Saturday, August 31, 2013

Fettuccine with Asparagus Puree

This dish represents a first for me, a recipe made from something I found on Pinterest.  I started using Pinterest several months ago, primarily as another source of recipes.  However, I did not find much that interested me and, as often happens, I stopped going to Pinterest for ideas.  Recently, however, I decided to give it another shot.  I set up Pinterest Boards for Chef Bolek and started to look for recipes again.  

Fortunately, I found some recipes that I wanted to try to make.  One of those recipes is Fettuccine with Asparagus Puree, which I found on a board set up by Chef Marcus Samuelsson.  Chef Samuelsson is one of the few chefs who I follow on various social media (like Pinterest).  Chef Samuelsson has a very interesting back story.  He and his sisters were born in Ethiopia, adopted by a Swedish couple and raised in Sweden.  Now, Chef Samuellson is a very successful chef with restaurants that I hope to visit someday, like Red Rooster in Harlem and the American Table Brasserie and Bar in Stockholm.

Although I was never a fan of asparagus when I was a kid, I have recently began eating more of the vegetable.  My preferred way of making asparagus is to grill it, but, this recipe provides an interesting twist to using those spears.  This recipe places the asparagus at the center of a sauce.  The other ingredients -- spinach, garlic and pine nuts -- makes this sauce into a sort of a pesto.  The recipe calls for the sauce to be served with spinach fettuccine.  While I would ordinarily make my own pasta, I was very happy to use some fresh, store-bought pasta.  This made the recipe very quick and easy to make. 

Recipe adapted from one by Joanne Bruno, 
available at Marcus Samuelsson

1 bunch of asparagus, trimmed and halved crosswise
3 handfuls of baby spinach
2 cloves of garlic
1 cup of freshly grated Parmesan cheese
1 cup toasted pine nuts
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 lemon, juiced
1/2 teaspoon fine-grain sea salt
12 ounces fresh spinach fettuccine

1.  Bring water to boil.  Bring two pots of salted water to a boil.  Use a larger pot to cook the pasta and a smaller pot to blanch the asparagus. 

2.  Blanch the asparagus.  Drop the asparagus into the pot of salted water.  Cook for 2-3 minutes or until the spears are bright green.  Transfer to a bowl of iced water.  Let sit for a minute or two and drain.  

3.  Make the asparagus puree.  Add the asparagus to the blender, along with the spinach, garlic, Parmesan cheese, and 3/4 cup of the pine nuts to the processor.  Puree the ingredients.  With the motor still on, drizzle in the 1/4 cup of olive oil until a paste forms.  It should be the consistency of a pesto.  Add in the lemon juice and salt, to taste.

4.  Cook the pasta.  Cook the pasta until al dente.  Drain and toss with the asparagus puree.  Sprinkle with the remaining pine nuts. 

One final note.  If you want to "Chef Bolek" this recipe, then you should add some torn prosciutto (about 1/8 of a pound per serving) over the pasta, with a healthy serving of Parmesan cheese.  The addition of the prosciutto makes this very delicious vegetarian dish into an equally delicious carnivore dish.   


Saturday, August 24, 2013

Black Ankle Vineyards Leaf Stone Syrah (2008)

According to legend, there was a grape varietal cultivated around the ancient Persian city of Shiraz.  The Phocaeans -- ancient Ionian Greeks who were some of the first to make long sea voyages.  Some of those voyages led to the establishment of Massilla (now Marseilles).  The Phocaeans are said to have brought the the grape varietal from Shiraz to Massilla.  They planted the grape in what is now southern France.  Eventually, the grape made its way northward, to regions such as the Rhône valley, where Syrah firmly took its place in the world of French wine. 

This story is just one of a few legends about how the Syrah grape made its way to France.  However, there are many other stories about how the grape has since made its way around the world.  A stroll down the aisles of a wine shop reveal Syrah wines not just from France, but also the California, Chile, Argentina and Australia (where it is known as Shiraz).  And, if one looks hard enough, you can even find Syrah wines from some unexpected places ... like Maryland.

