Thursday, April 24, 2014

Za'atar Shrimp, Bread And Mâche With 2011 Luis Pato Vinhas Velhas & 2012 Quinta do Casal Monteiro

Overcooked shrimp put us off shrimp for months.

Perfectly cooked shrimp makes us want to eat it by the bucket, particularly when slathered in za'atar.

Mrs. Ney opened up a bag of za'atar, the Middle Eastern spice blend led by thyme with sumac, sesame seeds and salt served as back-up, and found it lacking in freshness and guts.

So she made her own from this simple Alton Brown recipe.

And bagged frozen shrimp can be a bit sad, but uncooked Trader Joe's Wild Blue Shrimp is back after an extended vacation. In our world, this is quality stuff when you don't want to drop a 20-spot on the fresh stuff. This used to be about $9/lb, is now $16, and worth it.

Use this Spanish-style shrimp recipe, toss it a bunch of za'atar, add a few Thai bird chiles, whip 'em up in a cast-iron, and you got yourself a bustin' shrimp dinner!

Mariano's French blend salad, which is mâche - something that's been rather absent in Chicago of late - with pomegranate seeds, sherry vinegar and olive oil. Good to have you back, mâche.

Mariano's French batard bread to dip, dunk, and to top with chocolate, marcona almond and salt for dessert. Got a random chocolate bar, leftover almonds, salt and too much bread? Melt the chocolate, toss the bread under the broiler, top with chocolate, almonds and good salt. Easy-peasy and silly good.

Best meal of the week. Didn't think it'd be enough. Turned out to be more than enough.

Two Portuguese whites to pair. Anything Luis Pato is a blind buy in our house. No exception here. A blend of bical, cerceal and sercialinho from Beiras, this 2011 Luis Pato Vinhas Velhas Branco Beira Atlântico  ($20 - Lush) could have been a malvasia or strange chenin blanc. Fancy honey notes dominated, with delicate floral notes jumping around, intermingling with a perky acid touch here and there, finishing with a teeny-weeny lime zest lift. The 2012 Quinta Casal do Monteiro Branco ($10 - Binny's), a blend of fernão pires and arinto, initially comes off like a basic, thirst-quenching, Portuguese white, only to turn into something I want to drink by the gallon. It goes from "Oh, that's fine enough" to a wine that utterly keeps your attention for much longer than you ever would have thought. Portugal. There's so much freakin' diversity and deliciousness that few know about. I hope it stays that way. More for us.

Not a perfect pairing here but a gosh-darn good one. Good shrimp is good. Great shrimp is the bee's knees. This was Great Shrimp. And lovely Portuguese whites to boot.

Quick Note: Last night's dinner was essentially another rendition of this meal: chakundari chicken tikka with zucchini cakes, beet-fennel salad, naan and raita. Mark Bittman beet-marinated chicken, using a golden beet this time (red is better here). Tribune zucchini cakes that turned into strangely tasty zucchini cake-donuts. Ad hoc golden beet-shaved fennel salad with lemon, mustard seeds, tons of dill and parsley. Cucumber-mint-Aleppo raita. TJ's naan. Served with two wines, the 2013 Crios Torrontés Mendoza ($12 - Binny's) and NV LaGranja Cava Brut ($7 - Trader Joe's).

Everything played in a similar herbaceous realm with medium depth. Missed the burn-yer-mouth spicy contrast here to play off that, but nice seasoning all around made for solid, Indian-inspired dinner. And the wines helped, with the LaGranja Cava, merely tossed in for bubbly goodness, surprisingly beating the Crios, typically a wine that gives Indian food buggy-bear love. The Cava was all creamy-full deliciousness with shocking length. Touch of pear, lil passionfruit, dry, round and happy. It's $7 and the best it's shown in our house. Always good enough, better than its price tag, but this time it seemed almost special. Very complete stuff. The Crios got a bit finicky and watery here and there with the food but excelled with certain bites, becoming a floral, perfume-y bomb. But this wine needs Indian hotness to have something to counter. This meal didn't possess that, but the bubbles picked up the slack.      

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