Archive for the ‘Restaurants’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).

Ontario food rivals the view at Elements on the Falls

Canada 150 at Horseshoe Falls in Niagara Falls, ON
A big “CANADA 150” sculpture celebrating the country’s 150th anniversary of Confederation had just been installed when we settled into a window table at Elements on the Falls Restaurant (niagaraparks.com/visit/culinary/elements-on-the-falls-restaurant/). People were having so much fun climbing on the sculpture and posing for photos that we were almost distracted from the glorious view of Horseshoe Falls.

The restaurant is one of five owned and managed by Niagara Parks. The agency was established in 1885 to preserve and protect the natural resources of Niagara Falls and the Niagara River. Niagara Parks also ensures a good time for all in this legendary natural setting. They oversee everything from cruises and zipline tours of the falls to gardens, golf courses, historic sites, and the Niagara River Recreation Trail. Their guests also eat well at the Niagara Parks restaurants.

We’re often leery of restaurants with great views. Restaurateurs sometimes think that the scenery will lead diners to overlook less than stellar food or that people will pay a premium for the view alone. But we needn’t have worried at Elements on the Falls. Our meal was every bit as good as the view.

Chef Elbert Wiersema, Elements on the Falls, Niagara Falls, ON

Elements participates in the Feast ON program (ontarioculinary.com), which promotes fresh food from Ontario province. Chef Elbert Wiersema (above) knows how to make the most of that local produce, fish, and meat. The Dutch-born chef cooked in Paris, London, and Bermuda before landing in Ontario about 15 years ago. He has cultivated a deep appreciation for the foods and wines of his adopted home.

An Ontario feast


Our first dish featured a small fillet of lake perch, fried very crisp and served with a side dish of local wild rice, farmers cheese, and fruit salsa. The mild fish matched the soft flavors of the rice and cheese, while the small cubed fruits gave a piquant counterpart to the crisp skin.

Lamb mixed grill at Elements on the Falls, Niagara Falls, ON

Chef Wiersema’s unique version of lamb mixed grill (above) had its own built-in drama. We were each served on a piece of slate where a roasted merguez sausage sat atop roasted heirloom potatoes, green onion, and asparagus. A saskatoon berry sauce made with reduced Baco Noir wine provided a sweet-tart counterpart.

As the plate was served, we were cautioned that the stone sitting on one end was very hot. Indeed it was. Chef Wiersema had selected flat-sided stones from the banks of the Niagara River, then heated them blazingly hot in the oven. The hot stone on each plate was an individual grill where we could cook our lamb sirloin steaks to taste.

The meal concluded with a salute to Canadian cuisine that evoked the very symbol of the country in this celebratory year. A crispy maple tart sat in a swash of reduced ice-cider and was garnished with tart and citrusy sea buckthorn berries. Chef kindly shared his tart recipe. We’re looking forward to trying it during New England maple season.

Maple tart at Elements on the Falls, Niagara Falls, ON

MAPLE BUTTER TARTS

Ingredients

6 sheets frozen phyllo pastry, thawed
3 Tablespoons (45 ml) melted butter

For filling
1 egg
1/2 cup (125 ml) packed brown sugar
1/2 cup (125 ml) Maple syrup
2 Tablespoons (30 ml) melted butter
1 teaspoon (5 ml) vanilla
1 teaspoon (5 ml) fresh lemon juice
1/3 cup (85 ml) coarsely chopped pecans

Directions

Preheat oven to 375°F.

Place the phyllo pastry between two sheets of waxed paper and cover with a damp tea towel. Place one sheet on a work surface, keeping the remaining sheets covered.

Brush the phyllo with some of the melted butter; top with a second sheet. Continue stacking the sheets of phyllo, brushing each with melted butter, until you have a stack of 6. Brush the top sheet well with butter. Cut into 12 even squares.

Press the squares evenly into 12 muffin cups.

In a bowl, beat the egg well with a whisk, then whisk in the sugar, maple syrup, butter, vanilla and lemon juice. Stir in the nuts.

Spoon the filling evenly into the prepared phyllo cups, being careful not to let the filling come up above the pastry. (They will appear about half full.)

Bake in the bottom third of the oven until the pastry is golden, about 15 minutes. Place the pan on a rack to cool completely.

