Thursday, July 14, 2011

#206 - Basque Wednesday With Two Wines

As we begin to cook our way through the Pintxos cookbook, the impulse to continue to try more recipes reveals itself in a similar fashion to our thoughts of the food as we eat it. It's a feeling of 'I want to continue to do this' in its most basic form.

There's a simplicity and honesty to the food, tasting like its origins.  If eaten blind, you could nail it as an amalgam of Spanish and touches of southern French. It stays clean, leads with spicing and offers flavors familiar with a hint of newness and surprise.

At times we've wanted a bit more depth and heartiness from a couple of the dishes but the recipes have never disappointed in their freshness and unique flavor.  It's a winner, giving something more than simply a diversion in food style or testing of something different.

Here's three more from the book.

Lunch:  Gigante bean salad with white anchovies and cold melon shooters with serrano ham chips

Gigante beans, tough to find and not cheap ($5), inexplicably found just down the street at Harvestime.  Lovely beans, huge, meaty and slightly sweet, cooked for two hours, combined with piquillo peppers, chives, parsley, basil, red wine vinegar and olive oil, sit aside to marry for an hour.  White anchovies to finish the salad and two hard-boiled eggs for me.  Delicious and simple, offering more brawny power than we expected and spectacular stuff once the anchovy bled into the oil and vinegar liquid.  Tasted like Avec.  If made again, we might try a touch of shallot.

Both of us hate cantaloupe and finding fancy melon like Chantais or Crenshaw right now in Chicago seems to be an impossible task so we went with honeydew melon for the cold melon shooters.  Easy-peasy stuff.  Cubed whole honeydew melon, peeled and seeded, puréed in a blender with a lime juice, strained and left to chill overnight.  Served in cappuccino glasses, topped with piment d'Espelette and served with serrano ham chips (dehydrated in the oven for 1 1/2 hours).  Pure fresh, chillled honeydew liquid more like a delicious drink to supplement other flavors on the table but refreshing as all get-out.  Would be a great party starter, even a delicious bellini base and I'll be making this again just to tinker with it.

Pan con tomate to round out the meal.

I didn't think the amount of food would be filling enough but it turned out to be utterly gut-busting.

Full, and happy stuff.

Served with a non-vintage Juvé y Camps Brut Rosado Cava ($17 - Binny's).  100% pinot noir.  All rocks with hints of roses, berries, strawberry, even grapefruit.  A little out of whack for us, tasting jumbled with the bubbles and rocks dominating.  Too much verve, not enough balance and a touch too obvious.  Refreshing enough and served a purpose on the table, just not the purpose we particularly wanted.  Had its moments with some of the bean salad, even serving as a nice base for some combinations before a bite of food but nothing we loved.  Pairing Score:  85  

Dinner:  Cumin-scented lamb sliders with a beet and Greek feta salad

I killed the burgers but there was oodles of delicious stuff going on with this slider recipe.  Cumin seed, coriander seed and fennel seed blend mashed together with ground lamb and set aside to marry for four hours.  Homemade lemon aioli, a first for me along with everything else typed here as Wednesday is the new Christo Cooks day.  Tons of garlic and what I think was a mistake in the cookbook - one tablespoon of salt mixed with three garlic cloves in the process of aioli-ing the aioli.  One teaspoon I believe.  Salty!!! by itself but that never really came across when compiled into the sliders.  I only did 3/4 of a tablespoon, caught between the impulse to be smart and prudent and my complete ignorance on cooking things but it turned out to be good stuff with the sliders.  Challah bread cut into buns, kumato slices, sliced shallot and butter lettuce.  Well-done burgers but tons of cumin-directed goodness here.  Tasted...Californian...again.  Fresh stuff that might have been ridiculously great if a medium-rare burger would have happened and the juices would have bled into the Challah.

But the star of the night was the beet salad. Beets: roasted; red onion, pistachios, Greek feta; parsley, mint, lemon thyme and cumin, tossed with extra virgin olive oil and white balsamic.  Fancy restaurant beets here.  Heightened blending of flavors that tasted oh-so purposeful, tried and true and classic and left both of us beety because we ate too much.

The double star of the night came from the pairing.  A 2009 Trader Joe's Grand Reserve Pinot Noir Russian River Valley ($13) that's one of the best bargains we've had in a long time.  Many good Trader Joe's bargains deliver by offering wines wonderfully representative of the grape and/or style.  This one goes a step further and gets into the nuts and bolts of offering echoes of what exists in good to great Russian River pinot noirs.  It's not 100% pinot noir.  It's a blend of 78% Pinot Noir, 14% Syrah, and 8% Zinfandel but the essence of the wine of all pinot with the added grapes offering lift and guts.  Tons of gnarly rhubarb, berry and cinnamon spice with finishes of tobacco and cola.  Great, smooth transitions, moderate, smoky finish and a high alcohol content (14.63%) that serves to bring a graceful heft instead of a obvious booziness that surprised the heck out of us.  At times, we saw a touch of hollow core but only rarely but this is winner-winner, chicken dinner.  Great wine for the price, giving the California wine goods without the California boring sweetness.  Distinct stuff that beats so many California pinots, even Oregon pinots priced twice as much.

And the pairing was something that tasted like we'd done it before and knew it was great.  So many flavors beautifully intermingling before and after a bite of food that everything tasted like the combination had created a specific food and wine moment that made us pause a bit and revel in its goodness.  Best with the beets, good with the sliders, great with everything.  The wine tasted like a third element of food, essential to the success of the meal.  Pairing Score:  93

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