About a year ago, both Clare and I tried a Syrah wine from Black Ankle Vineyards called the Leaf Stone Syrah.  The wine is predominantly Syrah, with a breakdown of 81% Syrah, 7% Cabernet Sauvignon, 5% Cabernet Franc, 3% Viognier, 1% Malbec, 1% Merlot.  The wine is aged for 18 months in French oak barrels, with only 392 cases produced.  We had purchased a few bottles of the 2008 vintage, and, we opened one to enjoy.  At that time, the winemaker suggested decanting the wine, so as to allow it some time to open, or letting the wine cellar for a while to allow the wine to mature.  We decanted the wine and I began to write a wine review.  I did not finish the review at that time, because I wanted to wait to see how the wine developed.  Recently, we opened another bottle of the 2008 Leaf Stone Syrah.  I decided to let it decant as well, just to allow the wine a little air.  And, then I decided to finish that wine review. 

Generally, Syrah wines are very bold, fruit wines.  Joshua Wesson, the author of Wine & Food, describes the grape as having two main expressions: the northern Rhône style, with its "earthy quality, dark fruit and firm tannins" and an Australian style, best described as "jammy" with spice.  From the description provided by Black Ankle, one would assume that the goal was a northern Rhône wine.  The winemakers describe the wine as having "savory hints of smoke, leather, hickory, and plum on the nose," as well as "a lovely earthen and spice edge to the fresh and tart flavors of black cherry, cranberry, olive and vanilla."  These descriptions are apt for a Syrah from the northern Rhône valley.

Our first bottle of the wine did resemble the description, with both earthy and dark fruit elements int the aroma and the taste, which was definitely full of dark red fruits, and, earthy aspects reminiscent of the ground from which the vines grew.  However, after about a year, the wine had matured.  Much of the description -- smoke, leather, and hickory -- had mellowed to a significant degree, allowing the fruit of the wine to be more dominant in both the aroma and the taste.  In some ways, the expression of this wine gravitated away from the Rhône and toward Australia.  The second bottle was definitely the fruit forward, bold wine one would expect from a Syrah, but those earthy elements evolved into more of a spice and pepper.  This new element was very pleasing and it complemented the dark red fruit -- those plums, cranberries and black cherries -- in a very good way. 

Like any Syrah wine, the Leaf Stone Syrah pairs very well with beef and lamb dishes, whether grilled, broiled or braised.  Think a grilled steak or braised short ribs.  It will also work with substantial chicken and pork dishes, such as braises or stews.  

We still have a couple bottles left of this vintage.  It will be interesting to see if there is any more development in the wine.  Only time will tell!


Saturday, August 17, 2013

Beer Braised Turkey Tacos with Chipotle Guacamole

Deborah Schneider, the author of Amor y Tacos, once said, "The immediacy of a taco, handed to you hot from grill and comal, can’t be equaled. You can stand there and eat yourself silly with one taco after another, each made fresh for you and consumed within seconds."  She added, " a great taco rocks with distinct tastes that roll on and on, like a little party on your tongue, with layers of flavor and textures: juicy, delicious fillings, perfectly seasoned; the taste of the soft corn tortilla; a morsel of salty cheese and finally, best of all, the bright explosion of a freshly-made salsa that suddenly ignites and unites everything on your palate."  Those words provide a much better advertisement for tacos than any thirty second advertisement from the chain with the bell.  And, dare I say Schneider's words also trump the smell of chicken cooking on the flat top of another chain ... the one takes its name from a pepper and who makes far better tacos that that bell place.

Although I usually eat tacos once a week (from that place with the pepper name), I recently had the urge to make some tacos at home.  When I make tacos at home, I usually make fish tacos, like Tacos de Pescado, so I can eat with my beautiful, pescatarian wife.  This time, however, I wanted to make something different.  And, I mean truly different.  I did not just want to make chicken tacos or steak tacos.  For once, I did not even want to make carnitas tacos.  I really wanted to try new flavors and textures.

I did some research and came across a recipe for beer-braised turkey tacos.  The recipe came from Deborah Schneider.  Her recipe sounded delicious, but I had to make a few alterations and substitutions.  First, her recipe calls for a Mexican dark lager, like Negro Modelo.  I bought most of the ingredients at a grocery store that did not have Negro Modelo, so, I had to improvise.  I bought a dark lager from ... Utah.  It was Unita Brewing's Baba lager. The other alteration was that I decided to leave off the garnish of cilantro and sesame seeds.  First, the store was surprisingly out of fresh cilantro.  Second, I had other designs for the taco that would preclude sesame seeds.