Courtesy Chef Elbert Wiersema, Elements on the Falls, Niagara Parks

07

08 2017

Vineland Estates Winery: a clone of one’s own

Tasting room at Vineland in Niagara

“These trees are the beginnings of Canada,” David Hulley told us as he welcomed us to the cathedral-like log barn that serves as the tasting room of Vineland Estates Winery (vineland.com). “Trees were being cut down for warships. Some of them weren’t needed, so they were used for this barn.”

The 1877 structure and the landmark stone tower are among several practical and handsome buildings remaining from a 19th century Mennonite homestead. They perch on an elevated slope along the Twenty Mile Bench of the Niagara escarpment. The chinked log-cabin barn certainly makes the region’s most dramatic tasting room. The winery’s setting atop the rise among vineyards makes it among the most picturesque estates in the Niagara region.

The buildings anchor 42 acres of vineyards, including the initial 1979 plantings of the Weis 21 Riesling clone. Vineland founder Hermann Weis hails from Germany’s Mosel wine region and brought the clone that bears his family’s name to Canada. The winemaker and nurseryman was convinced that Riesling would thrive in this particular slice of the Niagara peninsula. The heat sink of Lake Ontario keeps the vineyards cool in summer and warm into the fall. The limestone soils have good drainage, and the slope between the Twenty Mile Bench and the lake encourages good air circulation. After tasting the wines in the rustic barn, we were convinced that Weis was on to something.

At the tasting bar


Pouring at Vineland in NiagaraThe Elevation Riesling is Vineland’s signature wine. It is crafted with grapes from old vines in the St. Urban vineyard surrounding the winery. The 2015 ($20) is an outstanding example of the Mosel clone flourishing in the Niagara setting. The vines are in their fourth decade and produce grapes with impressive intensity, a citrus zing, and luscious fruit with overtones of ripe peach and apricot. Fermented fairly dry, it’s a very food-friendly wine. We also tried the 2008 ($30), which was made in a sweet German auslese style. The same stone fruits are present in the mouth, and the intense acids balance the residual sugars very well. It would be perfect with a game bird stuffing with chestnut dressing.

And now the reds…


Riesling may have been the founder’s passion, but Vineland also found its niche red early on. “In Niagara, Cabernet Franc is king,” Hulley told us. “There are very few places in the world that can make pure Cabernet Franc.”

bottles in tasting room at Vineland in NiagaraBefore trying a reserve Cab Franc, we sampled the 2014 Elevation Cabernet ($28). This elegant wine is a blend of two-thirds Cabernet Franc, one-third Cabernet Sauvignon. It was aged for 15 months in French oak with a light toast. The Cabernet Sauvignon contributes powerfully to the cedar and elderberry nose, but Cabernet Franc and its vegetative tannins dominate the mouth. It needs a few more years in the bottle—or a salty piece of meat—to show at its best. A fully mature 2009 Elevation Cabernet ($75) demonstrates a more harmonious marriage of the grapes. The tannins have softened and the fruit flavors have overtaken the vegetative flavors. The lush wine lingers on the palate like a sunset’s afterglow.

Perhaps the best middle ground is the 2012 Vineland Estate Cabernet Franc Reserve ($50). It’s mostly (89%) Cabernet Franc with a mellowing touch of Merlot (9%) and just a hint of Cabernet Sauvignon. In a tasting, it shows leather and coffee on the nose and rich black fruits with bittersweet chocolate in the mouth. It makes you hungry for a steak.

At the table


Vineland also opened one of the first winery-based fine dining restaurants in the area. Simply called “The Restaurant,” it occupies an 1845 farmhouse (above) with expansive views across the vineyards. Executive chef Justin Downes grew up in the town of Vineland and studied at Niagara College. Like many Niagara chefs, he has a firm commitment to local products. After the teaser of the wine tasting, we were eager to pair some of the estate’s wines with Downes’ food.

charcuterie at Vineland restaurant in NiagaraThe flagship 2015 Vineland Riesling proved its versatility with our first two courses. The lemon-lime zestiness of the wine balanced nicely with a plate of briny Nova Scotia oysters on the half shell. With that wine, a mignonette was superfluous. Then Downes surprised us with a stunning platter that was almost a study in the branches of charcuterie. It included a marvelously mellow pâté de campagne with just a touch of brandy, an unctuous medallion of pork rillettes, thin slices of duck prosciutto, cured pork loin, and a chorizo with a healthy dose of black peppercorns. The pickled onions and green beans provided an acid counterpart. Once again, the Riesling more than held its own.

