Off The Vine:
Benjamin Franklin once said, “Wine makes daily living easier, less hurried, with fewer tensions and more tolerance.” Nothing could be more apropos for the season that is summer. This is a time when we get together with friends and family for outdoor cocktail parties and barbeques and talk about the people who didn’t attend and revisit old family feuds. Lord knows that after we’ve spent one-third of our summer walking between the raindrops and watching our precious barbecue dreams wash down the sewer drain with a rusty can of Old Milwaukee, we deserve, no we are owed, sunny weather from here on out so we can catch up on our partying.
As I’ve done in previous columns, I will refer to Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Grigio from here on out as SB and PG respectively. SB and PG are fantastic varietals and it is no wonder why they are so popular. All I’m saying is that sometimes we get wrapped up in a wine and never branch out and explore new varietals, and that’s why I’m here. Think of me as your wine svengali for our short journey.
So what kind of wine am I talking about here? Specifically we are going to be looking at four bottles of white wine—two from Italy and two from Portugal. Our first “Adventurous White” is from Sicily,Alta Villa Della Corte ($15.99) which is produced from the ancient Grillo grape varietal. It has a bright straw yellow color with a lively nose of citrus, and apples that finishes fresh and clean. Next we will head to the mainland of Italy and to the northeast to Veneto to explore the wine called Soave. In particular La Cappuccina Soave ($13.99) which is made entirely from the Garganega grape. It matures on the lees (dead yeast cells, grape seeds and other solids) for five months which gives the wine a bit more weight and complexity on the palate but still remains light and refreshing with good acidity. This Soave will sore with fish, pasta, and chicken or simply by itself.
This isn’t so hard…we’re almost done here so no cheating and looking over at the recipe.Our next “Adventurous Whites” will be found in Portugal. It’s not just for Port anymore. We are going to look at two different styles of Vinho Verde which is a designated growing area in the northwest of Portugal. The first is the lighter bodied of the two Farol ($11.99) the grapes used are Alvarinho and Trajadura. This wine has a light fizz that wakes up the mouth along with aromas of apple, mint, and lime. Absolutely refreshing and perfect with seafood and fowl. The next Vinho Verde is Clemen reserve ($12.99) it is made with the same grapes as the previous wine but right off the bat you will notice a yellow citrus color that is vibrant on the palate with great acid, also a bit weightier in the mouth than its lighter bodied brother and no fizz.
So you have your invitation to the big barbecue this weekend, or maybe you don’t and you’ll be sitting in a dark corner of your home with a bottle of wine and glass. That’s fine too and sometimes preferable. What do you bring? How do you distinguish your gift-bottle of wine at the party from everyone else’s? You can be sure that at least a dozen people will take the easy way out and over-pay for Santa Margherita PG which will then, in return, under-deliver on your palate. As enjoyable as it is to poke fun you don’t want that bottle in your gift bag.
We can surely do better than that and spend almost half the money with the aforementioned white wines. Show up to the party with your “Adventurous White” bottle proudly outstretched in your arms as your friends look on in envious amazement. As I’ve mentioned in other columns, make sure to open the bottle immediately so you are assured of getting a glass; here at Off The Vine we always look favorably upon hoarding.
All of the wines mentioned in the column go superbly with Chef Renato Donzelli’s refreshingly creative fish recipe. He is the Owner/Chef of Basso Café Mediterranean Fusion Restaurant at 124 New Canaan Avenue in Norwalk. It’s BYOB (Bring Your Own Bottle) with a pittance of a corking fee so stop on by Off the Vine to pick up a couple of bottles on your way to dinner.
Chef Donzelli will be sharing some of his innovative recipes with us from time to time in my column so keep your eyes peeled. To see the menu and daily specials go to www.bassobistrocafe.com
Seared Striped Bass over Lemon-Steamed Potatoes with a Pineapple-Jicama Salsa.
1 ½ cups diced peeled pineapple
1 cup diced peeled jicama
½ cup diced red onion
¼ cup chopped fresh cilantro
¼ cup fresh lime juice
1 to 2 Serrano chiles, seeded, chopped
Lemon Steamed Potatoes:
12 Small Yukon Gold Potatoes
½ cup butter
2 teaspoons grated lemon rind
1 tablespoon lemon juice, plus extra for garnish
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon pepper
Extra Virgin Olive oil and parsley for garnish
4 pieces – 5 to 7 ounce each Striped Bass portioned fillets (skin-off – 1 piece per person)
Freshly Ground White Pepper
Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Mix the first six ingredients in medium bowl for salsa. Season with salt and pepper.
Peel and quarter potatoes. Melt butter in a skillet; add lemon rind, lemon juice, and potatoes, stirring gently. Cover and cook over low heat 35 to 40 minutes or until tender, stirring occasionally. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Drizzle with olive oil and lemon juice, and chopped parsley.
