Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Oh yes, the picture above is not from today, this week, or even this gorgeous Southern spring season. It’s simply a fond memory of tomatoes from summers past. Ahhhhh. In my perfect world, tomatoes would be in season all year round. Here above the *gnat line in Georgia, we usually start getting local tomatoes in June, with the season running all the way to late September. I call this recipe, a “cheater” - it cheats the bland out-of-season tomatoes by roasting them in a hot oven, so it concentrates their flavor.

I mentioned this bruschetta during a segment on Atlanta & Co recently, and received more than one email from viewers who asked for the recipe. (I’m not the only one who loves, loves, loves juicy good tomatoes!) So I have taken the time to write down the recipe that I use so often - its an easy go-to for an appetizer or even lunch and dinner. Smear a little hummus on the bread before you top it with the tomatoes, it's a super lunch. Serve the tomatoes on top of whole wheat penne pasta and garnish freshly grated Parmesan, dinner’s done.

Roasted Tomato Bruschetta

2 - 3 LBs Plum or Roma Tomatoes, halved, (If its summertime – feel free to use what ever kind of ripe tomatoes you like)
3 TB Extra Virgin Olive Oil, plus more for drizzling or spraying the bread.
2 TB Balsamic Vinegar
1 Tsp Grated Garlic
Sea Salt and Freshly Ground Black Pepper to taste
1 Baguette, preferable whole wheat
Basil Leaves, in chiffonade, (thin strips) for garnish.

Step One
Preheat the oven to 425F. Place the tomatoes, skin side up on an aluminum foil lined sheet tray and slide them into the oven. (This is the time to use non-stick aluminum foil – its expensive, but worth it when you are roasting “sticky” tomatoes.) Roast the tomatoes until the skin is browned and blistered and tomatoes are very tender, about 30 minutes. Cool tomatoes on the pan, leaving the oven on.

Step Two
While the tomatoes are cooling, cut the bread into diagonal slices and sprinkle or spray with olive oil. Sprinkle with salt and pepper and slide into the 425F oven. Cook until golden about 10 minutes – flipping halfway through the time.

Step Three
Scrape the tomatoes into a bowl with the olive oil, vinegar, garlic and a sprinkle of salt and pepper. (They will fall apart if they are cooked correctly.) Toss well and spread on the toasted baguette slices, garnishing with basil.

“Above the gnat line in Georgia” – isn’t that a funny saying? The gnat line starts in South Georgia and runs all the way up the state until it reaches Macon. The gnats we are talking about here are the itsy-teensy black insects that seem to appear out of nowhere in the spring and summer. Mitchell County in Georgia even holds an annual festival called Gnat Days – and that my friends, is a great example of turning lemons into lemonade!

Sunday, March 20, 2016

Traveling and Tasting: All about the Rhone!

If you like Big Reds and Crisp Whites, then wines from France’s Rhone Valley are for you! And the food? Oh! The food. Lyon, the northern anchor of the Rhone Valley has often been called the gastronomic capital of France. The city of Lyon boasts the largest collection of renaissance buildings in France and was once the center of the silk making industry.

If you’ve ever visited this fascinating city, you may agree with me that it is a destination worth exploring. I love Paris, but for my money Lyon is the city that draws me back again and again.
A market in Lyon
 The whole of the Rhone is from Lyon to Avignon, a distance of 200 kilometers, with only 20 kilometers without vines. The first 100 kilometers makes up the Northern Rhone and the remaining 80 kilometers, (after the area with no vines), is called the Southern Rhone. Lots of varietals (grape varieties) are grown in the Rhone, but if you know that the two red varieties, Syrah and Grenache are the most widely grown, you’ll know more than most Americans! And here’s another hint: Syrah is almost always predominant in Northern Rhone, in the South its Grenache.
Guigal Vineyards in Cote Rotie
Have you heard of the word “terroir”? (The French are always talking about “terroir”). If you haven’t heard this word before, the easiest way to understand its meaning is as a “taste of the place”. The soil, climate, weather, and location where the grapes are grown all have a part to play in the way the wine tastes.

Terroir is king in the Rhone! I’ve heard Guy Sarton du Jonchay, General Manager of the much acclaimed winery Barton Guestier say that, “The winemaker is not the winemaker – in old world God is the terroir.” From Roman amphitheater-like vineyards in the northern part to the rolling hills and valleys of the south, the “terroir” makes the wine taste delicious – and very different.

Bottles at Chateau Beaucastel
Just because its France, doesn’t mean the wine has to be expensive! Of course, a big Chateauneuf du Pape will set you back at least fifty dollars, but its easy to find a Southern Rhone wine full of Grenache with juicy-cherry-candy flavors for less than twenty. A Cotes du Rhone that’s full-bodied with medium acidity from a prolific, (and very good) winery like Perrin can easily pair with dishes with pork, cheese, and even barbeque.

Whites from this area tend to be one of three grapes, Viognier in the Northern Rhone and Marsanne and Roussanne in the South. One of my favorite food pairings ever, has been a Southern Rhone with a spicy - not hot Chicken Curry. I’ve also enjoyed Viognier with a Thai coconut shrimp soup. Instead of automatically reaching for a Riesling or Gewurtzminer the next time you are enjoying Asian food, try one of the whites from the Rhone – I think you will be pleasantly surprised at the match.

