peppers need to blacken all the way around, so turn them with tongs as needed. Once the eggplant slices are browned, turn them, sprinkling with a little more salt and brown the opposite sides, removing them to a cutting board as they are done. Chop the browned eggplant into small pieces, not more than 1/4-inch in size.

Replace the eggplant slices with the onion: cut off stem and root ends and peel the outer dry layers. Cut the onion into quarters and break apart slightly. Set these on the vacated space on the baking sheet and toss with the tongs as they begin to blacken in spots. They should cook through while moving around on the sheet. When they are done to your liking, remove to the cutting board and chop into small pieces. Add to the bowl.

Set the garlic cloves, whole, onto the baking sheet and let them blacken slightly. Remove to cutting board and chop fine. Set them in a bowl with a little white vinegar to cut out the raw bite of garlic. After about 5 minutes, drain and add garlic to the bowl. Add also the capers, olives and the herbs.

Fry the sausage until well browned and broken up. Drain on paper toweling and then add to the bowl. Stir well, adding in the Balsamic vinegar and taste for seasoning. 

Brush olive oil onto the cut sides of the Ciabatta breads and set onto a baking sheet. Broil for 1 - 3 minutes, until lightly browned. Scoop the Caponata onto the toasted breads for serving as an appetizer. 



My passion is to teach people how to create a harmony of flavors with their cooking, and help pass along my love and joy of food, both simple and exotic, plain or fancy. I continue my journey in ethnic and domestic cuisines, trying new things weekly. Join me at A Harmony of Flavors Website and Marketplace, Tumblr, Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest. I am also on a spiritual journey and hope you will join me at my new blog, An Eagle Flies.  

Monday, March 21, 2016

It's that Wine Time of Year

This year marks the 4th Annual Winefest Renaissance, held for the benefit of the Boys and Girls Club of Aberdeen. This year the Winefest will be held on April 9th, at the Ward Hotel. And, once again, I will be creating foods to pair with wines of my choosing.
Parmigiano Stuffed Prosciutto Wrapped Medjool Dates
Parmigiano Stuffed Prosciutto Wrapped Medjool Dates

After a brief scan of the list of wines to be available, I opted for an Italian theme, selecting a Roscato Prosecco, a Barone Fini Pinot Grigio, a Chianti and a Secco-Bertani (a mix of Corvina and Merlot). I had never tasted any of these particular wines before, though I have had other Proseccos, Pino Grigios, and Chiantis. The Secco-Bertani was new to me. I had to quickly make a decision on what foods to pair with these wines, so I followed my normal route of first going online to find all the information I could about each particular wine, vintner, flavors, pairings and such. Then I looked through my own lists compiled over the last few years, with a table of the wine varietal and what foods pair well with each. 

I sent in my wine choices and the pairings I had decided on, only to find out that after all, the two reds would not be available. Drat! Meanwhile, I went ahead with my planning for the foods to pair with the two white wines.

Parmigiano Stuffed Prosciutto Wrapped Medjool Dates
Parmigiano Stuffed Prosciutto Wrapped Medjool Dates
For the Roscato Prosecco, which is described as "sparkling, fruity with a hint of sweetness," I went through my table list. I felt that a date would provide sweetness, though too much sweetness and the wine will taste sour. A fine balancing act is required. I know that antipasti platters are said to pair well with Prosecco, so I though of wrapping the date with prosciutto. To add balance to those sweet dates, I also combined enough chevre goat cheese with shredded Parmigiano Reggiano to hold it together and stuffed the dates with this mixture. After tasting one made up in this way, I felt that they still needed another component. I happened to have some Blue Diamond BOLD Habanero Spiced Almonds on hand, so I pressed two of them into the cheese stuffed date before wrapping with the prosciutto. This seemed a bit better. I am planning to open a bottle of Prosecco to taste with them, later. Meanwhile, I took a few down to my husband's office for the people there to taste and critique.

