Food for thought

Food for thought

Published by Francis Elms on 20th Nov 2023

Photo: Obsessed by veg?  

The weather's turned cooler and the fresh, crispy, summer salad "greens" have now been replaced by root vegetables, broccoli, cabbage and plenty of great British spuds piled high on your dinner plate. Pies and roasts have taken priority on menus, ousting thoughts of picnic fayre with chilled rosé wines.

Autumn brings about thoughts of warming, comfort food paired with richer, heavier wines when compared with the recent fun and frothy summertime bottles. Whether your favourites are carnivorous, pescatarian, or vegan friendly, there's something special out there just for you! Fashions change and, these days, nothing is really out of place if done right. Go for quality ingredients and make the recipe yourself where you can. Add your own personal touches to make it a unique tasting memory. Maybe, you'll just alter the herbs or spices used, perhaps you'll try a different wine than the one you always have. Below are a few ideas you might want to experiment with this season. There's no smoke & mirrors, nor "Heston" style wizardry required! But, if you're that good, you won't need to read this, you'll be creating your next culinary masterpiece and waiting for the next Michelin star to arrive.

Chapoutier "Combe Pilate" Viognier

North Africa, and particularly Morocco, is renowned for its use of dried fruits, spices and the tagine cooking pot for making everything from goat, lamb and chicken turn into something that's simply mouth-watering. But can it work without the meat? Well, the answer is a resounding YES.

Being both a moderate fish and meat eater, I have no problem in suggesting this vegan recipe with a bottle of classy Viognier. Really simple to make, with the only "cooking" being adding boiling water to the couscous and simply chopping up various fruits and vegetables! Once your couscous has reached its correct consistency, serve your grain with cucumber, dried apricots, peppers, olives and tomatoes then drizzle with lemon-infused oil. For my own personal taste, a few red chillies in the mix would make the dish even better. What could be easier?

As for the wine, Chapoutier are well-known for their organic and biodynamic production and the "Combe Pilate" vineyards yield a wine which has a beautifully spicy, apricot flavour with a flinty, mineral texture adding pizazz to your couscous. Add some Moroccan heat into a cold, miserable November day with this food and wine pairing.

Akemi Rioja Blanco Felix Jimenez

If you're old enough to remember the hugely successful 70s "Kung Fu" TV series starring David Carradine you might be thinking, "Wow, he's aged really well... must be all of that quality sushi he's consumed over the past five decades".

But no, the "monk" is really a top chef, Spaniard, Felix Jimenez, who has made his name (and the odd Michelin Star) for his take on fine Japanese cuisine in his Logroño-based restaurant. His first venture, Kiro, has now been relocated in the town and only serves water and tea, so leaving his signature white wine available for us, mere mortals, to drink with our Edomae salmon & rosemary, or blue fin tuna "maki" with hot kimchee sauce.

I know, I know. "Kung Fu" is a Chinese martial art, not Japanese, and "Kimchee" is Korean, but this is a bit of "poetic license" on my part for this blog. Don't be so pedantic. Relax, have yourself a well-deserved glass of wine ...

And this wine, looking like a bottle of traditional sake is, in fact, the  Akemi white Rioja. Oak aged, old vine Viura is the base for this delicious, textural white. Its weight and creaminess on the palate makes it an outstanding match with heavier fish, or with poultry cooked in white sauces. The Japanese idea of food and wine pairing centres on feel and texture with balance being critical to the whole experience.

"Ah, Grasshopper!"

Charles Withington "Roan Ranger"

For all you meat eaters out there, this is one you need to try. Swap out your usual takeaway chicken tikka masala curry and go for a  bobotie.

"Cape Bobotie" is uniquely South African, and this dish has been influenced by Dutch, British, Indonesian and African cuisine, developing over time with secret family recipes passed down over the generations. Similar to a moussaka, it's based on mildly spiced (curry powder & bay leaves), curried meat (usually ground beef) with apricot jam, fruit chutney and an egg based custard as a topping. Serve with a basmati style, yellow rice, along with vegetables (green peas and butternut squash). Top with sliced banana or even coconut for sweetness. The variations are endless. 

If you like a dish that's not too spicy, a Grenache-based red wine will instantly give you notes of red fruits and sweet spices adding another layer of warmth to your home made bobotie. Charles Withington has made wines in South Africa for over 30 years, moving to the Western Cape region of Darling in the early 2000s. Here, Rhone grape varieties, well suited to the local climate, are grown to great success and " Roan Ranger" is an oak aged blend of three of the best: Grenache, Cinsaut and Mourvedre. Having a curry night in? Try a bottle of spicy Withington with it.

Lonardi Valpolicella Ripasso Classico Superiore

Everyone loves an  Amarone and, if you're in the vicinity of Verona, you might want to visit the "Romeo & Juliet" balcony to express your affection for the wine! If Amarone is out of your league, a "Ripasso" is much more affordable. If you're playing "Romeo" you'll still need to brush up on your serenading if you want to take "Juliet" to dinner, where this autumn dessert delight, a goat's cheese and fig tart, will blend savoury with sweetness. A dreamy combination of goat's cheese, onion purée, double cream and delicate puff pastry with juicy figs, capers, black olives and pine nuts all contributing to the greatest food love affair on earth! Don't forget to drizzle extra virgin olive oil when serving.

Lonardi's  Ripasso Classico has soft, cherry fruit flavours from the blend of Corvina, Rondinella and Molinara grapes matured in ex-amarone barrels for 12 months. Try this wine and you can still afford the flowers and chocolates!

[A hand-written, side note found recently in the margin of Shakespeare's draft copy of his masterful play] .

Juliet: O Romeo, Romeo, wherefore art thou "Caprino"? (FYI, all you Romeos, that means "goat's cheese").

[Obviously, this line was only used in the "director's cut" special edition].

With December looming, I hope you're well stocked with a selection of mince pies. Sweet sherry is the traditional tipple with this Christmas staple, but I fancy a glass of Brut Champagne with mine. Yes, it really works, but I'm getting ahead of myself. It is still Autumn.

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