Every course was carefully thought out and meticulously executed. One pairing that surprised us was roasted quail with a kale pesto, wild spring mushrooms, a sunnyside-up quail egg, and a dab of ricotta. Downes served it with the 2014 Elevation Cabernet—the same wine we found too closed in the tasting. The salty little quail brought the wine alive. Because the meat had such a concentrated flavor from the browning, it stood up just fine to the wine. Below is the dish—beautiful and rustic at the same time.

quail at Vineland restaurant in Niagara

Overviews

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).

Tawse and Redstone prove Niagara wine’s a natural

Tasting wine at Tawse Winery in Niagara
Toronto financier Moray Tawse is a lifelong lover of both red and white Burgundy. A happenstance tasting of a great Chardonnay from an obscure (and now defunct) Niagara winery changed his real estate shopping plans back in 2001. Rather than seeking out vineyards to buy in Burgundy, he turned his attention to the fledgling Twenty Valley, which comprises vineyards in Beamsville, Vineland, and Jordan in the town of Lincoln and extends eastward to the city of St. Catharines. A wine geek’s heaven, this region is a patchwork of different soils and subsoils. The Twenty Valley chicken clearly crossed the road because it preferred the terroir on the other side. Now Twenty Valley is home to more than 50 wineries. (For details, see Niagara’s Twenty Valley web site at www.20valley.ca or Visit Niagara at www.visitniagaracanada.com.)

In 2001, Moray Tawse bought his first 9-acre property, and in 2005 opened Tawse Winery (tawsewinery.ca). Tawse has expanded to five vineyards encompassing 200 acres and has been named Canadian Winery of the Year four times.

Tawse Winery in NiagaraTawse wines are organic and biodynamic. (The winery has both Ecocert and Demeter certification.) A regular farm menagerie assists in the vineyards. Sheep graze on the lower canopy of the vines, while horses crop the upper canopy. Chickens strut up and down the rows, eating bugs and picking out weeds around the trunks and between the vines. Architectural ingenuity helps make the winery (see below) all the more sustainable. Taking advantage of a hillside location, every operation is gravity-fed. Burgundy-based Pascal Marchand—a rock star among flying winemakers—advises Tawse Winery on every step of the process. Niagara College-trained Paul Pender makes the wines and oversees the vineyards.

Tastes of Tawse


All the certifications in the world mean nothing if the wines don’t live up to it. But they do. In fact, the Tawse wines as a group are outstanding. They vinify more than 90 wines each year, including 13-14 different Chardonnays from slightly different terroir.

We tasted the 2012 Estate Chardonnay—a barrel-fermented white made in the style of a Maconnais. The oak is well-balanced as a background note, letting the apple and melon notes come to the fore on the palate. It retails at $38. We also tried a 2015 Limestone Ridge Riesling ($24). It’s a perfect wine for light meats sauced with acidic marinades or rubs—roast pork with applesauce, for example, or chicken lemon pasta. The aromatic Riesling dominates but in this cold year, there’s a distinct green apple acidity in the mouth. The vineyard is planted over two types of soil. Grapes from the limestone northern half go to Tawse. Grapes from the red clay southern half go to Redstone (see below).

The 2011 Cherry Avenue Pinot Noir ($49) is the Tawse flagship red. The vineyards were 9 years old when the grapes were picked, and the wine shows great promise as the vines mature. The nose of violets and black cherries gives way to a rounded, fruity wine with a suggestion of pomegranate, menthol, eucalyptus, and warm spices on the palate. It is classic cold-climate Pinot Noir—lean and elegant as a greyhound.

Redstone Winery in Niagara, owned by Moray Tawse

Redstone, brawny sibling to Tawse


When Tawse began expanding his holdings in 2009, he bought some vineyards planted in the red clay soils of the Lincoln Lakeshore sub-appellation (still part of the Twenty Valley region). The first vintage in 2010 was so radically different from the Tawse wines that Moray Tawse decided that the vineyards needed their own winery and own identity.

So Redstone Winery (redstonewines.ca) was born. Moray Tawse took the opportunity to build a new winery with a big tasting room and a fine restaurant, making Redstone especially visitor-friendly. The integrated operation raises its own lamb, chicken, and duck and buys beef, rabbit, and venison from nearby Ontario farms.

