Thursday, September 20, 2012

#299 - Two New House Favorites With Two Wines

Back to home flavors after Rioja with two meals that epitomize new home flavors.

New in the sense of taking old favorites and tweaking them, moving old faves forward, keeping them fresh and new.

The first meal, Symon roasted chicken with down-and-dirty salsa verde and a tomato-corn-arugula salad, has become new with the weekly visits to the Lincoln Square Farmers' Market. Where roasted chicken used to reach such great heights with a simple roasting of the bird and tossing down some Fancy French cheese with good bread to slather with said cheese and sop up bird juice (that phrase sounds weird), the newness of the new comes in the impeccably fresh salad ingredients in various forms that become more than just side salad.

To wit. Here, the tomatoes were stupid-ripe and bursting with proper tomato flavor. Take advantage now. Not much time left in that realm. And it's corn season, folks. Use it and abuse it until you're sick of it. Predicted to be the worst crop in 17 years (news that piques an Iowan's interest, like me, because that was the de facto, 'the sky is falling,' grocery store-coffee shop-Casey's conversation everyday growing up), here was delicious corn complementing the tomato in great ways.

So...Michael Symon roasted chicken (chronicled many times on this here blog), this time an enormous Whole Foods five-pounder with a shimmering golden skin and juicy (even the breast) meat. One of the better ones of late. Tomato and corn salad with an arugula bed which was more about the tomato and corn than the arugula. Salsa verde, It's salsa verde in a different form, loaded with dirty delicious anchovy-caper flavor that's cleaned up in such a new, lifty way by the parsley-mint-olive oil driver (plagarized myself there). It's the thing on the side that sits there, saying, "Use me how you like. I don't care. Salad? Sure! Taste that! Chicken? Yep! Told ya. All of it together? That's what I'm about." Whole Foods Seeduction bread with butter to round things out.

It's fancy-fresh food flowing with flavors, something we missed a bit in Rioja. One of the waiters we had in Spain talked about his Basque gastronomic society and if we were to ever come back, we should give him a call and go to one. If we were asked to make food for such a thing, it's food like this, simple food screaming upper Midwest in its freshest form, that we'd give.

And we'd serve it with a wine like the 2011 Ponzi Arneis Willamette Valley ($25 - Winery). Or something fruit-forward with a great transition to something more elusive, minerally and acid-driven.

It's only been a few months since we last tasted this wine, with a meal somewhat similar, but while some things have remained the same, a subtly different expression showed up here. Five-Alive frozen concentrate (more apricot) still led off but that quickly changed to the real goods this one offers. Salty minerals and herbs took more of the stage much earlier with peach skin once again buttressing all that up. Great acid again, defining much of the wine, driving every sip. But even if it's only been a few months since we last had this, a bit of maturity and settling seems to be starting to show, getting closer to its best expression, something that we might see sometime next spring?

As a pairing, it's what we like and enjoy. It's food with a triangulation of complex flavors playing off each other but never attempting to get too cutesy, all of it paying particular attention to its acid balance. Coupling that with a wine that's offered a chance to play in the sandbox while offering a different angle, different profile, filling in the gaps with a lifty acid and snappy, clean finish, mopping everything up and wiping the mouth clean, makes for a pairing winner.  Pairing Score:  91    

Fava beans, nature's most stubbornly-packaged food, is (almost) always worth the work. That's a lot of shucking for a couple of cups of fava but the end result makes for something delicious, especially when following Lidia's lead.

Almost identical to a meal from last April, substituting strozzapreti for cavatelli again but this time throwing in some pancetta. It's Fava Bean & Ricotta Salata Strozzapreti. Just doughy enough pasta, sheepy-salty fresh cheese, fava beans that taste like you're eating something from the garden you didn't know existed in there, garlic and onion to do what garlic and onion does, pancetta to add a darker, meaty note and just an all-around spring-like wonder that's great all year round.

Last April, we went with a Sancerre rouge and it worked. This time, not really craving a pinot noir or a Loire cabernet franc cousin, we searched for a wine that comes off medium-bodied with a nod towards lightness. Maybe something offering merely echoes of a darker smokiness yet still retaining a silky smoothness with tannins that won't get in the way. In other words, Mrs. Ney knew the ricotta salata's saltiness and the pancetta's meatiness would give this meal a backbone to be more wine-forgiving but something that didn't wander into brawniness would be necessary.

Notes on the 2008 Duorum Colheita Douro ($19 - Binny's) talk of its muscular style but we know better. The Duorum line is much lighter than critics describe (and helped with a trip over to Cellartracker). Just opening up right now but very drinkable with a touch of air. Red fruits crusted in a dark fruit veneer with a nice hit of pepper, wee touch of smoke and iron and finishing with a well-defined blackberry note. Persistent. Kept pumping out goodness to the end.

Isn't going to blow anyone away but nice QPR here with a profile that's very Portuguese. This would be a good entry-level Portuguese offering to see if someone likes the basics of Portuguese wine. And it's basic in many ways but a wine very much worth the price tag. It flooded the market in Chicago only to see it languish on the Binny's shelf for the most part. A few days ago, I saw it at Whole Foods. Can't tell if that's a good or bad thing. Portugal seems to have quickly retreated from their very brief opening up to a broader American market. It's now a few dedicated East Coast shops or nothing for the higher-end stuff.

In the pairing realm, success. Success in the sense that the wine picked up the pancetta and ricotta salata leaders and found a place to offer the best of what it had. Can't say we got an explosion of pairing fireworks but we did get great food with a wine that, for the most part, gave that medium-bodiedness trending towards lightness with nothing getting in the way. Interesting. Do it again? Meh. This food is surprisingly so open to oodles of wine pairings, we'd change up, most likely. Pairing Score: 88

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