When summer begins and the grapevines in my backyard start to sprawl over the pergolas, it is time to have friends over for dinner!
To start things off, I took mint plouches and froze them in ice cubes.
Then, I picked mixed herbs from the garden (peppermint, spearmint, orange mint, rosemary, oregano, sage) and soaked these in a simple syrup (half water, half sugar, dissolved) overnight.
The recipe for this herb "julep" is:
2 oz whiskey (I used JWB)
1 oz Cocchi Americano
3/4 oz mixed-herb simple syrup
4 dashes Underberg bitters
orange zest on top
With the cocktails ready and a centerpiece of fresh peonies and grape vine cuttings from the backyard, we were ready to go.
Radishes with creamy butter are a classic way to start a French meal. We chopped up fresh herbs from the garden, mixed them into the butter, and let it sit in the fridge overnight. Take out the butter about an hour before serving so it is nice and creamy when you dip the radishes in.
Where I live in the Bronx, everyone makes fresh mozzarella-- there is nothing else quite like it. You simply go to any store with a decent deli, and someone has just made it. Sometimes it is still warm when they hand it to you. I picked up some at my favorite deli and served it with basil, heirloom tomatoes that I had sauteed on one panko-crusted side.
This went great with a savory Ligurian white that I've been saving for the right occasion:
Punta Crena "Reine" Mataossu, 2009 (Liguria, Italy)
Mataossu is the name of the grape variety, and it translates to "crazy grape" due to its high vigor. This is a local variety that has been family farmed by this winery for centuries. It's practically grown in the Mediterranean Sea (from a tiny peninsula that juts out into the water). The wine tastes saline, it smells like crunchy vegetables (tomatoes, jicama) and lime zest. It was the perfect wine for this salad. This was 2009, and the acidity and flavor was so intense, this could have aged much longer.
Crab on Polenta-Corn Cake with Corn Pudding and Tarragon Oil
We made polenta cakes and lined the bottom of the pan with fresh corn kernels. When we cut out the polenta circles after it set, one side of the cake had fresh corn stuck to it. We sauteed these, along with some lump crab meat. The sauce is pureed corn that was passed through a fine mesh-- doesn't get much fresher than that. We made tarragon oil by blending high quality olive oil with tarragon leaves, and then straining this through cheese cloth.
I paired this with a barrel-fermented, oak-aged chardonnay.
We took a few woodchips that we used to smoke the asparagus and ramps and put them into a few ounces of Mezcal to soak overnight. We sprayed this smokey Mezcal on top of the dish tableside-- I saw this done to a cocktail a while back and was inspired to use it on a dish!
I paired this with a rich sparkling mauzak from France. The funkiness of the wine brought out the smokiness of the dish, and the acidity cut right through the hollandaise.
You can probably tell by the picture-- I am bringing back the parsley garnish! We grow it like crazy in the backyard, and it was the perfect herb to temper the meatiness of this dish.
I paired this with an earthy red from Jura.
This sorbet was inspired by one of my favorite morning drinks-- fresh squeezed pear and fennel juice. Usually, I juice 2 heads of fennel and 5 pears together with a bit of ginger. The drink is delicious and it gives you so much energy. I took the juice that I normally drink, added a bit of simple syrup, and spun it into a sorbet.
I added a few spinach leaves for green color, but to no avail-- the pear juice oxidizes almost instantly so it's difficult to avoid that brownish tint.
I paired this with a sweet Alsacian pinot gris.
When I went to make this cake, I didn't have any lemons or lemon juice and the recipe called for half a cup. So I substituted half a cup of dry riesling, which-- I figured-- is also very high acid, and I added several healthy splashes of orange bitters to add some citrus aromatics. It did the trick and this was one of the best cakes I have ever made!
Here is my riesling-altered recipe:
Riesling and Olive Oil Cake
1 cup all purpose flour
1/2 cup almond flour
1 cup sugar
1/2 tsp. salt
1 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. baking powder
1/2 cup high quality olive oil, plus 2 tbs
1/2 cup very dry, high-acid riesling
1 tbs sherry vinegar
8 drops of orange bitters
Use 2 tbs of olive oil to grease two 8 inch cake pans.
Blend dry ingredients, blend wet ingredients, then blend wet into dry ingredients.
Pour into oil-greased pan & bake at 350F for about 30-40 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean and the sides start to brown.
Whenever we make fresh pasta (like the ravioli course above) we always have a meringue dessert of some sort-- those extra egg whites have to end up somewhere! These are simple meringue petit four crisps, and they went great with coffee.