As I thought about how beer-braising the turkey would introduce a lot of distinct tastes, I wanted to add additional flavors that went beyond mere sesame seeds.  My beautiful wife has made me a fan of guacamole, so I decided that I would add a spicy, chipotle guacamole to add to the tacos. This recipe for guacamole is very simple and it packs a good kick from the chipotle and adobo.  More importantly, I thought the smoky and earthy flavors from the chipotle and adobo would reinforce the malty and roasted flavors of the dark beer used to braise the turkey.  In the end, the flavor combinations worked perfectly.  I had made myself some substantial, richly flavored tacos. 

Taco recipe adapted from one by Deborah Schneider
available at Food and Wine
Makes 12 Servings

Ingredients (for the tacos):
2 tablespoons of extra-virgin olive oil
2 pounds of turkey thighs, skin and fat removed
4 large garlic cloves, thinly sliced
1 medium white onion, cut into 1-inch dice, 
     plus minced white onion, for serving
1 large oregano sprig
1 chipotle pepper with 1 teaspoon of adobo
1/2 of an ancho or poblano pepper, diced finely,
1 2-inch cinnamon stick
1 cup of water
1 12-ounce bottle of dark beer, such as Modelo Negro

Ingredients (for the guacamole):
2 avocados
1 chipotle, diced with 1 teaspoon of adobo
1/2 red onion, diced finely
1 lime, juiced
1 teaspoon of sea salt

1.  Brown the turkey.  In a large enameled cast-iron casserole, heat 1 tablespoon of the olive oil. Season the turkey with salt and pepper and cook over moderately high heat until richly browned all over, about 8 minutes. Transfer the turkey to a plate. 

2.  Saute the base ingredients.  Add the remaining 1 tablespoon of oil to the casserole along with the garlic, diced onion, oregano and chipotle and cook over moderate heat, stirring, until the onion is softened, about 8 minutes. Add the tomato, ancho or poblano pepper (reserve some for a topping on the tacos) and cinnamon stick and cook, stirring, until the tomato releases its juices. 

3.  Braise the turkey.  Return the turkey to the casserole, add the beer and water and bring to a boil. Cover and simmer over low heat, turning once, until the turkey thighs are tender, about 1 hour. Transfer the turkey to a plate and let cool. Discard the oregano sprig and cinnamon stick and boil the sauce over high heat until reduced to 1/4 cup, about 12 minutes. 

4.  Prepare the guacamole.  Add the avocados, chipotle with adobo, red onion, lime and sea salt in a bowl.  Mash and mix all of the ingredients together until you achieve the desired consistency.

5.  Finish the dish.  Preheat the oven to 350°. Wrap the tortillas in foil and bake for about 8 minutes, until softened and heated through. Remove the turkey meat and shred it. Transfer the sauce to a food processor and puree. Return the sauce to the pot and stir in the shredded turkey. Season with salt and pepper.

6.  Plate the tacos.  Spoon the turkey onto the tortillas. Top with minced onion and minced pepper. Serve immediately.

That quote from Deborah Schneider at the beginning of this post ends as follows: "At the end of our two or three-bite taco you just want to repeat the experience until you are sated."  I can truly say that, at the end of eating one of these beer-braised turkey tacos, with the chipotle guacamole, I truly wanted to eat another ... and another ... and another....


Friday, August 16, 2013

Serpent Ridge Vineyard Grenache Rosé

When one thinks of Grenache or Garnacha, the thoughts turn to a host of different wines, from fruit-filled Rhone blends to tannic Priorat wines.  However, this varietal has an entirely different persona, which takes the form of a rosé wine. 

The process of making a rose wine is fairly straightforward.  Winemakers crush the grapes and allow the juice to macerate with the skins.  Wines get their color from this maceration.  At least with red grapes, the longer the grapes macerate with the skins, the darker the wine.  When it comes to making a rosé wine, the maceration could be as short as a few hours or as long as a couple of days.  After the winemaker has achieved the desired color, the juice is fermented (usually in stainless steel vessels) and then bottled.  While there are other ways to produce rosé wines, such as the saigné method or simply combining red and white wines, those methods are best left for other posts.

