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CASA’s Maria Broadbent gives some tips on how to pair food and wines



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Recently, we held a wine tasting with food pairings for Bury St Edmunds French Twinning Association, The Friends of Compiegne. It was, of course, going to be with French wine and food! Here at CASA our standard selection of French wines tend to originate from the lower half of France as these pair well with our Mediterranean-style dining.

Languedoc and Provence

I have a long-standing love affair with the region of Languedoc, an area on the Mediterranean between its more affluent and well-known neighbour Provence/Cote d’Azur and the Spanish border. The name of this region stems from langue d’oc, which literally translates as the language of yes. In particular, oc refers to the variation of the French spoken in that area. Here they used the word oc from the Latin hoc for yes rather than oïl, which ultimately became oui. I am always fascinated by what I learn when researching an article or event. Yes, yes – I will get to the wine bit in a moment, but first my other new little gem. Provence is the area that nestles up to the Italian border, ‘hosts’ Monaco and epitomises our romantic notion of a Mediterranean dream. Provence is so named as a result of the Romans calling it Provincia Romana and even today it retains a lingual and cultural identity.

Panisses (55940622)
Panisses (55940622)

Provence is best known for beautiful scenery, fabulous seafood, rich and famous people and, of course, Provençal rosé wine. Rosé wine has a reputation for being very light and perfect for drinking alone (as in not with food as opposed to a Billy no mates bottle!). Rosé wine from Provence, however, has evolved to stand up to all the powerful flavours of this region’s gastronomic delights. Fish dishes are more likely to come with a punch of garlic, tomato and olives rather than the lighter white wine, butter and creamier versions from further north. Aioli, tapenade, olives and anchovies are all strong and salty, offering the perfect excuse to quench the palate with a fine, dry, crisp glass of chilled wine. One of my favourites is the Hecht & Bannier Côtes de Provence Rosé which we served with a new discovery – a dish called Panisses.

Panisses are chickpea flour chips – a speciality from Marseille. This large city has a reputation for being juxtapositioned with the rest of refined Provence. A large industrial sea port with a somewhat rough and bawdy reputation, it is rarely on anyone’s tourism route. It is, however, a city packed with a love of life – it is known as the city of a 100 neighbourhoods and has been culturally and geographically significant for centuries. The city was made the European capital of culture in 2013 and it even gives the French national anthem its name – The Marseillaise.

PANISSES

Firstly – these are very simple to make. Make a great snack or are equally good served in lieu of potatoes, pasta, rice or its closest cousin polenta. This makes about 8 servings.

Ingredients:

250g chickpea flour

1 teaspoon coarse salt

2 teaspoons olive oil

Just under a litre of water

Olive oil, for frying (it needs to have a good flavour as this makes all the difference)

Coarse salt and freshly-cracked pepper, for serving

Method:

Lightly oil a 9-inch (23cm) square baking tray with sides.

Pour the chickpea flour in a medium saucepan along with the salt and olive oil. Add half of the water and stir with a sturdy whisk until the mixture is smooth. Whisk in the rest of the water.

Bring the mixture to a boil over high heat, stirring frequently with the whisk until it just begins to boil and thicken. Reduce the heat to low-to-medium and continue to cook, stirring with the whisk (or a wooden spoon or spatula) until the mixture thickens and holds its shape, and pulls away from the side of the pan – about 10 minutes. It should resemble stiff, sticky mashed potatoes.

Immediately scrape the mixture into the oiled pan, smooth the top, and let cool. It may be difficult to get the top smooth, so do it as quickly as you can. You can use a spatula dipped in water to help smooth the top, and once you’ve smoothed it as best as you can, fold a kitchen towel on the counter and drop the pan a few times on the towel to help smooth it out even further. Let cool completely at room temperature.

To fry the panisses, tip out the solidified mixture on a cutting board and slice into three rectangles. Then use a knife to cut 2cm batons.

In a heavy-duty skillet, heat 1.5cm of olive oil. Don’t be too stingy with the olive oil. When shimmering hot, fry the panisses in batches, not crowding them in the pan. Once the bottom is nicely browned and crisp on the bottom, turn with tongs, frying the panisses, turning them once each side is browned until they’re deep golden brown on each side. They’ll take at least 5 minutes to fry them and the first batch will cook slower than subsequent batches.

Remove the panisses from the pan and drain on paper towels or on a brown paper bag, sprinkling them very generously with salt and pepper. Don’t be stingy with either. Continue frying the rest of the panisses, heating more oil in the pan as needed.

Serve sprinkled with coarse sea salt and black pepper, for extra pizazz add some harissa to mayonnaise to make a dip.

SMOKED SALMON RILLETTES

A very French-style recipe. Pork rillettes are made by slow-cooking pork in its own fat and potting this up to serve. I wonder if it is that wonderful French bread that leads to so many delicious things to spread on it – cheese, pâté, tapenade, rillettes. . .

