Archive for the ‘asparagus’Category

Realizing a 150-year dream: Ravine Vineyard Estate

bottles at Ravine Vineyard restaurant
Norma Jean Lowery Harber’s family has farmed the 34 acres of Ravine Vineyard Estate (ravinevineyard.com) in St. Davids since 1867. Indeed, her great-grandfather planted the Niagara region’s first commercial vineyard here in 1869 and the land was in orchards for many decades. Norma Jean and her husband Blair Harber bought the farm from the rest of the family in 2004. They set about creating organic vineyards and an organic winery. Norma Jean’s father had grown wine grapes, and the couple replanted vineyards to focus on the three classic Bordeaux reds (Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Cabernet Franc) along with Chardonnay, Riesling, and small amounts of Gewürtztraminer.

Ravine Vineyard Estate restaurantThe wines are reason enough reason to visit Ravine. As luck had it, we missed the tasting room hours. But we had dinner in the farm restaurant looking out on the kitchen garden and down to some of the vineyards. And, naturally, we drank Ravine wines with dinner. The Harbers practice biodynamic principles in their restaurant gardens as well as in their vineyards. The restaurant focuses on highly local products—including the Berkshire hogs raised on the farm. A smokehouse on the property allows executive chef Ross Midgley to feature dishes with cured pork. The chef also preserves local bounty to extend locavore dining into the less fecund seasons.

Charcuterie and Merlot


Ravine charcuterie plate

In fact, we started dinner with the chef’s charcuterie platter. The meaty anchors were honey ham, sliced coppa, and sausage—all cured downstairs in the charcuterie closet. A pot of heavenly chicken liver parfait was great for spreading on the country French baguette, and the pork country pâté en croute was just unctuous enough to benefit from the tangy pickled fennel and shallots and homemade coarse mustard.

On our server’s recommendation, we drank Ravine Merlot with the dish. Merlot is the most round-heeled of the Bordeaux grapes, ripening to voluptuous fullness even in Niagara’s short season. Ravine’s version is soft and round, but it’s not sloppy. Nine months in French barrique disciplines the fruit.

Carrot soup and Riesling


Carrot ginger soup at Ravine Vineyard Estate restaurantRavine’s restaurant has a nice touch with its soup of the day. It serves each bowl with a savory sour cream and chive muffin. That was especially nice with a bowl of carrot-ginger soup topped with a drizzle of balsamic vinegar. The accompanying wine was the house Riesling. Like the Merlot, it is a fruit-forward wine with a good acidity that brings out the brightness of the grape. Characteristic of the Mosel clones, the aromatics are lightly floral.

Scallop and pasta with Sauvignon Blanc


Scallop and pasta at Ravine Vineyard Estate restaurantChef Midgley’s sense of food balance paired especially well with winemaker Martin Werner’s rendering of Sauvignon Blanc. The pasta of the day was a delightful tangle of homemade spaghetti with lovage and arugula, a butter sauce, and asparagus. Perched on top was a perfectly seared scallop. The range of textures and flavors in a small dish was striking.

The Sauvignon Blanc was even more striking. Werner treats it like Sancerre, fermenting with both wild yeast and a controlled inoculation, then barrel-aging on the lees. It has pronounced white grapefruit and lemon notes with a surprising creaminess. The crisp acidity cut through the butter sauce and highlighted the herbal notes of the vegetables in the dish.

Chardonnay for the main dishes


entrees at Ravine Vineyard restaurant
Ravine ages its standard Chardonnay in small barrels of an assertive French oak. That produces a French-inflected wine with distinctively New World fruit. It is creamy and lightly oaky, lush with the apple and pear notes characteristic of cold-climate Chard. Those properties make it a good all-purpose white to pair with food—much as the Ravine Merlot is a good all-purpose red. We had a brined and smoked heritage half-chicken and a mixed-grains “risotto” made with shiitake mushrooms and an Ontario gouda-style cheese. The Chardonnay’s oakiness was a nice complement to the smoke in the chicken, and its broad acidity counterbalanced the richness of the cheese in the “risotto,” which had intense cereal flavors of its own from the wheat berries and barley.