Ordinarily, one would expect a Grenache rosé wine to come from the Languedoc or Provence regions of France, or perhaps a Garnacha rosada from the Rioja.  However, Clare and I found a Grenache rosé produced by Serpent Ridge Vineyards, which is located in Carroll County of Maryland.  This rosé is produced by Serpent Ridge Vineyards.  

The wine poured a red that is a few shades darker than other rosé wines that I have had before, such as the Muga Rioja Rosé.  There was also a nice level of carbonation, which gave a slight fizz as the wine was poured into the glass.

As for the aroma and taste, the predominant elements were bright, fresh fruit.  The aroma had senses of red cherries, with some strawberry.  The flavor of the wine featured both strawberry and raspberry, which were delivered with a dryness that one can expect from a rosé wine.

This wine is something that can be enjoyed as an aperitif, and, it also works well with grilled seafood dishes (such as grilled shrimp or scallops), light vegetable dishes, and most any kind of salad.  It would also pair well with charcuterie and some hard cheeses, especially cheeses from Spain like Roncal or Idiazabal.

I have not seen Serpent Ridge wines in stores around where I live and I bought this bottle at the vineyard's tasting room.  This wine is worth a try if you are looking for an American version of a Spanish Grenache rosé.


Sunday, August 11, 2013

Chef Bolek's Two Pound Ribeye

One of the "regular" features on the Chef Bolek blog is Steak Night.  The story behind Steak Night begins with my beautiful wife, Clare.  She is a pescatarian, and, thus, does not eat red meat.  Given that Clare is one of my principal inspirations for cooking, I make a lot of seafood and vegetable dishes.  Red meat, such as steak, is off the menu.

However, there was usually one or two nights per week when Clare had either work or personal obligations that prevented us from having a meal together.  Those evenings presented the opportunity for me to cook and eat red meat.  Originally, the goal of Steak Night was to make the biggest steak I could find, apply a spice rub, and cook the steak to medium rare.  I would serve the steak to myself with some white rice, whose sole purpose was to absorb some of the meat's juices (or some hot sauce) as I ate the steak.  Over time, and as this blog grew, Steak Night became an opportunity to try to make different types of beef recipes, research how different cuisines prepare beef, and to experiment with different ingredients.  This led to recipes and dishes such as Gaucho-Style Steak with Argentinian Chimichurri Sauce, the Inferno Steak, and Green Hatch Chile Rubbed Bison Cowboy Steak.

Recently, while shopping at Costco, I came across some two-pound ribeyes.  This brought back memories of the original Steak Nights, with the huge hunks of meat, straight forward rubs, and grilled to medium rare.  I bought a package and decided to make a simple rub of spices that often made their way into the rubs of the past: smoked paprika, onion powder, garlic powder, and cumin.  I usually make a lot of a rub so that it can be applied liberally to all sides of the meat.

Grilling a large piece of meat can be difficult, because inevitably the meat does not have the same thickness throughout.  This means that some parts will cook faster than others.  I have a general rule of about four to five minutes.  After the first four to five minutes, I turn the meat by 90 degrees.  After the second four to five minutes, I flip the steak.  After the third four to five minutes, I rotate the meat again by 90 degrees.  I then check the temperature with a meat thermometer, with 130 degrees Fahrenheit (medium rare) being the goal.  I then figure out how much longer the steak needs to remain on the grill to reach about 135 degrees or so before I remove it to rest.  It is important to keep in mind that a steak will cook at least five degrees while resting.

The dish is completed with some white rice, which as I noted above, is used primarily to gather the juices of the meat as it is sliced.  At first, I just used minute rice (which is really not all that good).  Now, I use basmati rice.  Whatever rice does not soak up meat juices usually gets doused with some hot sauce. 

That is the old-school, traditional Steak Night: a massive dish of food.  I probably could have finished off the dish in one sitting while I was in my prime.  It now takes a couple of sittings. Or, better yet, a couple of friends to join me. 

