Spirited Fare

THE BALTIMORE SUN

Certain foods -- such as wine -- impart an incomparable flavor and bouquet to a dish. Yes, wine is considered by many as a food, and it is not only pleasant to drink but also to cook with.

Whether used for cooking or drinking, it should be a good-quality wine, the rule being if you wouldn't drink it, then don't cook with it, for the flavor of the wine is the flavor that is imparted to the dish you're preparing.

Wine can appear in almost any type of dish, such as Bolognese Meat Sauce With Chianti. This sauce is slowly simmered at least two hours until it is so rich and delicious that you might want to forget the pasta and just eat the sauce. Or how about a "new" method for vinaigrette? The recipe for Merlot Double-Red-Wine Vinaigrette calls for cooking down red wine and red-wine vinegar to maximize the wine flavor. It is delicious just tossed with fresh organic greens.

I'm not a cook who always conforms to the rules, but in the recipe for Chardonnay Braised Chicken, I yield for flavor's sake to the white wine pairing with chicken. It is almost a textbook pairing, yet the chicken and wine are beautiful together when slowly oven-braised with toasted fennel seed, mushrooms, peppers, carrot, celery, onion and fresh thyme. Rich and perfumed with chardonnay, this preparation is finished with a little cream and fresh parsley and chives.

But if you are feeling a little rebellious and want to switch to red, prepare the dish another time with a petit sirah or Cote du Rhone.

So, that mutinous tip brings us to fish and wine, and the misconception that you must drink white wine with fish. I don't always live by that old rule. And I feel the same way about cooking fish with red wine, too. Try new things. Of course, white will work and be quite delicious in a butter sauce, but sometime try a nice merlot reduction for a beurre rouge.

A dry Gewurztraminer sets off the recipe for Gewurztraminer Poached Fruit. Easy, and even better made the day before, this is a refreshing light dessert. It is also very beautiful. Chunks of red- and green-skinned apple and pear, dried apricots, ruby tart cherries and ebony figs nestle against each other in the vanilla bean-flecked wine broth. Served in a flat, oversized bowl with a tiny scoop of vanilla ice cream, it's just the right ending to a "spirited" meal with friends.

Bolognese Meat Sauce With Chianti

Makes 12 cups

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 pound pork butt, cut into 1-inch chunks

1 pound beef chuck, cut into 1-inch chunks

1 cup small-diced onion

3/4 cup small-diced celery

1/2 cup chopped mushrooms

3/4 cup small-diced carrot

1/2 cup small-diced green peppers

2 tablespoons minced garlic

1/4 teaspoon crushed red chili flakes

1/4 teaspoon dried whole-leaf rosemary, crushed

1 teaspoon dried whole-leaf oregano

1 teaspoon dried leaf basil

1/2 teaspoon dried whole-leaf thyme

1 1/2 cups Chianti

2 cups beef broth

2 (6-ounce) cans tomato paste

2 (1-pound, 12-ounce) cans pear tomatoes in juice

3/4 cup whole milk

salt

Heat oil in large heavy-bottomed Dutch oven or soup pot over medium-high heat. Add meat cubes and cook, browning on all sides, about 5 minutes. Remove meat to plate and set aside.

Add onion to pot and cook, stirring often, 1 minute. Add celery, mushrooms, carrot and green peppers and cook, stirring often, 1 minute. Add garlic and chili flakes and cook, stirring, 30 seconds. Add rosemary, oregano, basil, thyme and Chianti. Bring to boil and cook until slightly reduced, 2 minutes.

Add reserved browned meat, broth and tomato paste. Pour in juice from canned tomatoes. Add cut-up pear tomatoes to pot.

Bring to slow boil, then reduce heat to medium-low to low to keep at a constant slow simmer. Cook, stirring often, until meat is very tender and falling apart and sauce is very thick, about 2 hours. Stir in milk.

Remove from heat and stir sauce well, breaking apart meat and incorporating into sauce. Taste sauce for salt, and season as needed. (Extra sauce can be frozen for up to three months.)