Ingredients:

150ml vermouth or white wine

½ onion, sliced

2 tablespoons lemon juice, plus a squeeze

A small bunch parsley, stalks only (use the leaves below)

8 black peppercorns

280g salmon fillet

125g smoked salmon, cut into small shreds

30g butter, melted

1 tablespoon chopped chervil (or chives if you can’t get chervil)

Baby gem leaves to serve or French toast

Method:

Put the vermouth/wine, onion, lemon juice, parsley stalks and peppercorns in a saucepan with 150ml water and bring to the boil. Simmer for 10 mins. Turn the heat down to a very gentle simmer, add the salmon fillet and poach for 4 mins. Let the salmon sit and cool in the liquid.

Lift the salmon out of its poaching liquid, remove the skin and flake the flesh roughly. Mix the flesh with the smoked salmon, a good squeeze of lemon, the butter, chervil and some pepper. Tip into a bowl, cover and put in the fridge (be sure to bring it back to room temperature to serve).

A few tips for wine pairing at home

Look at wines that are produced in the same area as the food you are cooking originates from – they will have evolved to be great bedfellows.

For dessert wines – the wine should never be sweeter than the pudding it accompanies. Solera sherry is heavenly with sticky toffee pudding, but PX sherry kills it as it is too sweet.

Few wines work with chocolate – but do try a Maury or a Banyul.

Temperature – Most wines are not served at a perfect temperature. Remember if a white wine is too cold you will not be able to properly taste it. This may work for cheap plonk, but if tasting a more refined wine it is a waste. Equally, red wines are referred to as at room temperature, this is not modern hot house room temperature. Too warm and they can taste ‘cooked’.

Allowing a wine to breathe – this is more important for some wines than others and is usually for reds. However, in my experience certain whites benefit from a few minutes or so to ‘open up’.

If trying a few wines, it makes sense to start with the lighter, drier wines and move through to the more robust and then sweeter wines.

When tasting a wine you are:

Looking at colour and viscosity – those sticky runs down the inside of your glass known as legs give a lot away about a wine. Check out the label, too – it is interesting and I like to read the blurb. I always think when it talks about the grapes, vineyard and processes, it is more likely to be good than when it discusses the barbecue or pasta you should be cooking to go with it.

Smelling it – what do you get? It is interesting that what you get ‘on the nose’ can be very different from the actual taste.

Now have a good slosh around your mouth – different areas of your tongue taste different sensations. Also, try to get some air into your mouth to assist in this step – without dribbling if you can!

The finish – how long does the flavour last after you have swallowed? The longer it lasts (assuming it’s a nice taste), the better the wine is said to be.

Bordeaux and Burgundy – a few facts

Bordeaux (Au bord de l’eau – meaning ‘along the waters’)

Situated equidistant between the North Pole and the Equator, this region’s vineyards cover more area than all of Germany’s combined. Ninety per cent of the wine from this region is red and we sampled a very nice red Bordeaux, also known in Britain as claret. The name claret stems from the word clairet, referring to it being a light red wine in order to distinguish it from port. We pair this classic red with a confit of duck, served on a bed of mash with a cherry sauce.

Sauternes is also from this region and is sweet, but not sickly. The complexities of the process for making this are fascinating. There is a fungus that perforates the grapes skin and thus allows more of the water to evaporate. The remaining juice within the grapes then has a much higher sugar concentration. These wines, which also include the Hungarian Tokaj, are known as bottrytized wines after the name of the fungus! Sauternes is a fantastic foil for the sharpness of Roquefort blue cheese. I am not personally a fan of bread or even biscuits with cheese – I find with wine it all gets a bit much especially after a full meal. I prefer to use celery or fruit as a carrier and allow the wine and cheese to shine. My new ‘toy’ is a dehydrator, this made the perfect apple crisp and the three elements combined were superb!

Burgundy (Bourgoynes)

Almost every vineyard in this region produces grapes for making crémant, most also make both red and white wines. Red wines are almost always Pinot Noir and the whites are invariably Chardonnay. There are a multitude of tiny vineyards and understanding wine labels is further complicated by the annexation of vineyards and the village names. Why? Well, a successful vineyard’s name will be conjoined with the name of the village to produce a hyphenated place name. This allows the less well-known wine producers in that place to harness the marketing might of its more famous neighbours – clever huh?

We showcased a crémant which was made purely of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, two of only three grapes permitted in the production of Champagne. Sparkling wines made well are just a lovely start to any event or meal in my view, and combine this with a smoked fish canapé and I am in heaven! We also revisited a previous wine from our list, a white burgundy which we paired with a simple creamy mushroom vol au vent.

French Food and Wine Pairing Evening

Thursday, April 28, 6.30pm

Relaxed, informal and informative evening with all wines accompanied by individually selected food pairings.

Event is limited to 20 places and costs £49.95

Maria Broadbent is owner of Mediterranean restaurant CASA in Risbygate Street, Bury St Edmunds

Tel 01284 701313

Visit www.casabse.co.uk