A Chef Bolek Original
Serves 4 (or 1 Chef Bolek)

2 pound ribeye
1 teaspoon of sea salt
1 teaspoon of freshly ground black pepper
1 teaspoon of smoked paprika
1 teaspoon of onion powder
1 teaspoon of garlic powder
1 teaspoon of dried thyme
1/4 teaspoon of ground cumin
Extra virgin olive oil

1.  Prepare the rub.  Mix all of the ingredients together.   Apply olive oil to all sides of the ribeye.  Add the rub to all sides.  Make sure that all sides are coated evenly with the rub.  Let the ribeye sit for about 10 to 15 minutes.  

2.  Prepare the rice.  Prepare the rice according to the instructions on the package. 

3.  Grill the ribeye.  Heat the grill to 400 degrees Fahrenheit.  If you have a three burner grill, turn off one burner.  Place the ribeye over that burner.  Cook until you reach the desired doneness, such as 130 degrees for medium rare or 140 degrees for medium.


Saturday, August 10, 2013

Gadino Cellars Petit Verdot (2010)

Classic Bordeaux blends are made with five grapes.  Some of those grapes are very well known, such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, and Malbec.  Others are not so well known ... like Petit Verdot. 

The origin of Petit Verdot has been lost to history.  Many believe that the planting, harvesting and use of Petit Verdot in the Bordeaux dates back to the 16th or 17th century, which predates the cultivation of Cabernet Sauvignon.  However, a look at any shelf in a wine store clearly reveals that Cabernet Sauvignon predominates over Petit Verdot.  This dominance extends far beyond French wines.  Quite frankly, Cabernet Sauvignon rules over Petit Verdot practically everywhere.  

The reason is simple: it is a lot easier to cultivate Cabernet Sauvignon than Petit Verdot.  The Petit Verdot vines are much more temperamental, requiring more work and oversight.  The grapes also ripen later than Cabernet Sauvignon and other red grapes.  As a result, Petit Verdot grapes are rarely used to make single varietal wines; instead, it is used as a blending grape, such as in those Bordeaux blends. However, during our little trip to the Inn at Little Washington, my beautiful Angel and I stopped at a nearby winery, Gadino Cellars, and discovered a Petit Verdot wine that was very good.  Given Clare could not drink at the time, I bought a bottle for us to enjoy at a later date.

Recently, we opened the bottle of Gadino Cellars' Petit Verdot (2010).  The wine poured a ruby red, with some darker crimson tones.  After doing a little research about Petit Verdot, I was expecting a wine that would be full of aromatic elements such as, by way of example, "Cigar Box, Pencil Shavings, Cellar Floor, Leather and Smoke" or "vanilla, smoke, spice, cedar, molasses and even tar."  With respect to fruits, the suggested notes would be dark cherries, plums or blackberries.

The Gadino Cellars' Petit Verdot featured a nose that was full of ripe dark cherries, accompanied by some more darker fruit, such as plums.  Those cherries and dark fruit were present throughout the wine.  The winemakers describe the flavor as including "juicy dark fruits," which "lead into a velvety texture of cocoa, crushed dried herbs and a caramel finish."  There is also a suggestion of tobacco.  I don't know if I could sense a "velvety texture of cocoa" or "tobacco," but I could say that there was a nice earthiness.  Nothing like a cellar floor, but something reminiscent of the ground on which the grapes were grown.  There was also a component of dried herbs, which provided a thyme or sage element to the flavor profile of the wine.  The Petit Verdot has its share of tannins, which provided an ever so subtle sense of astringency, which were mostly around the edges and gave way long before the finish. 

The winemakers suggest that this Petit Verdot pairs very well with a rack of lamb, eye of round, veal shank, duck and steak. This wine definitely goes well with red meat, whether grilled, roasted or braised. 

Overall, this wine is a very good example of an Old World varietal in a New World expression,  I have not seen this wine in stores but if you find yourself in Little Washington, you should check out Gadino Cellars.


Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Crispy Salt and Pepper Squid with a Cucumber Salad

In a land where the food airwaves are dominated by Food Network, one can understandably look elsewhere for inspiration.  Rather than watching shows like Diners Dives and Drive-Ins, Semi-Homemade Meals and What is Brian Boitano Cooking, I find myself watching shows like Hell's Kitchen and MasterChef.  Both of those shows feature Gordon Ramsay, but they reveal very little about his cooking.  I found myself channel surfing again, only to stop at a show called the F-Word

When it comes to Gordon Ramsay, who built his reputation on being a brash, straightforward chef, the "F Word" could have a couple of meanings.  In this case, the "F Word" means food.  What sets the F-Word apart from other Ramsay shows is that the F-Word shows Gordon Ramsay cooking dishes and providing the recipes for the viewers.  One such recipe is Gordon Ramsay's Crispy Salt and Pepper Squid with a Cucumber Salad.

Of course, the recipe comes with that thought of Gordon Ramsay critiquing you from a distance.  As I made this recipe, I thought "what would the Chef say?"  Those thoughts became more and more frequent as it became clear as I struggled with the breading of the calamari.  In the end, I do not think that Chef Ramsey would have approved of the dish because the breading did not adhere to the calamari as much as I think he would expect.  There was still enough breading left that you could taste the peppercorns and Chinese five spice with every bite of the squid.  In any event,  I am not cooking on any of his shows and I have the opportunity to practice the dish before the rather unforeseeable event that I should find myself on one of those programs.

Recipe by Gordon Ramsay
Available at BBC America

Ingredients (for the squid):
3/4 pound squid, both bodies and tentacles
1 tablespoon of Szechuan peppercorns
     (or substitute black peppercorns, with 1/2 teaspoon of red chile flakes)
1 teaspoon Chinese five spice powder
1 tablespoon sea salt
8 tablespoons of corn flour
Vegetable oil for frying

Ingredients (for the salad):
1 cucumber, peeled and shaved into thin ribbons
1 carrot, peeled and shaved into thin ribbons
1 chile, diced finely
1 to 2 tablespoons rice wine vinegar
1 teaspoon toasted sesame oil
1 pinch of sugar
Salt, to taste
1/4 cup of cilantro leaves
Lime slices, for serving

1.  Prepare the squid. Crush together the peppercorns, chilli flakes and sea salt with a pestle and mortar then mix with the flours. Slit the squid hoods down one side, open out then score the inside lightly in a criss-cross pattern. Cut into bite-size pieces.  Add the squid to the flour and toss to coat the squid as much as possible.

2.  Prepare the salad.  Combine all of the ingredients, mix thoroughly.

3.  Fry the squid.  Fill a large pan or wok 1/3 full with oil. Heat until a cube of bread browns in 30 seconds. Coat the squid pieces in the flour, shaking off the excess, and fry for 1-2 minutes or until golden. Serve with lemon wedges.


Monday, August 5, 2013

Black Ankle Vineyards Albariño (2011)

For many, the word Albariño evokes images of a certain type of landscape ... panning from green rolling hills towards valleys and ultimately cliffs that drop into the Atlantic Ocean.  The land is that of Galicia, the northwestern part of Spain where nearly ninety percent of Albariño grapes are cultivated. From those grapes, wines such as Pazo Serantellos Albariño and Gran Vinum  Albariño Nessa

However, the rolling hills of Galicia are not the only place where you will find Albariño grapes.  Halfway around the world, there are rolling hills in the United States where adventurous vineyards and winemakers are trying to create Albariño wines that, at least, provide a unique character for the varietal and, at most, seek to rival those Galician wines.  The "New World" winemakers include Black Ankle Vineyards, which has planted Albariño grapes and has produced a very popular wine.  The wine is so popular that seventy-five cases can be sold in less than 18 business hours

Fortunately for Clare and myself, we were able to obtain a couple of the 2011 vintage of Black Ankle Vineyard's Albariño.  The question for me is whether an Albariño from Maryland could compare to a wine from Rias Biaxas, the region of Galicia that produces some of the best Albariño wines in Spain.  According to Rias Biaxas Wines, the promotional website for Spanish Albariño wines, Albariño wines possess the characteristics of many established varietals.  The website notes, "[i]t has been compared to Riesling for its minerality and bracing acidity; to Viognier, because of its fleshiness and peach/apricot character; and to Pinot Gris for its floral bouquet."  It adds, "when grown in highly acidic, granitic earth, Albariño yields a more mineral-driven and structured wine. In sandy soil, however, the Albariño grape gives a softer, rounder wine."