Wines show Canadian cheekiness


Redstone tasting bar in Niagara, owned by Moray TawseAs the red-clay soils of the property are ideal for late-maturing Cabernet Franc, Merlot, and Cabernet Sauvignon, the winery’s identity is tied to the Bordeaux reds. Redstone also produces a powerful Syrah, a Chablis-style Chardonnay, as well as some Riesling and Sauvignon Blanc. Like Tawse, all wines are certified organic and biodynamic.

sparkling rose at Redstone in Niagara, owned by Moray TawseWines here range from a frisky sparkling rosé available only at the winery to a robust Rhone-style Syrah ($40) that practically cries out for roast leg of lamb studded with garlic and rosemary sprigs. The Reserve Chardonnay ($30) hails from the south half of the Limestone Ridge vineyard shared by Tawse and Redstone. Winemaker Rene Van Ede is Australian, and his wines have that Down Under rowdiness. This Chardonnay tastes like a New World rambunctious cousin of Chablis. It has a fruit forward expression of lemon, sweet apple, and a notable toasty oak. The lush texture lingers a long, long time.

We also sampled the 2013 Cabernet Franc ($40). An elegant expression of Cabernet that could use a few more years in the bottle, it is a little closed right now. Swirled in the glass, it gives up a distinct black pepper aroma on top of ripe blackcurrants and dark cherry. The nose suggests a jammy quality not present in the mouth. Slightly puckery, it has layer after layer of dark fruit still restrained by its tannins. Give it a year or two and it should drink like a bodyguard in a tuxedo.

25

07 2017

Niagara Peninsula: the next great foodie destination

Red rose and white on the Niagara Peninsula
We went for the wine, but we stayed for the food. Serious winemaking with vinifera grapes began in the Niagara Peninsula in 1975. When we last visited about 15 years ago, Niagara icewines were world class and table wines were making tremendous strides. An Ontario wine dinner in Toronto last fall (hungrytravelers.com/ontario-wine-country-becomes-world-player) convinced us that Niagara has matured as an important producer of good wines. So in late May we packed up the car and drove across Massachusetts and upstate New York. We spent a week exploring this bucolic peninsula that sits about an hour’s drive east of Toronto.

Niagara wine region map
Most of the wineries lie in a band of soils and climatic conditions between the limestone ridge of the Niagara escarpment and the south shore of Lake Ontario. As the map above shows, the main communities in this region are (from west to east) Lincoln, Beamsville, Vineland, St. Catherine’s, Niagara-on-the-Lake, and St. David’s. (You can download a full version at mtc.gov.on.ca/images/regions_maps/Region02.pdf.) The fertile wine country barely extends more than a dozen miles south of the lake. The great tourist destination of Niagara Falls lies a few miles farther south.

wine route sign in NiagaraBlue roadside markers with a stylized cluster of grapes seem to beckon: “This way to the wine!” If there were any doubt, they’re labeled “Wine Route.” Come to a crossroads in wine country, and the signs may not tell you the name of the road. But they will tell you which wineries are somewhere along the route. According to the Vintner’s Quality Alliance of Ontario (vqaontario.ca), more than 90 wineries fall within the Niagara Peninsula appellation. Most of them encourage visitors.

Tasting and grazing through Niagara


The rural area is so compact that you can pick a base anywhere and drive everywhere else. We spent our time partly based at Inn on the Twenty (innonthetwenty.com) (right). room at Inn on the Twenty in NIagara
It’s in Jordan Station, a village of Lincoln. We spent another segment at the swanky Prince of Wales Hotel (vintage-hotels.com/princeofwales) in Niagara-on-the-Lake. And, we must admit, we also visited Niagara Falls because, well, it is one of the seven wonders of the world. And the Canadian side is one fabulous linear park on the high embankment. For full details on lodging and information on other attractions, see visitniagaracanada.com.

Sculpture at Good Earth in NiagaraThe eating is usually good in wine country throughout the world. It’s better than good in Niagara. This region is so rooted in agriculture that we wondered if some locals possess the DNA for chlorophyll production. From farmers to chefs to servers, Niagara folk have a profound appreciation for the gifts of the earth. Chefs fully embrace the trend toward local sourcing, and some of them go a step or more beyond. At the best restaurants, dining is so purely local that it’s almost like eating on the farm. A few places, in fact, are surrounded by fields, fruit trees, and grapevines—as this whimsical 2011 Fork in the Road by Floyd Elzinga attests. It sits at the edge of a vineyard at the Good Earth Food & Wine Company (goodearthfoodandwine.com) as you enter the wine shop and bistro.