Merlot Double-Red-Wine Vinaigrette With Simple Seasonal Greens

Makes 1 1/2 cups vinaigrette

1/2 cup merlot red wine

1/2 cup red-wine vinegar

1 1/2 teaspoons Dijon mustard

1/2 teaspoon finely minced garlic

1 tablespoon finely minced shallots

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon black pepper

1 cup extra-virgin olive oil

mixed seasonal greens, as needed

In small noncorrosive saucepan, combine wine and wine vinegar.

Bring to boil over high heat.

Continue boiling until liquid is reduced by half to measure 1/2 cup. Remove from heat and cool to room temperature.

Place cooled wine reduction into medium bowl.

Add mustard, garlic, shallots, salt and pepper and whisk together.

Slowly drizzle in olive oil while whisking continuously. (Mixture should be nicely emulsified.)

Refrigerate until needed, whisking well again before serving.

To serve, in large bowl, place about 1 tablespoon vinaigrette for every packed, heaping cup of greens.

Dressing is big-flavored, so not much is needed.

Toss well until each leaf is coated. Add more dressing or greens to taste.

Chardonnay Braised Chicken

Serves 4-6

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 large chicken (about 4 pounds), cut into pieces (2 breasts, 2 legs, 2 thighs, 2 wings)

1 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon black pepper

1 teaspoon fennel seed

3/4 cup large-diced onion

3/4 cup large-diced celery

3/4 cup large-diced carrot

3/4 cup sliced mushrooms

3/4 cup large-diced red bell peppers

1 tablespoon minced garlic

1 teaspoon minced fresh thyme

1 3/4 cups chardonnay

1 tablespoon water

1 tablespoon cornstarch

1/4 cup whipping cream

1 tablespoon minced fresh chives

1 tablespoon minced Italian parsley

In braising pan, large Dutch oven or wide soup pot, heat olive oil over high heat.

Place chicken pieces on baking sheet. Sprinkle both sides with salt and pepper. Place chicken in hot oil and brown well, about 4 minutes on each side, in 2 batches if necessary to prevent overcrowding pan. Remove browned chicken to plate.

Reduce heat to medium-high. Add fennel seed and onion and cook about 10 seconds. Add celery, carrot, mushrooms and bell peppers and cook, stirring often, until lightly browned, 2 minutes to 3 minutes. Stir in garlic and cook 30 seconds more.

Return chicken to pan, tucking it between vegetables. Add fresh thyme and chardonnay. Bring to boil and cover pan. Bake in oven at 350 degrees 30 minutes. Remove lid and cook until chicken is very tender, 30 minutes longer.

Remove chicken and vegetables to platter and keep warm. Measure liquid (should be about 2 cups).

Return liquid to pan and place pan over medium-high heat. (If liquid is more than 2 cups, boil 1 minute to 2 minutes to reduce.)

In small cup, mix together water and cornstarch. Whisk mixture into sauce mixture in pan. Add cream and cook, whisking continuously, until mixture comes to boil.

Boil until saucy, about 2 minutes. Remove pan from heat. Stir in chives and parsley. Spoon sauce over chicken and vegetables.

Gewurztraminer Poached Fruit

Serves 4-6

1 1/2 cups dry Gewurztraminer

1/4 cup water

1 cup sugar

2 teaspoons finely minced lemon zest

1 cinnamon stick

1/2 vanilla bean, split lengthwise (or substitute 1 teaspoon vanilla extract)

1 large crisp apple, such as Braeburn, unpeeled, cored and cut into 1-inch chunks

1 large firm pear, unpeeled, cored and cut into 1-inch chunks

6 dried apricot halves, cut in half

1/4 cup dried sour cherries

3 whole dried dark figs, cut into quarters

vanilla ice cream

In heavy medium, wide saucepan, combine Gewurztraminer, water, sugar, lemon zest, cinnamon stick and vanilla bean (scrape vanilla-bean seeds from inside and add to pan -- it's the tiny, tasty, black flecks you want). Bring to rolling boil over high heat. Boil 3 minutes. Add apple, pear, apricots, cherries and figs and return to low boil. Reduce heat to low and simmer until fresh fruit is just tender, 2 minutes. Remove from heat and let stand 30 minutes. If serving right away, heat mixture until warm and serve in large shallow soup bowls with small scoop of ice cream in center. If making in advance, quickly cool mixture and refrigerate until ready to serve. (Can be made 2 days in advance. Reheat before serving until just warm.)

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