If your goal is to drink French wine fluently, the Rhone Valley is a good place to start. Lots of diversity in wine and grapes, with food that is both wonderful on its on, and as a perfect pair with wines from the area.

Here’s a couple of Rhone inspired recipes, perfect to pair with a Cotes du Rhone, any time of the year!

Baked Ratatouille with Goat Cheese

1 Large or 2 Small Eggplants, Sliced in ½” Rounds
3 Large Zucchini, Sliced in ½” Rounds
2 TB Olive Oil
1 TB Italian Seasoning
Sea Salt and Black Pepper to taste
1 Recipe Perfectly Easy Tomato Sauce*
15 OZ Goat Cheese, Sliced in Rounds ½” Thick
Julienned Fresh Basil for Garnish

Step One Toss the sliced eggplant and zucchini together with the olive oil, Italian seasoning and a good sprinkle of salt and pepper. Spread them out on a sheet pan and roast in a 400F oven for about 30 minutes or until golden brown, turning them
once. Turn the oven down to 350F.

Step Two Layer the eggplant and the zucchini in a 9” x 12” lasagna pan. Top with the tomato sauce, cover with aluminum foil and place back in the oven. Cook at 350F for 1 hour.  Remove from the oven, take off the foil and place the goat cheese in two rows. Place the pan back in the oven for about 15 minutes, or until the cheese is melting. Set aside for 15 minutes. When it has slightly cooled, spread the basil over the cheese and serve.

*Perfectly Easy Tomato Sauce
2 TB Extra Virgin Olive Oil
1 Minced Yellow Onion
1 Tsp Turmeric
¼ Tsp Black Pepper
½ Tsp Sea Salt
4 Grated Garlic Cloves
2 (28 oz) Cans of Fire Roasted Diced Tomatoes
**Bouquet Garni

Cook the onion, turmeric, pepper and salt in the oil – in a large saucepan over medium heat until the onion is soft,  about 7 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for about a minute more. Add the tomatoes and the bouquet garni to the pan. Simmer for about 30 minutes or until thicker. 

Bouquet Garni is “Kitchen Talk” for a bundle of herbs, tied together with kitchen string - no chopping required! Just grab about 6 stems of herbs, (your choice), and tie them together to amp up the flavor any dish!

Beef and Greens Stew with Smoky Mashed Potatoes

3 – 4 LBs Beef Chuck, cut in cubes
Sea Salt and Freshly Ground Black Pepper
3 TB Olive Oil, divided
4 Oz Pancetta, chopped
1 Large Red Onion, chopped
6 Garlic Cloves, Grated
2 Carrots, chopped
2 TB Whole Wheat Flour
2 Cups Dry Red Wine, divided
3 Cups Light Chicken Stock
1 Can (15 ½ oz) Cannellini Beans, Drained and Well Rinsed
2 Cans (15 ½ oz) Fire Roasted Tomatoes
1 LB Sliced Mushrooms
6 Cups Chopped Kale, Mustard Greens or Collard Greens

Step One
Preheat the oven to 350F. Season the meat with the salt and pepper. Heat 2 TB of olive oil in a heavy ovenproof casserole. Add the beef and brown on all sides, working in batches as necessary. Transfer the beef to a bowl and set aside.

Step Two
Add the remaining 1 TB olive oil and the pancetta to the casserole and brown . Add the onion, garlic and carrots and cook and stir until the vegetables begin to brown. Add the flour and stir for a minute or two. Gradually add the wine, incorporating well, and then add the stock. Bring to a boil, scraping up any brown bits from the bottom of the pot.

Step Three
Return the meat and any juices to the casserole. Add the tomatoes. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Cover and bake for about 90 minutes.

Step Four
Add the mushrooms and the last cup of wine and cook for an additional 15 minutes. Add the beans and cook for another 10 minutes.

Step Five
While the mushrooms are cooking, blanch the greens until just tender, (about 2 – 3 minutes). Drain well, squeezing if necessary to remove the water.

Step Six
Taste the stew for salt and pepper. Stir the greens into the stew and let rest for about 5 minutes, or until the greens are warm. Serve with Smoky Mashed Potatoes.

Smoky Mashed Potatoes

2 LBS Yukon Gold Potatoes, cut into 1” chunks
1 Ancho Chile
1 Bay Leaf
Sea Salt and Freshly Cracked Black Pepper
¼ Cup Extra Virgin Olive Oil, plus more to taste
1 Yellow Onion, Chopped
4 Garlic Cloves, Grated
1 TB Spanish Smoked Paprika

Step One
Place the potatoes, pepper and bay leaf in a stockpot and add cold salted water to cover by 1 inch. Bring to a boil and cook until tender about 20 minutes. Drain and discard the pepper and the bay leaf.

Step Two
While the potatoes are cooking, add the ¼ cup of the olive oil to a sauté pan. Add the onion and cook until soft. Add the garlic and cook for just a minute. Stir in the paprika and remove from the range.

Step Three
Mash the potatoes and the oil mixture. Season with salt and pepper and add additional olive oil as desired.

This blog post first appeared on the Urban Explorers of Atlanta Website - celebrating Rhone as the Culinary Destination for February 2016.