Just as Niagara vineyards have perfected the art of making cold-climate wines (citrusy Chardonnay, berry-licious Gamay, red-pepper ripe Cabernet Franc, and honeyed Riesling), the chefs welcome the challenges of indigenous cold-climate cuisine. Despite global warming, periodic visits by the polar vortex keep Niagara honest. The food speaks of the lower Rhone valley in summer, but it shares more with Copenhagen and Dublin the rest of the year.

Watch this space for details.

15

07 2017

Harvest brings Battersby’s big tastes from small kitchen

Walker Stern of Batersby signs cookbooks at Harvest
A few times a year our neighborhood restaurant in Harvard Square, Harvest (harvestcambridge.com), holds a Sunday supper in its “The Book & the Cook Series.” These 6 p.m. suppers remind us of being back in Europe, gathering for a less than formal meal at the end of the weekend, often around a big table.

Tyler Kinnett, Harvest executive chefMind you, the meals are far more elegant than our Euro repasts. They invariably feature a cookbook author who is also a chef. With input from the author, Harvest’s executive chef Tyler Kinnett (right) and pastry chef Joshua Livesay oversee a meal compiled (or sometimes adapted) from the cookbook. Their realizations are invariably spot-on. They demonstrate both the skill of the Harvest staff and their willingness to step into the background and let the visiting chef take the spotlight. Dinners usually include a signed copy of the book and some fascinating wine or beer pairings at a very reasonable price.

This most recent dinner featured Walker Stern (at top) from Battersby (battersbybrooklyn.com) in Brooklyn. The cookbook is called Battersby: Extraordinary Food from an Ordinary Kitchen (Grand Central, $35). The so-called ordinary kitchen is not much bigger than our own galley setup. Two or three cooks work in a tiny spot with a six-burner stove, one oven, and a narrow prep counter. They serve 70 covers a night. We never manage more than four.

unloading fish in San SebastianThe secret of that productivity is extreme prep. The cookbook reflects that. Recipes are divided into two parts: “To Prep” and “To Serve.” Frankly, it’s the way we love to cook. More to the point, the food is what we like to cook and like to eat. Stern and co-chef Joseph Ogrodnek were CIA classmates who trained with a number of top chefs, most notably Alain Ducasse. Their taste palate skews Mediterranean, with a stronger French accent than Spanish or Italian. But one of the dishes served at the dinner was a purely Basque bowl–seared tuna served on a stew of red peppers and onions called a piperade. As the Battersby cookbook points out, Basque chefs take great pride in their idiosyncratic recipes for piperade. The Battersby version juices the pepper trimmings and adds them to the stew, which intensifies the sweetness. The flavors catapulted us back to San Sebastian. The picture at left above, in fact, shows fishermen unloading the ground fish catch at the San Sebastian docks.

Battersby tuna piperade at Harvest

GRILLED TUNA WITH PIPERADE AND SPANISH HAM


Serves 4

TO PREP

Ingredients


6 red bell peppers
1 medium Spanish onion
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 thin slice Iberico ham (or prosciutto di Parma)
4 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
Kosher salt
1 teaspoon smoked paprika

Directions


Trim off the tops and bottoms of the peppers, reserving them. Peel the peppers, cut them in half, and remove and discard the seeds and ribs. Cut the peppers into julienne strips.

Peel the onion and cut it into julienne strips. Set aside.

Juice the tops and bottoms of the peppers. If you do not have a juicer, put them in a blender, blend with just enough water to engage the blender’s blade, then strain through a fine mesh strainer into a small bowl. You should have 1/2 cup pepper juice.

Heat the oil over medium heat in a pot that will hold all the ingredients comfortably. When the oil is just shimmering, add the onions and ham and cook, stirring occasionally until the onions are softened but not browned, about 4 minutes. Add the garlic and cook over very low heat, stirring often, until the garlic and onions are very soft but not browned, about 15 minutes. Add the julienned peppers and season with salt and paprika.