Season the Striped Bass with salt and white pepper, then saute in olive oil until cooked, making sure it stays moist.
Place the potatoes in the center of the plate in a pile. Lay the Striped Bass over the potatoes, and top with pineapple-jicama salsa. Garnish plate with fresh cilantro or parsley.
1.5lbs of Fluke/Flounder/Sole
2 Beefsteak Tomatoes
2 Sprigs of Fresh Thyme
3 T Olive Oil
1/4 Cup of dry white wine (Sauvignon Blanc)
The juice of 1 lemon
6 slices of lemon
A few pinches of fresh pepper
2 T Strained Capers
4-6 pads (1/4″ thick) of unsalted butter
Preheat oven to 375
Cut tomatoes into 1/2 inch slices and place into baking pan
Place Fish on top of tomatoes
Brush olive oil onto the fish
Splash on the white wine and lemon juice
Add fresh pepper & Capers
Place lemon slices on top of fish followed by some pads of butter
Sprinkle a pinch of fresh thyme leaves over fish.
Cover with tin foil and poke a small hole in the middle of the foil
bake in the oven for about 12-15 minutes.
A fantastic sauce is created in the baking dish. Spoon over fish when served.
Saint Valentine was a bishop and martyr of the church who was put to death in Rome for his beliefs by Claudius II on February 24, 270AD. He was beaten with clubs, stoned, and then beheaded. Not exactly the Valentine’s Day we look at through rose-colored glasses and honor with chocolates and champagne. Nevertheless we (men) have certain obligations and expectations during this “Hallmark Holiday” that needs to be fulfilled. Gentlemen, I’m here to lend a helping hand.
I will offer two keys to winning her heart, or at least getting her drunk, this Valentine’s Day: white wine and Champagne.
Let us delve first into the Xarel-lo (sah-rello) grape. Albet i Noya is Spain’s leading organic wine producer and the maker of this beautifully light and refreshing Xarel-lo. This is a young wine meant to be drunk within two years of bottling. To draw a better taste profile I would say it falls between a Pinot Grigio and a Sauvignon Blanc. The Xarel-lo grape is mainly used and blended to make the Spanish sparkling wine called Cava, which we absolutely love at my wine store. However, you will see that when made on its own, it can stand up to any crisp light-bodied white wine on the market at our price of $10.99. This varietal is exactly what I strive to find for my customers. Something different that doesn’t break the bank that will compliment light, healthy meals.
Another fantastic option for wine is to go the champagne route. Personally I would suggest the Duval-Leroy “Paris” bottle which has the Paris skyline painted on the bottle by famed artist Leroy Neiman. Not only is the bottle stunning, but the champagne inside is delicious with toast, ginger, apricot, and mineral notes it’s no wonder why Wine Spectator gave it 91 points, and at $44.99 you can’t go wrong. If you don’t believe me, stop and taste them at the store this Friday and Saturday from noon-8 p.m.
All right guys, a quick aside here. Don’t forget to give a card. If you give her nothing else a card will somewhat save you from a cold night on the couch. I know that card stores are unexplored territories for men, so try your local CVS or Walgreens. Do not under any circumstances buy all of your gifts for Valentine’s Day at the aforementioned drugstores. Speaking from experience, it never goes over well, get the card and get the hell out!
Here are the only acceptable gift options for this so called “holiday.” Keep these pearls of wisdom in your wallet at all times. Chocolate is acceptable, but not from the drugstore! Wine and champagne are absolutely acceptable gifts because you get to enjoy it too, so it’s kind of like a gift to you, because damn it…you deserve it. Dinner is also a very acceptable option because like wine you get to muscle–in on the gift. Flowers are a great go-to gift in a pinch, even if you have to buy them at the gas station on your way home. The only problem with flowers is that you don’t get to share in the enjoyment like with wine and dinner, so keep that in mind. That’s it. Those are the only acceptable gifts for Valentines Day.
If you deliver the goods on this holiday you’ll keep from ending up like dearly departed Saint Valentine. If anyone has any questions don’t hesitate to stop by and discuss.
Now we are ready for Chef Repp’s recipe offering this week which is just off the charts when it comes freshness and flavor. In Protest to Valentine’s Day Chef Repp has provided portions for his recipe to serve one person. Just multiply the recipe by the number of people that are eating.
SAMBAL SHRIMP PASTA serves 1 person!
I hate Valentines Day
- 1Tbls canola oil
- 2 oz COOKING SHERRY
- 2 Tsp SRIACHA SAUCE
- 1 Tbl MINCED GARLIC
- 1 Tbl MINCED SHALLOTS
- ¼ Cup THAI BASIL
- 8 oz CHICKEN STOCK MIX
- 1 LIME JUICED
- ¼ Cup PARMESAN CHEESE
- ¼ Cup SCALLIONS
- ¼ Cup CILANTRO Chopped
- ¼ Cup BUTTER Diced
- Large Pinch of KOSHER SALT
- 1/3 lb of LINGUINI COOKED IN HEAVILY SALTED WATER
- 10 EACH 16/20 SHRIMP SHELLED COMPLETELY
Hot Saute pan season and sauté the shrimp in the canola oil until cooked about half way. Remove and reserve.
