Lots of chef’s and restaurants get very precious and haughty about the fact that they specialise in using “seasonal” ingredients and wouldn’t dream of touching asparagus or peaches in Winter, but here in France, and in particular the bountiful Riviera, the markets and small shops make it very easy for one to buy Seasonal produce and keep to Nature’s rhythms – simply because that is what they have on offer!
Food and wine matching then naturally follows this pattern and you’ll find yourself tending to lean towards richer, more full -bodied and robust wines in the colder months and sliding into lighter, brighter whites and rosés as the weather warms up. January’s “goodie bag” of Salsify, Swede, Celeriac and Jeusalem Artichokes would certainly look out of place on a Summer barbeque, but as well as fruit & veg, certain fish & meats have their “at their best” season too. Look for Crabs, Mussels, Oysters and Scallops and make the most of the last couple of weeks of the Game season – Hare, Pheasant are still good, but probably are best slow cooked and braised at this stage.
So, with wine tasting chums about to descend on us last weekend and wanting to make it a pleasurable gourmet event, it was an opportunity to test run a couple of Wintry recipes and then match them with some goodies from my cellar. Plump, luscious Scallops made their entrance for the first course – but even though sometimes perceived as quite a delicate seafood, their sweetness has often been married with gutsy partners on the plate – think Scallops with Pancetta, Black Pudding or Chorizo, or more Oriental (it being Chinese New Year at the end of the month) – classically with Spring Onions & Ginger or Lemongrass & Chilli. I opted for a punchy “Sauce Diable” (see recipe below) which then needed a ripe, spicy and fairly full bodied White Wine. I pondered the various merits of a Viognier from the Rhone or perhaps Australia, a demi-sec Vouvray from a warm year such as 2003 or 2005, perhaps an Alsace Pinot Gris but then – inspiration! A complex, lychee filled and buxom Gewurztraminer from, wait for it….Northern Italy! The Alto Adige, to be precise (the bit in the North East corner snuggled right up to the Austrian border). I found a superb example from St. Michael Eppan (www.stmichael.it) – their Sanct Valentin Gewurztraminer 2007 with its unmistakeable aroma of roses and mixed spices with pepper, nutmeg and cloves.
The meal continued with more Italian wines (I know, I know – but I love ‘em!) with a macho Sangiovese / Merlot blend from Southern Tuscany (Mazzei’s “baby” Super Tuscan, “Poggio al Badiolo” www.fonterutoli.it) with the Braised Lamb Shanks and Roast Winter Root Vegetables. Then disaster struck – my long hoarded Vino Dolce Late Harvest Sauvignon Blanc “Vulcaia Apres” from rebellious, wonderful and passionate Soave producer Stefano Inama’s stable – had, well frankly, bolted! It was corked!!!! Not just a mild whiff of the tell tale musty cardboard and fusty mushrooms from the bottom of the fridge – nope, this one had it (the pernicious aromas of the substance TCA 123 which affects 1 in 12 bottles) so convincingly that it had to go straight down the sink. One doesn’t tend to have more than one dessert wine stashed in the fridge so alas, my fellow diners were robbed of what is an exceptionally pleasant, passion-fruity and acacia blossom “sweetie”. I had to extol it’s virtues from memory and advise them of just how exquisitely perfect it would have been with my Lemon Meringue Trifle with Poppy Seed Shortbread! If you do see wines from this producer on offer, please do try them as Stefano does something quite extraordinary with what are often considered rather ordinary & commonplace wines i.e. Soave: www.inamaaziendaagricola.it
Seared Scallops with “Sauce Diable”
Serves 4 (as a starter)
Prepare some “sloppy” mashed potatoes (Pommes Mousseline) by boiling 900g (2lb) potatoes (check they are good for purée) in salted water until completely tender, about 20 – 25 minutes, depending on the size. Drain, replace the lid and shake the pan vigorously whilst back on the heat – this will both dry the potatoes out and start to break them up. Add 100g (4oz) of unsalted butter and 120ml (4 fl oz) cream or milk, a little at a time whilst you mash the potatoes. Season with salt, pepper and a little grated nutmeg – they should be light, fluffy and creamy. Cover with clingfilm (so that the film is in contact with the mash which will stop it drying out or getting crusty) and put to one side.
Whilst the potatoes are boiling you can crack on with the Sauce “Diable” – a tangy, punchy hot Mustard & Shallot sauce: Melt a small knob of butter in a pan and add 300ml (10fl oz) finely diced Shallots (as shallots vary so wildly in size it is easier to measure the finished chopped ones than suggest 4 or 5 shallots in the recipe!) Cook on a medium heat until they start to take on a golden colour – say 4 to 5 minutes. Season with salt and pepper and add 50ml (2 fl oz) Red Wine Vinegar then reduce until almost dry – about 2 – 3 minutes. Slosh in a generous glass of White Wine and reduce again until almost dry – this “cooks off” the alcohol but leaves the flavour! Add 150ml (5 fl oz) Jus / Gravy – as you are unlikely to have a pot of Glacé Veal stock simmering away on your domestic stove, I have found that a packet sauce – such as a Madeira Wine Gravy or an Sauce Echalote (Strained) has enough substance and depth of flavour to be a perfectly acceptable substitute here.
Simmer for 5 – 10 minutes then add a teaspoon or more of Mustard (strong yellow English mustard if you like it really punchy, or mellower Dijon) then check the taste.
Have both the sloppy mash and the mustard sauce warm and ready to go before you cook the scallops.
Heat a heavy bottomed frying pan with a tablespoon (15 ml) of oil – ordinary vegetable oil here, as you don’t want strong flavours to overpower the delicate sweet scallops. Once hot, sit 12 x scallops (or 20 x smaller Coquilles St Jaques or Queenies), trimmed and cleaned of roe, in the pan, making sure the maximum heat is maintained, which will ensure the scallops “sear” rather than “stew”. Turn over after 30 seconds and cook for a further 30 seconds – 1 minute. Don’t be tempted to shuffle the scallops round the pan either – the best way to sear is to ensure they stay in contact with the hot pan in one place to colour them.
To present the dish – spoon, pipe or dollop the sloppy mash, on to a plate, spoon 2 – 3 tablespoons of the sauce around or to one side and place 3 x large Scallops (or 5 of the smaller Queenies) on the sauce on each plate.
NB It’s vey cheffy but things like this are always presented in “odd” numbers – like flower arranging! So 3’s, 5’s 7’s etc……