Cover the pot and continue to cook over very low heat. After about 5 minutes, check to see if the onions and peppers have given off a lot of their liquid (if not, continue to cook a few minutes more), then remove the cover, raise the heat to medium, and bring the juices to a simmer. Cook until the juices have almost completely evaporated, about 5 minutes. Reduce the heat to low, add the reserved pepper juice, and cook, uncovered, until the peppers are very soft and the mixture is saucy, about 30 minutes.

The piperade can to used right away or refrigerated in an airtight container for up to 2 days.

TO SERVE

Ingredients


4 (6-ounce) tuna steaks, ideally 1 1/2 inches thick
Kosher salt
Korean chili powder
Sherry vinegar
Extra-virgin olive oil
Freshly ground black pepper
8 thin slices Iberico ham (or prosciutto di Parma)

Directions


Heat a gas grill to high or prepare a charcoal grill for grilling, letting the coals burn until covered with white ash.

Season the tuna with salt and chili powder. Grill the fillets until the bottoms are lightly charred and the fish is just starting to turn opaque on the bottom, 2-3 minutes or a bit longer for well-done. (The Battersby chefs like the fish rare in this dish.) Turn the fillets over and grill until cooked on the other side, 2 or 3 minutes more.

Meanwhile, gently reheat the piperade. (You can do this in a pot set on the grill.) Freshen it with a drizzle of vinegar and a drizzle of olive oil and season with salt and pepper.

Divide the piperade among four plates or wide, shallow bowls. Top each serving with a tuna fillet and finish by topping each fillet with 2 pieces of ham. Serve.

02

07 2017

Zucchi oils exemplify art of blending EVOOs

Francesca Tiberto and Giovanni Zucchi

To blend or not to blend? We’d like to believe that the world’s best olive oil is pressed in Jaén province in Spain from Picual olives. That’s the oil we like on a Caprese salad made with fresh mozzarella and garden tomatoes. But more than a thousand cultivars of Olea europaea trees grow around the Mediterranean basin, and most are used for making oil as well as for cured and brined olives. Which really are best?

Every Spaniard, Italian, Greek, or French person believes that the best oil comes from the family olive grove. They are right because it’s a matter of taste. Surprisingly, most olive oils are blends. They might be blended at harvest from groves with many cultivars. They might be blended after pressing. They might be blended from pressings of green and ripe olives picked from the same trees at different times. Or they might be blended from oils made in many different countries.

Learning to blend

Blending setup at Zucchi workshop

Historically, the master olive oil blenders have been Italian. One of those great companies, Oleificio Zucchi (zucchi.us), launched in 1810. Finally bringing its line of extra virgin olive oils to the U.S., the company is holding blending workshops to demonstrate its approach. We joined one last week at Mamma Maria restaurant (mammamaria.com) in Boston’s North End. Francesca Tiberto (top left), Zucchi’s taster and blend master, led the session. Giovanni Zucchi (top right), managing director and author of Olive Oil Doesn’t Grow on Trees, provided technical details.

The point of blending is to produce a consistent product with the same flavor profile year after year. To get a feel for the artistry involved, we tasted four samples of extra virgin olive oil from four different cultivars and three different countries. With Tiberto’s guidance, we scored each sample on its intensity of fruitiness, bitterness, and spiciness. We also ascribed other taste overtones—flowers, artichoke, green grass, apple, ripe fruits, sweet and bitter almond, and so on.

Al proprio gusto

pouring olive oil after blendingIn a more challenging test, we then used a graduated column to make individual blends of the samples. By blending small batches to start, we could experiment until we found a blend that suited us. Our final 250ml bottle contained 50 percent Cerasuola oil from Sicily, 20 percent light Koroneiki oil from Crete, 20 percent soft Arbequina oil from Cordoba province in Spain, and 10 percent sharp Hojiblanca oil from Estepa in Spain’s Sevilla province.

We like the blend just fine, but we tasted Zucchi’s line of oils with Mamma Maria dishes, and all four (Sinfonia, 100% Italian, Sweet and Fruity, and Organic) were more nuanced than our product. The lesson here is that it takes a master blender to make a master blend. At this point, Zucchi oils are available at Big Y supermarkets (bigy.com) in the Massachusetts and Connecticut, King Kullen markets (kingkullen.com) in New York, and Dave’s Fresh Pasta (dfp.website) in Davis Square in Somerville, Mass. Retail is $11-$12 per 500ml bottle. When our garden tomatoes arrive, we plan to try the Organic Extra Virgin on a Caprese salad—the ultimate test.

