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. 


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.