Add a little more canola oil and add the garlic and shallots and sauté until translucent
Add the sherry and chicken stock and reduce by 1/3
Add the lime juice, a large pinch of salt, the sriracha sauce, thai basil , scallions, cilantro
Slowly whisk in the butter and emulsify
Add the shrimp and pasta and cooked until the shrimp are cooked through
Add the parmesan cheese and mix well
If the sauce is to thick add a little more chicken stock to thin it down
The true spirit of the holidays is often forgotten at times in the over-commercialization and consumerism of the moment, and we are all guilty of getting caught up in the whirlwind of store sales. Let’s take a step back and remember what it is all about—family.
Before the sarcasm and cynicism of adolescence turned Christmas into a purely materialistic endeavor, it was indeed a magical time. The holidays for me conjures up memories of my nana and papa traveling from Queens to stay with us; my sister and me laying in the threshold of our bedroom doors whispering across the hallway of Santa’s pending arrival and gifts to come; and the aromas of Christmas dinner engulfing the house.
Ahh, Christmas dinner. My favorite meal of the year. After the gifts were ripped open and the toys strewn about, there was one thing I could always count on—great food. There was the standing rib roast, the mashed potatoes, and the wine that I was allowed to sip on occasion. Spending time in the kitchen with my nana and mother watching them make these holiday classics is why I’m so obsessed with food and wine. And I thank them for that.
After dinner, I would lay awake in bed listening to adult laughter and glasses clinking. What were they doing? I would sneak down for look. They were playing cards, drinking wine and libation, and because it was the early 1970’s, cigarette and cigar smoke filled the air.
These are my humble childhood memories of Christmas, when life was uncomplicated and the simple goodness of spending time with family and enjoying a meal prepared by loved ones was the most anticipated event of the year.
So my message to everyone is try not to rush so much, sit down and enjoy a glass of wine, and think about your childhood memories. That’s the true gift of the holidays.
Chef Dave Repp, of Splash Restaurant in Westport, and I were talking about this sentiment, he fondly recalled his grandmother and her great recipes that helped shape and influence his cooking obsession at a young age. So we thought that paying homage with the following original classic recipe from his grandmother’s recipe vault seemed like the most appropriate way to thank her.
I know you all want to gaze over at the recipe, but keep your eyes here for one more paragraph or you will miss the wine pairing. It’s all about the Cava, baby! Spain’s super sparkler. Do not let this wine slip past your palate. Almost always affordable, especially at my store you need to pair Cava with the Chef Repp’s recipe. Crisp and clean, it will refresh your palate with every lush sip.
Stop on by my wine store to taste some Cava this Friday and Saturday from noon-8pm. Don’t forget to check out my website www.offthevineonline.com for all of our wine and food columns.
This week’s suggestions:
Conde de Subirats Brut, Cava, Spain $14.99
Vega Barcelona Brut Reserva, Cava, Spain $15.99
CRAB STUFFED MAINE LOBSTER
Due to a combination of supply and demand and lower fuel costs, you can actually afford to eat lobster! My seafood guys at Fish Tales in New Canaan say the price should stay low for a while. This is a variation of my grandmother’s baked stuffed lobster recipe. My grandmother, like all great cooks, used the philosophy “keep it simple, keep it fresh,” so make sure you purchase your lobsters from a reputable source like Fish Tales.
2 1½ Lbs lobsters
Basting /Dipping sauce
8 Tbls melted butter
2 Tbls lemon juice
6 drops of tobasco
For the stuffing
2 cups crushed Ritz crackers
½ cup diced red pepper
½ cup diced yellow onion
2 Tbls chopped Italian parsley
5 Tbls butter
Juice of ½ lemon
1tbls minced garlic
1 cup cooked crab meat
Pinch of dried oregano
1 Tbls Worcestershire sauce
1Tbls Spanish paprika
Salt and pepper to taste
Place the lobsters on their backs and split them down the middle. Pry them open as wide as possible and remove the head sack and intestine. Remove the claws and place both lobsters and claws on a sheet pan and set a side
On medium heat, melt the butter and sauté the peppers , onions, and garlic
In a mixing bowl , lightly mix all the stuffing ingredients together until the butter is mixed through, and
season to taste.
Baste the lobster meat with the butter mixture and season with salt and pepper
Lightly place the stuffing in the lobsters being careful not to compact it too much
Place the claws at the end of the tales to keep them from curling up while cooking, and bake at 350 degrees for 35 minutes
Crack the claws to let out the water and remove to a serving plate with the lobsters
Serve with the butter mixture for dipping and lemon
Happy Holiday’s from Off the Vine!