For an overview of Niagara wineries, see the web site of the Vintner’s Quality Alliance of Ontario (vqaontario.ca) or Visit Niagara (visitniagaracanada.com).

Even Japanese cooks love asparagus

Pan-fried asparagus with soy and sesame
In Cook Japanese at Home, author Kimiko Barber demystifies Japanese cuisine for western cooks. But she never dumbs it down. The new cookbook, available this month in the U.S. from Kyle Books, provides 200 recipes that most cooks could replicate without any special equipment—or terribly exotic ingredients. Emma Lee’s photographs show how classy the dishes can appear.

Barber observes that western appreciation of Japanese cooking has made a quantum leap since she first moved to London in the 1970s. She does a marvelous job of summarizing Japanese culinary history and the influence of Zen aesthetics on the preparation and presentation of meals.

But as true as she is to the spirit of Japanese cuisine, she does not shy away from fusion dishes. Her Japanese-style beef bourguignon, for example, uses sake, red and white miso, hot pepper, and ginger along with the traditional cubes of beef and slices of bacon. It also uses smoky dried shiitake mushrooms in place of French champignons. It’s a very successful meeting of two great culinary traditions.

She notes that Japanese kitchens have also warmed to certain western ingredients, including our beloved asparagus. Here’s the recipe for Emma Lee’s photo at the head of this post.

PAN-FRIED ASPARAGUS WITH SOY AND SESAME


Asparagus, although a relative newcomer to Japanese cuisine, is loved for its taste, and prized for its tantalizingly short season.

serves 4

12 to 16 asparagus spears
1 tablespoon sesame oil
2 tablespoons sake
2 teaspoons soy sauce
1 teaspoon white toasted sesame seeds, to serve

Asparagus has a natural breaking point below which it is stringy and inedible—hold a spear between your hands, then bend until it breaks, and discard the lower part. Cut each trimmed spear into 1 and 1/2-inch lengths.

Heat the oil in a skillet over medium heat. Add the thicker, lower part pieces of asparagus first, followed by the rest, shaking the pan to toss, and cook for 2 to 3 minutes. Add the sake and soy sauce, and continue to cook while still shaking the pan, until most of the liquid has evaporated.

Turn off the heat, then sprinkle the sesame seeds over and serve.

31

05 2017

Pouilly-Fumé complements asparagus-prosciutto risotto

asparagus prosciutto risotto with Pouilly-Fumé

We sang the praises of Sancerre a few weeks ago, lauding its round fruit combined with tart minerality. We are continuing to welcome the spring and summer seasons with other Loire Valley wines. Sancerre’s sister Sauvignon Blanc wine, Pouilly-Fumé, certainly has a strong family resemblance. With a bit flintier taste than Sancerre and a haunting smokiness, Pouilly-Fumé pairs wonderfully with asparagus. We had a couple of bottles of Saget La Perrière 2013 on hand when we acquired up a nice bundle of just-picked asparagus from the Connecticut River farms in Hadley, Massachusetts. We immediately thought of our favorite risotto treatment for the vegetable.

That recipe was created for Pinot Grigio, so it uses San Daniele prosciutto and Grana Padana cheese. It’s easy to adapt the recipe for the more assertive Pouilly-Fumé. We found that the stronger tastes of a good domestic prosciutto and an aged Parmigiano-Reggiano were better suited to complement the wine. The asparagus flavors emphasize some of the sharper notes with this pairing.

Like the same company’s Sancerre, the Saget La Perrière Pouilly-Fumé 2013 was cold-fermented in stainless steel tanks continuously chilled to stay below 64°F. Fermented entirely with wild yeasts, it ages several months on the lees. Fruit notes of grapefruit and pear are the most pronounced, with a lingering lusciousness of peach. The wine lingers on the palate with a freshness that combines with the umami of the cheese and prosciutto to form a lush tonic chord of flavor. Suggested retail is $28.

