food & wine: the process

This weekend, I began the process of developing the menu for our upcoming winemaker’s dinner with Jill Nobel, owner and winemaker at Couvillion Winery in Wall Walla. It is a process I thoroughly enjoy, from the beginning of interacting with the winemaker to determine which wines will be showcased, then tasting the wines, checking out tasting notes, and developing a menu.

 For me, the focus is on showing off the winemaker and her wines – Jill makes very elegant, award-wining wines in her own unique style. The wines of Couvillion are very much like the winemaker, smooth, approachable and easy to spend time with. My goal in this exercise is to complement each of the wines with food that will show it off!

So, I start with the wine. I cannot change the inherent properties and flavors that are in the finished bottle – nor do I wish to do so. But, I can tweak and adjust the food to enhance the wine pairing experience. First, I taste the wine, close my eyes, swirl the wine around in my mouth, think about the flavors I am tasting in the wine and what might go well with them. Then I usually tour around my kitchen, looking for specific flavors that I have in mind that might be good matches. These are typically elements or ingredients that I am considering combining in a dish as the pair. It’s good to break the flavors down, and trying several different foods may lead to yet another flavor idea.

So, for example, I was working on a pair for the Couvillion Sauvignon Blanc, a very well balanced, smooth wine that showcases the delicious characteristics of its varietal – best described as “green.” Simply stated, it reminded me of spring, foods made with new green growing things, foods with medium texture, not too light, not too heavy, slightly sweet, slightly salty. The journey began. Recently I had made the scallops with green peas and tequila cream sauce. That would be a bit rich, but it was a starting point. I wanted to enhance the “green-ness” of the wine, so the peas were the beginning — sweet, green. Freshness came from the addition of mint and scallions, then a slight amount of zing from the buttermilk or crème fraiche. 

So, here goes. Serve this soup with Couvillion Sauvignon Blanc, 2008, and enjoy! I’d love to hear what you think! Next installment will be the pear and cheese tartlets….

minted pea soup

2 tablespoons butter
6 large scallions, trimmed and thinly sliced
2 cups shelled peas (from about 2 pounds in the pod),
            or frozen tiny green peas (no need to thaw)
1 15-ounce can chicken broth
2 large sprigs of mint
1 cup buttermilk or crème fraiche
salt and white pepper, to taste

In large pan, heat butter over medium high-heat. Add scallions and a bit of salt. Cook until the scallions begin to brown. Drizzle over the honey; cook until bubbly. Add the peas and cook 5 minutes longer, until the peas begin to pop. Pour broth over; bring to a boil. Strip the leaves from one sprig of mint, and add them to the pot. Cook just until peas soften, about 10 minutes. Cool mixture to room temperature if serving cool. Otherwise, proceed.

Puree the pea mixture to desired consistency. Stir in buttermilk or créme fraiche and correct seasonings.

Ladle the soup into shallow bowls, garnish with the remaining mint leaves. Serve hot or cool.

Serves 4.


pear & white cheddar tartlets

4 (6-inch) squares puff pastry, thawed
1 egg, beaten with a pinch of salt & a pinch of sugar (this is egg wash)
1 ripe pear, diced or very thinly sliced
½ cup grated sharp white cheddar, I used Beecher’s
½ teaspoon thyme
freshly ground black pepper
truffle honey, for garnish (optional)

Preheat oven to  400°F. Line a baking sheet with parchment.

Arrange pastry squares on parchment. Brush LIGHTLTY with egg wash. Top with pears, cheddar, thyme and pepper. Bake in hot oven, about 12-15 minutes, until golden and puffed. Remove from oven; drizzle with truffle honey if using, cut in half diagonally. Serve hot.

Serves 8.



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