Zucchi olive oils

27

06 2017

Biserno wines burnish the potential of Cabernet Franc

Marchese Lodovico Antinori at Tenuta di Biserno wine dinner in Boston.

As a young man, the Marchese Lodovico Antinori (above) helped revolutionize Italian winemaking with his Bordeaux-blend powerhouse wines from Ornellaia. But he had more surprises in store. After selling Ornellaia, he became intrigued about the potential for Cabernet Franc in the region around Bolghieri. So he acquired a 99-year lease on land that had been growing wheat and olives in nearby Bibbona. Here, he and his brother Piero, established the Tenuta di Biserno estate (www.biserno.it/tenuta-di-biserno/).

The unique microclimate and mixture of clay and stony soils at the property let the brothers concentrate on different Bordeaux varietals than Lodovico had at Ornellaia. Between 2001 and 2005, the Tenuta di Biserno planted more than 120 acres. Cabernet Franc was the principal grape, but more than 10 percent of the vineyards contained Petit Verdot, the often silent sister of the Bordeaux grape family. Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon—usually the dominant grapes in Bordeaux blends—made up the rest.

Patricia Harris and Lodovico Antinori discuss Tenuta di Biserno wines.

“My daughter Sophia was was born in 1999,” Lodovico Antinori explained last week at a dinner in Boston. “For my last project, I wanted her to have a high quality estate that she could continue.” We guess that people who hail from illustrious wine families think in generations and centuries. As Sophia enters college in England, Tenuta di Biserno is also maturing. It already ranks as one of the most remarkable wine estates in Tuscany, even though the wines are identified by only as Indicazione Geografica Tipica di Toscana, or “guaranteed Tuscan wine.” Tenuta di Biserno wines have too high a percentage of Cabernet Franc to be sold as Bolghieri DOC. But the Marchese is undaunted. The Biserno wines, he believes (and we concur) prove the potential of the Cabernet Franc grape to produce not just good wine, but great wine. As the years pass, Tenuta di Biserno could become one of the most remarkable producers in Italy.

Steak dinner at Grill 23 Tenuta di Biserno dinner.This wine dinner at Grill 23, one of Boston’s most illustrious steak houses, was a showcase for the winery. A classic three-course steak dinner paired 2012 and 2014 selections of Pino di Biserno with a Caesar salad, 2010 and 2012 selections of Biserno with a spectacular boneless ribeye, and the rare Lodovico 2011 with a selection of French, Swiss, and Italian cheeses. All the wines were opened four to five hours before dinner began. The Marchese hosted the dinner and introduced the wines as representatives from Kobrand, his importer and distributor, poured.

Pino di Biserno


Pino di Biserno Typically made from grapes from younger vines, Pino di Biserno is designed to be accessible and ready to drink when still young. The differences between the 2012 and 2014 were fascinating. The younger version was a typical Biserno blend with Cabernet Franc and Merlot taking the lead on the nose and the palate respectively. Big and juicy with intense blackcurrant and black cherry notes in the nose and warm spice flavors in the mouth, it is a model of accessibility. Of the two, the 2012 is more elegant and velvety than the 2014. It has just a hint of slightly green Cabernet Franc on the back of the palate. The Marchese noted that some of the top grapes that might have gone into Biserno were reserved for the Pino in 2012 to ensure that it would be a good vintage. Delicious with the pungent anchovy of the salad, it would be equally special with dark chocolate. List price at release is around $85.

Biserno


Biserno bottleThe flagship wine of the estate, Biserno is produced with grapes hand-selected on the sorting tables for optimal ripeness. It is a wine made principally from Cabernet Franc with varying degrees of the other Bordeaux grapes in the blend. Merlot is always present for a juicy body, and Cabernet Sauvignon content varies from year to year. Color in the glass is a deep ruby red. Once the wine opens up, the nose is dominated by blackberries, anise, and the toasty notes of freshly ground coffee. Tannins are considerable but well balanced and mature, with a strong backbone provided by ripe Petit Verdot. The 2010 was a classic Bordeaux-style wine from a nice, sunny year, and it is a perfectly balanced and powerful wine. The 2012 is already the more interesting wine with tremendous complexity from a very stressful early growing season with scant rain. Delicious with food, it’s also a wine for contemplative sipping. List price at release is around $180.