The Black Ankle Vineyard's Albariño provides an interesting look at a New World version of this old-world wine.  the wine leans toward that more mineral-driven, structured wine," which makes sense because those vines are not growing in sandy soil.    Instead, those vines are growing in decomposing slate laced with veins of quartz. 

The Albariño pours a light straw color.  The aromatic elements suggest grapefruit and perhaps some apple or a little lemon.  The taste also features these elements, with the grapefruit and citrus notes being at the forefront.  There was definitely a minerality and even a little hay or straw that followed in the background.  There is also a little tartness that grips the edges of the tongue long after the wine has been consumed, something of a reminder that you should take another sip.  Of course, this leads to one to drinking the wine faster than one should.  After drinking this wine, I can understand why Black Ankle Vineyards sells out of this wine so fast.  It also makes me look forward to the bottle of the 2012 vintage that is still resting in our little wine cages.  

When it comes to pairing, the Black Ankle wine follows the rules of any Spanish Albariño.  The wine pairs very well with fresh seafood, whether fish or shellfish, prepared on the grill or sauteed on the stovetop.  It would also work well with spicy dishes, such as lighter, spicy dishes from Indian, Thai or Chinese cuisines.   Finally, this wine pairs well with pasta and vegetables, which is the pairing that we chose.  The dish was Fettuccine with an Asparagus Puree.  The Albariño complimented the flavors in the asparagus puree, which was quite a feat, given the general difficulty that arises when pairing wine to asparagus. 

Unfortunately, this vintage is sold out and, it seems pointless to note the price of a bottle.  All I can say is that if you happen to see a bottle of a later vintage of the Black Ankle Vineyard's Albariño, you should give it a try. 


Saturday, August 3, 2013

Grilled Leg of Lamb

A few weeks ago, I prepared a special, three-course menu for my parents.  I have already posted about the first two course ... Grilled Apricots, Burrata and Arugula Salad, followed by Grilled Calamari with a Red Pepper Sauce.  When it came to the main course, I had a decision to make.  I made that decision as I strolled the aisles and stands of the West Side Market in Cleveland, Ohio.  I debated different cuts of beef, such as a rib roast or strip steaks, as well as whole chickens and legs of lamb or goat. 

I ultimately decided on a portion of a leg of lamb.  A whole leg of lamb could easily weigh six to seven pounds, with the bone.  I was feeding three people (my beautiful Angel does not eat lamb), so that much meat was simply too much.  One of the vendors had a three pound piece that was perfect.  I had the piece de-boned, because, given I was going to grill the lamb, I wanted to be able to adjust cooking times.  I could lay the piece out flat, to cook it faster, or roll it up into a roast-like form, to slow down the cooking.  I had the meat, and, along with my family, we returned home to decide on how best to grill the lamb.

I recalled a story told by my mother about the leg of lamb that used to be prepared by my great grandmother whenever my mom and my dad would visit her.  My great grandmother emigrated to this country from Abruzzo and, in preparing the lamb, she would insert whole cloves into the meat before roasting the leg.  Rather than put whole cloves in this leg of lamb, I inserted garlic slices throughout the meat.  I also marinated the lamb in a garlic-herb marinade for an hour or two to help add flavor to the meat.

When it came to grilling the lamb, I grilled for a very short period of time over direct heat and then moved the lamb to a cooler part of the grill, using indirect heat to finish the grilling.  However, the lamb still cooked much quicker than I thought it would.  I was shooting for medium rare, which would have been 145 degrees Fahrenheit, but I pulled it off at about 150 degrees Fahrenheit.  By the time the lamb rested, the temperature probably pushed about 160 degrees, which is medium.  In the end, it did not matter.  My parents like their lamb cooked medium to medium well.  More importantly, the lamb was still juicy and tasty.  A success!

