Aug 28, 2017 09:00AM ● Published by Maria Terry
After a long summer of BBQs, I like to dedicate a day to meat-free eating. I want something different than the usual salads that accompany grilled meats, and I want these foods to burst with a variety of flavors: sweet, sour, salty, savory, and even a little bitter. A real umami tsunami!
Since September is often the hottest month in the San Francisco East Bay, I still find myself craving cold soups. Gazpacho is one that makes you want to smack your lips when you take a spoonful. It is the perfect way to take advantage of the last of the sweet summer tomatoes and crisp cucumbers. I love it with a creamy dollop of sour cream as a garnish, and sometimes I throw in a jalapeño with the bell peppers if I am craving a little spice. To pair, Grüner Veltliner is the highly sought after grape from Austria that immediately comes to mind for these intense vegetal flavors. Grüener has flavors of lime zest and white pepper, with a searing acidity that stands up to the acid in the soup. If you can’t find a Grüener, a Sauvignon Blanc will work; however, do try to seek out this unique wine. If you have never had Grüener before, I think you will be surprised at how exciting it is, and it may even become a new favorite.
I could get lost in a main course of ratatouille, a Southern French country dish, accompanied by some really good French bread and a bottle of Southern Rhone red wine. My husband would probably boycott dinner if I didn’t serve some kind of meat alongside, so for those folks who are inclined, just about any grilled meat will go nicely. For me, the earthy flavors of eggplant, peppers and zucchini mingled with tomatoes, garlic and fresh herbs spiked with a hit of red wine vinegar provide enough texture and flavor to satisfy my appetite. As for the wine, this is a perfect time to keep things regional. Look for a Southern Rhone red made from a blend of Grenache, Syrah and Mourvedre. Southern Rhones tend to have flavors of bright red fruit that are deepened by notes of dark earth and an herbaceous quality that mimic those exact flavors ratatouille.
Finish off your meal with a Pinot Noir from your favorite wine growing region and the Candy Cap Mushroom Cheesecake. (Find recipe at www.LaSommelierre.com.). A candy cap mushroom doesn't taste like any other mushroom you've ever tasted. It tastes more like French toast, pancakes, or waffles with maple syrup. And, when used in the recipe below, it takes on a savory, sweet quality that works with the earthy, savory, and sweet fruit flavors in the Pinot.
So, go on. Pair Up!
Maria Terry is a Certified Sommelier and Wine Educator in the San Francisco Bay Area. www.LaSommelierre.com
1 hothouse cucumber, halved and seeded, but not peeled
2 red bell peppers, cored and seeded
4 plum tomatoes
1 red onion
3 garlic cloves, minced
23 ounces tomato juice (3 cups)
1/4 cup white wine vinegar
1/4 cup good olive oil
1/2 tbsp. kosher salt
1 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
Roughly chop the cucumbers, bell peppers, tomatoes, and red onions into 1-inch cubes. Put each vegetable separately into a food processor fitted with a steel blade and pulse until it is coarsely chopped. Do not over process!
After each vegetable is processed, combine them in a large bowl and add the garlic, tomato juice, vinegar, olive oil, salt, and pepper. Mix well and chill before serving. The longer gazpacho sits, the more the flavors develop.
Yield: 4-6 servings
1 can (28 ounces) whole peeled tomatoes
6 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 large eggplant (1 pound), cut into 1-inch pieces
Coarse salt and ground pepper
2 large yellow onions (1 pound total), diced large
1 head garlic, cloves smashed and peeled
2 bell peppers (any color), seeded and diced large
2 large zucchini (1 pound total), diced large
1 bay leaf
1 tbsp. fresh marjoram or oregano leaves
2 to 3 tbsp. red-wine vinegar
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Place tomatoes and juices on a rimmed baking sheet and use your hands to break tomatoes into 3/4-inch pieces. Drizzle with two tablespoons oil and bake until thickened, 30 minutes, stirring every 10 minutes.
Meanwhile, in a colander, toss eggplant with 1½ teaspoons salt. Let sit 20 minutes, then squeeze out excess liquid. In a large Dutch oven or heavy pot, heat four tablespoons oil over medium. Add onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until translucent, five minutes. Add garlic and cook until onions and garlic are soft, five minutes. Add peppers and cook, stirring, until crisp-tender, four minutes. Season with salt and pepper.
Add tomatoes, eggplant, zucchini, bay leaf, and marjoram to pot. Cook, stirring occasionally, until mixture comes to a simmer. Reduce heat to medium-low, partially cover, and cook at a gentle simmer until vegetables are tender but not mushy, 15 minutes. Season to taste with vinegar, salt, and pepper. Remove bay leaf before serving.
Yield: 10-12 servings
Candy Cap Mushroom Cheesecake
½ cup water
½ cup sugar
¼ oz. dried candy cap mushrooms
8 full graham crackers
6 Ritz crackers
6 tbsp. melted butter
1 tbsp. brown sugar
1 (12 oz.) container fresh whole milk ricotta, drained
2 (8 oz.) packages cream cheese, room temperature
¾ cup sugar
¼ cup candy cap mushroom simple syrup
1 tsp. lemon zest, grated
Candied Bacon Topping:
12 slices bacon
Finely ground black pepper
1/3 cup light brown sugar
Make syrup: Using a mortar and pestle or a coffee grinder, grind candy cap mushrooms into a very fine powder. In a small saucepan, combine equal parts water and sugar. Boil and stir constantly until it is reduced by half and starts to thicken. Add mushroom powder, one tablespoon at a time.
Make bacon: Preheat oven to 325ºF. Put bacon slices in a bowl, season them with pepper and toss with brown sugar. Cover a baking sheet with parchment or foil and arrange bacon in a single layer on top. Sprinkle any sugar left in the bowl over bacon. Place tray in the oven and bake for 20 minutes. If it is not golden brown and fairly crispy, cook it for 10 to 15 more minutes. Bacon will “crisp” up as it sits.
Make crust: Combine butter and sugar. Place graham crackers and Ritz crackers in a Ziploc bag. Crush until coarse crumbs. Place in large bowl and combine with butter and sugar until it just holds together.
Make cheesecake: Preheat oven to 350ºF. Wrap outside of a 9-inch springform pan with 2 3/4-inch-high sides with 2 layers of heavy-duty foil. Press crumb mixture over bottom (not the sides) of prepared pan. Bake until crust is golden, about 7 minutes. Cool crust completely on a cooling rack. Blend ricotta in food processor until smooth. Add cream cheese and sugar and blend well, stopping machine occasionally and scraping down sides of work bowl. Blend in candy cap syrup and lemon zest. Add eggs and pulse just until blended.
Pour cheese mixture over crust in the pan. Place springform pan in a large roasting pan. Pour enough hot water into roasting pan to come halfway up the sides of springform pan. Bake until cheesecake is golden and center of cake moves slightly when pan is gently shaken, about 1 hour and 5 minutes (the cake will become firm when it is cold). Top with crumbled candy bacon.
Transfer cake to a rack and cool 1 hour. Refrigerate until cheesecake is cold, at least 8 hours and up to 2 days. Cut cake into wedges and serve.
Yield: 6-8 servings