Parmigiano Stuffed, Prosciutto Wrapped Medjool Dates

makes 22 - 24
making Parmigiano Stuffed Prosciutto Wrapped Dates
making Parmigiano Stuffed Prosciutto Wrapped Dates

12 ounces Medjool dates (about 22 to 24 dates), pitted 
2.25 ounces Parmigiano Reggiano, finely grated
4 ounces Chevre or Montrachet goat cheese
45 - 50 Bold and Spicy Almonds (Habanero or Sriracha spiced)
6 - 8 ounces Prosciutto 

Mix together the Parmigiano Reggiano with the goat cheese, to form a thick paste. Divide the mixture into about 3/4-inch diameter balls (weighing approximately 0.25 ounce each). There should be at least enough balls to fill the amount of dates. Be sure your dates are pitted. If not, slice into one side of them down the length to reach the pit and remove. Lengthen each of the cheese balls into logs and stuff them inside the dates. Press in two of the spiced almonds.  

Most prosciutto comes in about 4 x 8-inch thin slices. I sliced down the length, making two thinner lengths out of each slice. Roll each of the filled dates with one of these halves of the prosciutto slice and secure with a toothpick, if needed. These may be made ahead a couple of days, if needed.

For the next wine, a Pinot Grigio, I went with the flavors of lemon, artichoke, parsley and chicken. I made a Lemon Artichoke "pesto," which was absolutely fantastic on its own, and then cooked up a chicken breast, cooled and finely minced the chicken, adding it to the pesto mixture. I set this atop a toasted baguette slice, and Oh My! These are so good - all I can hope is that they do well with the Barone Fini Pinot Grigio at the event. Unfortunately, though these wines are on a list to be available for the event, they are not currently available for sale in the local stores. 

Lemon Artichoke Pesto with Chicken atop Toasted Baguette Slice
Lemon Artichoke Pesto with Chicken atop Toasted Baguette Slice

Lemon Artichoke Pesto with Chicken, atop Toasted Baguette 

makes about 50
Lemon Artichoke Pesto with Chicken atop Toasted Baguette
Lemon Artichoke Pesto with Chicken atop Toasted Baguette




1 large boneless, skinless chicken breast 
1 tablespoon olive oil
salt, white pepper and dill for sprinkling

1 packed cup parsley
zest of 1 lemon (save lemon for juice later)
2 - 4 cloves garlic + white vinegar
3 ounces Pecorino Romano cheese, in cubes
1/2 cup chopped walnuts
1/2 teaspoon each: salt and pepper

1 (14-ounce) can artichoke hearts, drained 
1 teaspoon capers, drained
3 tablespoons lemon juice

1/4 cup olive oil

 A baguette, sliced about 1/4 inch
olive oil for brushing


First, set the artichokes to drain in a colander and set aside. Butterfly the chicken breast so it lays flat and about 1/2 inch thick. Season both sides well with salt, white pepper and dill, and place in a very hot skillet with the tablespoon of olive oil. Fry to a deep brown, then turn and brown the opposite side. The browning provides wonderful flavor, so do not eliminate this step. Lower the heat to low or medium low and allow the chicken to cook through, about 10 minutes, total. Allow the chicken to cool while making the pesto.

Lemon Artichoke Pesto before adding chicken
Lemon Artichoke Pesto before adding chicken
Finely mince the garlic into a small bowl. Cover with the vinegar and allow to set for a few minutes. This helps eliminate the strong raw-garlic taste. When ready to use, drain off the vinegar.

In the bowl of a food processor, combine the parsley, lemon zest, the drained garlic, the Pecorino Romano cubes, walnuts and salt and pepper. Run the processor to finely chop. Stop to scrape down sides, then process until very fine. Add in the drained artichokes with the capers and lemon juice and process to a paste. Add in the olive oil to combine. Pout out into a bowl, replacing the processor bowl.

Cut the cooled chicken into cubes and place in the vacated processor bowl and pulse until the chicken is fine, but not pureed. Fold into the pesto.

To serve, brush the baguette slices with olive oil and set them on a sheet pan. Preheat the broiler with the rack in the highest position and broil the breads until nicely toasted, about 1 1/2 minutes. Watch closely! Scoop a small amount of the Lemon Artichoke Pesto with Chicken onto each slice.


My passion is to teach people how to create a harmony of flavors with their cooking, and help pass along my love and joy of food, both simple and exotic, plain or fancy. I continue my journey in ethnic and domestic cuisines, trying new things weekly. Join me at A Harmony of Flavors Website and Marketplace, Tumblr, Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest. I am also on a spiritual journey and hope you will join me at my new blog, An Eagle Flies.   

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