Lodovico


Lodovico from Tenuta di BisernoWith only about 6,000 bottles per vintage, Lodovico is the jewel of the Biserno estate. It is made entirely from Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot from a single small individual parcel—and only in years with optimal harvest. The 2011 Lodovico in current release comes from a spectacular season that concluded with a warm and dry September. Cabernet Franc makes up 90 percent of the blend, and the wine is evidence that this parent of Cabernet Sauvignon can hold its own with its more prestigious offspring. In the Upper Maremma, Cabernet Franc ripens more completely than it does in Bordeaux, producing not only fully ripe sugars but also optimally ripe tannins. In the right hands, it produces great wines of resonant power and elegant sophistication. For the record, Tenuta di Biserno’s winemaker is Helena Lindberg, while Lodovico’s long-time collaborator, Michel Rolland, serves as consultant.

This Lodovico 2011 reminds us of a champion thoroughbred racehorse. It is silky and muscular, with beautiful deep violet tones in the glass. It possesses striking grace, poise, and barely restrained power. The tannin structure is very refined, letting the blackcurrant and spice notes come forward in lockstep. The finish goes on forever. The 2011, the Marchese says, finally represents the maturity of the vineyard. It is a great wine with a long, long future. List price for the 2011 is $500.

09

06 2017

M Rosé d’Anjou is perfect with seaside lobster roll

 Rosé d'Anjou with lobster roll at Lobster Pool on Folly Cove in Rockport, Mass.
Wine is subtle, wine is complex, wine can even be a transcendent experience. But sometimes wine is just a pleasant drink that harmonizes with the mood of the day. That’s the way we think of rosés from Anjou.

Located in the Angers region in Beaulieu-sur-Layon, Château de la Mulonnière (www.chateaumulonniere.com) is one of those historic estates that’s been making exceptional wines for more than 150 years. The house produces two levels—the old-vine production labeled under the full name, and the entry-level wines under the “M” label.

TrBottle shot of rosé d'Anjouy level rosé works for us. We took a bottle of the 2015 M Rosé d’Anjou with us to the Lobster Pool in Rockport, Massachusetts, on a recent balmy day. Conveniently, this excellent lobster shack with outdoor tables on Folly Cove has a BYOB license. Equally convenient, the wine comes with a screw-off cap—as should all wines meant to be drunk within a year or two of release.

With a brilliant pink color, this rosé is light and delicately fruity on the nose with faint raspberry aromas. The excellent level of acids and the notes of red fruit and spice make it a nearly perfect pairing with a simple lobster roll. The salinity of the lobster intensifies the floral qualities of the wine. The acidity is a nice counterbalance to the unctuousness of rich lobster and the dab of mayonnaise mixed in to make the pieces cohere in a bun. Château de la Mulonnière also suggests drinking it with tomato salads or barbecued meats. (It would be great with grilled Toulouse sausage.)

A true Loire valley blend, Cabernet Franc dominates with a bit of Cabernet-Sauvignon and Gamay providing their respective fruit notes. The M Rosé d’Anjou lists at $15. The Lobster Pool (978-546-7808, thelobsterpool.com) is located at 329 Granite Street, Rockport, Massachusetts.

02

06 2017

Fall River has grip on wacky sandwiches

Kelley Benjamin delivers two chow mein sandwiches at Mee Sum Restaurant and Cocktail Lounge in Fall River.
In its heyday, Fall River, Massachusetts, was a factory town par excellence. And that’s just the sort of place where the need for economy meets the imagination of restaurateurs to produce some of the most innovative and inexpensive casual eats. Just as ballplayers of old seemed to spring full-formed from the soil of America’s farms, some of the wackiest contributions to American handheld cuisine spring from the creativity of grill cooks and chefs of the country’s lunch counters and diners.

Fall River sandwiches page 1And Fall River has some great ones, as we detailed this past Sunday in the Boston Globe‘s travel section. (Read the story here.) It doesn’t spoil the fun to hint at the menu. It includes the chouriço and fries sub at Nick’s Coney Island Hot Dogs, the grated and melted cheese sandwich (with or without meat sauce) at J.J.’s Coney Island, and the chow mein sandwich from Mee Sum Restaurant and Cocktail Lounge. At the top of this post, Kelley Benjamin delivers our chow mein sandwiches. We chose to devour them open-faced, which is the less messy approach.

09

05 2017