Monday, August 3, 2009

No, it's not autumn (yet).

Over the past few months, Chicagoans have experienced quite possibly the strangest weather in recent memory. Cool, crisp mornings, followed by hazy intermittent sunshine, tons of rain, warm afternoons and almost chilly breezes at night? Such lovely fall days we've had this summer. Boutiques around town are debuting their autumn collections and I am dying to get myself into Nanette Lepore's bias-cut tweed blazer with scalloped lapels. As if channeling September already, Farm Dinner last night took on an almost faux-harvest feeling, with carrots, zucchini, apples, and the like. Might as well pull out my cozy turtlenecks and fuzzy scarves, drink some cider and declare summer officially O-V-E-R.

Course 1: Mortadella with pickled vegetables and housemade cultured butter on baguette

Preliminary Pairings: Joseph Perrier Champagne

Italian people (and French people, and Portugese people, and . . . well, pretty much all people except Americans) are lucky, because they can say the foulest things in their native languages and sound like they are reciting the most beautiful words of poetry. Mortadella, in Italian, means baloney. Well, not really. It actually is just another word for bologna, as in "Oscar Mayer." Mortadella / bologna is an Italian emulsified meat-product (usually pork, but sometimes beef as well) originally from the town of Bologna. In America, Mortadella became known for the town from whence it comes, hence, baloney. Leave it to us rednecks to bastardize mortadella (rolls off the tongue so musically) into baloney (kind of makes you think of an old car horn). Mortadella, in its truest incarnation, should be encased in beef intestine, can be studded with bits of fat or pistachios, and is spiced with nutmeg, cinnamon, coriander, and cayenne. Mmmmm. Jason and Nicole chose to wrap the blended Gunthorp pork in plastic (fresh out of beef intestine, unfortunately) in order to poach it sous-vide.

I love a challenge, and I grappled with the wine-pairing for Course 1 quite a bit. With earthy pork-based pates I do love a Rhone red, but to blow my wad like that so early in the game seemed unwise this time, especially considering the accompaniment of so many tangy pickled Nichols Farm summer squash and haricot verts, Werp Farm thumbelina carrots, and Green Acres zucchini and radishes, and the bright crispness of fresh cilantro. Also tricky was the head-scratching addition of a baguette slice smeared with housemade cultured butter. (All you need to know about cultured butter--and believe me, to make it Nicole went through quite the process--is that it is basically Plugra . . . you know, the really super-fancy European butter you find at gourmet grocery stores and in rich people's refrigerators).

As usual when I don't know what to do, I grabbed Champagne. (And this is true in life as well, folks, so don't present me with a difficult decision or next time you see me I'll have a hangover). This is what I figured: the zippy pickled vegetable salad provided the necessary acid to cut through the fatty mortadella, so I needed a wine that would simply complement both aspects of the dish. Joseph Perrier is Champagne in its truest sense: crisp, dry, and citrus fruit-driven, with a slight background of toasty oak vanilla, and cinnamon. Really lovely, with delicate bubbles and a gorgeous golden color. The baking spices complemented the spices in the mortadella beautifully, and as promised, the acid mellowed the fat and stood up to the pickles.

Favorite: JP

Course 2: Lake Superior whitefish with market carrots, almonds, braised pork, cipollini, and leek-summer apple mustard

Preliminary Pairings: 2006 Domaine La Folie Rully Blanc Clos de la Folie, 2007 Dopff au Moulin Pinot Blanc, 2008 Verdad Rose, 2007 Bertrand Ambroise Bourgogne Rouge

Fish with braised pork? Another challenge. Actually, though, it makes sense: fatty and salty to provide a counterpart to the crispy lightness of pan roasted fish (adhering to the summer-into-fall theme, kind of like this vintage light grey Calvin Klein jacket I own that I can pretty much wear with anything from shorts and heels to a chunky sweater and jeans tucked into boots). Definitely a white wine necessary here, although I decided to see if my go-to Bourgogne Rouge would again surprise me with its versatility (kind of like this vintage light grey Calvin Klein jacket . . .) First, a breakdown of the dish: The whitefish sat atop a layer of the braised pork interspersed with Werp Farm red, yellow, and purple carrots, roasted cipollini onions, and cooked almonds, under which laid a swoosh of Nichols Farm summer apple-coriander puree (whose flavor echoed the cilantro in Course 1--after all, coriander and cilantro are of the same plant). Around all of this: a City Farm baby leek and summer apple mostarda, which again reflected the cilantro flavors with its green coriander and fresh coriander seed.

So I pulled the Rully, whose juicy light fruit is balanced by its creamy malo-body, and who I thought would provide a complement to the summery-fish-cilantro aspects of Course 2, and the Dopff, whose stone fruit and clean mineral, not to mention high-acid, would pair well with the autumnal braised pork, carrots, and apples. Well, I was right. Rully won out simply due to its mellowness--the same feeling as last week's Gruner and celery happened here, with the Rully showcasing the food. Dopff tasted a little sweet and obtrusive. Verdad didn't do much--it was a little bitter--and we didn't have enough time at the meeting to taste Ambroise, but the red drinkers of the night seemed to enjoy it, and I felt satisfied that B.A. redeemed himself after last week's fiasco.

Favorite: Rully

Course 3: Chambord and milk chocolate mousse torte with blackberry buttermilk sherbet

Preliminary Pairings: Patrick Bottex Vin du Bugey-Cerdon Rose, 2004 Novaia Late-Harvest Valpolicella

Bugey, Bugey, how do I love thee . . . ? Surprise! We liked Novaia best! Here's why: this dessert is SERIOUS. Not for the faint of heart, with lots and lots of layers, different notes of earthiness in the mousses (thanks to Melissa's use of heavy creamery cream) and many shades of chocolate in various forms. Buttermilk in the sherbet lent tang, and a milk-chocolate and Chambord glaze added texture. Novaia, for all of its body and weight, stood up perfectly to this dessert. Nothing can compare to the right chocolate and wine pairing, and this one should not be missed.

Favorite: Novaia (finally)!

It's still summer, don't worry, but I think the fall preview might get us all excited for the change of season while still appreciating the days left in August to swim at the pool, barbeque, ride bikes, and drink wine on the patio . . . which reminds me, I'm starving after writing about all this food, and Andrew has made brandade, I've got a Bandol Rose chilling . . . E-toodles!

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