25

05 2017

A is for Asparagus in new Alain Ducasse cookbook

asparagus at market
It’s asparagus season in our neighborhood. The fields of Hadley, Massachusetts are yielding the delicious spears that once made the Connecticut River Valley the asparagus capital of North America. The industry has never quite recovered from a mid-20th century blight, but the farms are producing some stunning asparagus for a few weeks each year. We are eating as much as we can while it is in season.

Alain Ducasse grabbed our attention with a brilliant recipe for asparagus and soft-boiled egg in his new cookbook. It’s called Simple Nature: 150 New Recipes for Fresh, Healthy Dishes. Ducasse launched his first “Simple Nature” cookbook five years ago. This second installment is, if anything, simpler and more natural. The celebrity French chef penned it with chef Christophe Saintagne and nutritionist Paule Neyrat. The precise yet straightforward dishes provide a peek into Ducasse’s concept of cuisine. They’re seasonal—the book begins with the fall harvest and progresses to the following summer. Recipes come with notes by Ducasse and Neyrat, identified the bottom by their initials.

So to launch a short series of asparagus posts, we thought that Ducasse’s daringly simple treatment would be a good way to let a recipe show his philosophy of cuisine. It also provides a French take on this tantalizingly short-season vegetable. The photo is courtesy of the publisher.

Simple Nature: 150 New Recipes for Fresh, Healthy Dishes is published in the U.S. by Rizzoli New York. It lists for $45, but is discounted on Amazon.

Alain Ducasse asparagus with soft boiled egg

ASPARAGUS, SOFT-BOILED EGG, AND VINAIGRETTE

SERVES 4
PREPARATION TIME: 20 MINUTES
COOK TIME: 10 MINUTES


6 tablespoons shallot vinaigrette (see below)
2 bunches green asparagus
Salt
4 eggs
1 bunch tarragon
Espelette pepper

Make the shallot vinaigrette. Set aside.

Prepare the asparagus and soft-boiled eggs.

Remove the scales from the asparagus spears. Cut off the tough end of the stem and peel to 3 centimeters – 11/4 inches from the tip. Set aside 2 asparagus spears. Tie the others into small bunches with kitchen twine.Bring salted water to a boil in a large saucepan and immerse the bunches of asparagus for about 6 minutes. Check that they are cooked with the tip of a knife, which should slide in easily. At the same time, boil the eggs in the same pan, also for 6 minutes.

Drain the asparagus on a clean cloth and untie. Take the eggs out of the pan and transfer to a bowl filled with cold water. When they have cooled somewhat, peel them.

Season the vinaigrette

Rinse, dry, pluck, and mince the tarragon leaves. Season the shallot vinaigrette with salt and Espelette pepper. Mix, then add the minced tarragon. Stir.

Finish and serve

Arrange the asparagus on four heated plates. Add 1soft-boiled egg to each plate and make a small cut on the yolk with a knife. Drizzle with vinaigrette. Use a mandoline with safety guard to finely slice the reserved asparagus spears over the plates and season with Espelette pepper.

Notes

AD – Be sure to use asparagus grown as locally as possible. And take the time to heat your plates for 10 minutes in an oven set at 110˚C – 225˚F (gas mark 1/4). It’s a worthwhile step.

PN – A nice one-dish meal, chef. The protein from the eggs is the best there is; asparagus contains a lot of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and dietary fiber, and so do the tarragon and shallots.

SHALLOT VINAIGRETTE

MAKES 20CL – 2/3 CUP
PREPARATION TIME: 5 MINUTES
COOK TIME: 20 MINUTES


5 olive shallots (or regular shallots)
100 milliliter – 1/3 cup plus 1 tablespoon sherry vinegar
100 milliliter – 1/3 cup plus1tablespoon olive oil

Prepare the shallots

Peel and mince the shallots.

Make the shallot vinaigrette

Put the shallots in a small saucepan and add the vinegar. Simmer until the vinegar almost completely evaporates, about 20 minutes, stirring from time to time. Off the heat, gradually add the oil while whisking to thoroughly emulsify.

Finish

Transfer the vinaigrette to a bowl and let cool. Keep it refrigerated until serving time.

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05 2017