Sunday, September 16, 2007

An Evening of Big Flavors

Before serving our corn chowder last night I ran across a small bag of farmers market potatoes in the pantry and added perhaps 12 ounces, diced small, to the soup pot. I have to say it made a real improvement, so if you've been tempted at all by yesterday's takeout on corn chowder, do consider adding potatoes to the recipe.

The chowder served as a first course to a small dinner party that really started at the liquor store. I was picking up some wine for a client and happened to notice several of the shop's employees engaged in a tasting in the back room. This being 11:30 in the morning, I couldn't help but wonder what kind of tasting was going on and I was soon invited to partake in a glass of excellent champagne.

A rare treat for me, and I mentioned that my tastes in wine are fairly plebeian, nothing fancier than a reasonably priced Zinfandel for me, something with lots of character, lots of ripe berries, open, friendly. Well, said the clerk, have I got something for you. And he showed me a gorgeous bottle of 2001 Aida Zinfandel that would not have been affordable on my best day, but was on sale for half the price, he said. On sheer impulse, I bought the thing.

And that was the genesis of this dinner party.

Of course I had to invite my oenophile brother-in-law Tom, who immediately volunteered to bring his own idea of a big Zinfandel. So there I was planning a menu around a couple of luscious Zinfandels, a corn chowder already made and the tomatoes getting riper and riper out in the garden.

What you see pictured above is one of the hors d'oeuvres, a bruschetta with a big slice of Brandywine tomato, fresh pesto sauce, shavings of ricotta salata and a drizzle of olive oil. We picked up a ripe cantaloupe at the farmers market and served it with prosciutto, very simple. With these we served a cocktail my wife made of pomegranate liqueur, grapefruit and vodka.

I purchased a lovely bottle of Argentine chardonnay/viognier at Whole Foods that went very well with the corn chowder. For the main event, I grilled ribeye steaks from grass-fed beef. Tom had brought a 2003 Ridge Pagani Ranch Zinfandel that had all the big berry flavors and accessibility I associate with my favorite red. Inevitably, there was a comparison with the Aida, and just about everyone preferred the much less expensive Ridge.

Well, not so fast, Tom said. The Aida was definitely "tight," as they say in wine circles. There was still a bit of chew to it, the flavors had not opened up. Tom judged this a simple matter of resting--in the decanter or in the bottle--another day. Or maybe it needed to sit in a cool wine cellar another 10 years.

Anyway, bring on dessert, a beautiful peach and raspberry cobbler that my wife had made in individual ramekins using peaches she'd bought at the farmers market down the street that morning. There was a big dollop of vanilla ice cream on each ramekin and Tom had brought a surprise--a delicious bottle of Sauterne.

This was an unusual extravagance for The Slow Cook. But can we say, it was damned good?


GBVC said...

A perfect extravagance.
I love the bruschetta and made the mistake of reading this before lunch,precipitating a trip up the road to the market to search for large ripe tomatoes.

Ed Bruske said...

Charlotte, I'm having this bruschetta, or something like it, just about every day for lunch--at least till the tomatoes run out.