A Chef Bolek Original
Serves several

1 boneless leg of lamb, about three pounds
6 cloves of garlic, sliced
4 tablespoons of rosemary, chopped finely
4 tablespoons of thyme, chopped finely
1 tablespoon of salt
1 tablespoon of freshly ground black pepper
1/2 tablespoon of crushed red pepper
Extra virgin olive oil

1.  Marinate the leg of lamb.  Make slits in the thicker parts of the leg of lamb and insert slices of garlic.   Add any remaining garlic to a bowl, along with the rosemary, thyme, red pepper, black pepper and salt.  Add olive oil until the mixture becomes a paste.  Add the paste on all parts of the leg of lamb.  Let the lamb marinate in the refrigerator for at least an hour but preferably three or four hours.  

2.  Grill the lamb.  Heat the grill to about 275 to 300 degrees Fahrenheit.  Cooking times will vary depending upon the size of the leg of lamb, but cook the lamb to about 145 degrees Fahrenheit, which is medium rare.  Remove the lamb from the grill, allow it to rest fifteen to thirty minutes.  Slice the lamb and serve immediately. 

When it comes to pairing a wine or beer with this lamb, there are a lot of options.  The ingredients in the marinade -- rosemary, thyme, garlic -- immediately suggest a red wine from Italy.  The easiest choice would be a Chianti, but other Tuscan wines such as a Vino Nobile di Montepulciano or a Morellino di Scansano could work as well.  When it comes to Spanish wines, a wine produced with varietals like Tempranillo or Garnacha would work well. 

If you are not into wine, this lamb could also pair well with beer.  The most obvious pairing is an India Pale Ale.  I would choose an English IPA over an American IPA, because the English beers tend to a little more balanced, with a good dose of hops but a developed malt backbone. Another option is a Czech style pilsner, something that, like the English IPA, would complement the flavors of the meat rather than compete with them. 


Thursday, August 1, 2013

Feudi di San Gregorio Rubrato Irpinia Aglianico (2011)

There is a DOC -- a Denominazione di Origine Controllata -- in Campania.  It can be found in the province of Avellino known as Irpinia. A wide range of wines are produced by winemakers in this DOC, with names as unique and interesting as Irpinia Foxtail, Irpinia Piedirosso and Irpinia Sciascinoso.  Other wines have names that are more familiar to me, such as Iripinia Falaghina and Irpinia Aglianico.  I know these names because they are names of grape varietals.  Some lesser known varietals, which almost always piques my interest.  

The latter grape, Aglianico, is a particularly interesting one.  It is a black grape grown in Campania and Basilicata.  The varietal has a long history; Wine Enthusiast notes that the grape was originally cultivated by the Phoenicians, exported by Greeks and consumed by the Romans.  Aglianico outlasted the Roman Empire, continuing to be cultivated by vineyards and winemakers such as Feudi di San Gregorio, who produce the Rubrato Irpinia. 

According to the winemaker, Feudi di San Gregorio worked with the Universities of Napoli and Milan in a "a project of recognition of the merit and rediscovery of this grape." That work is embodied in the Rubrato, which is an example of a youthful wine made with 100% Aglianico grapes.  The youth of this wine comes from the fact that the wine is aged for a relatively short period of time ... and I mean relatively short in wine terms. The wine is matured for about eight to ten months in stainless steel vessels, and, it is then aged for six months in the bottle.

That youthfulness is present in all aspects of the wine.  The Aglianico pours a nice, brilliant ruby red.  The aromatic elements suggest, as the winemakers note, wild raspberries and dark cherries.  The winemakers also suggest elements of licorice and "underbrush."  I could not sense the licorice, but there was an earthiness to the wine.  As for the taste of this wine, it is full of those raspberries and cherries.  The youth of this wine means that those elements are rather full and perhaps a little undeveloped or nuanced.  This may turn off some people, but I think that it works well.  I also found a nice spice component, which definitely adds to the complexity of the wine. As the fruit and spice recede into the background, the dryness of the wine becomes a more noticeable. 

When it comes to pairing the Rubrato Aglianico, the winemakers suggested roasted red and white meats along with eggplant parmigiana and  a cake known as rice sartù. I think this wine will also pair well with other regional dishes, such as Bistecchine alla Napoletana and Costolette alla Pizzaiola, and even Pizza Margherita.

I found Feudi di San Gregorio's Rubrato Irpinia Aglianico (2011) at a local grocery store.  A bottle sells for about $16.99.