I didn't really have any plans to celebrate the 7th anniversary of the blog, and after a busy week had thought that I'd just grill some burgers and take it easy. But I awoke early on Saturday with cravings for good food, Northern Italian style, and the knowledge that a pair of Super Tuscans could make it all incredible. I hit a couple of ethnic markets around town for ingredients and was able to perform Act I by lunchtime.
When most people in the US crave "Italian" food, the menu sticks to the Southern Italian and Sicilian recipes as they've become adapted into the distinct Italian-American cuisine of the 20th century: spaghetti, pizza, lasagna... Noodles and cheese and red sauce. When I visited Italy for three weeks, I spent the entire time north of Rome (except for two somewhat unpleasant days in Rome itself). One of my favorite things to make and consume is crespelle, savory crêpes that are sort of like Italian enchiladas: stuffed with meat and vegetables, topped with a sauce, and baked. Here I used Marcella Hazan's classic recipe with a spinach, garlic, and prosciutto filling with besciamella sauce and grated Romano cheese rounding out the inside and outside of the crespelle. Absolutely wonderful, and I limited myself to three as the primo piatto with a little New Zealand white wine I'll write about later.
For secondo piatto, I didn't follow any specific recipe but rather went with a gut feel about what I was craving: a rabbit chopped into its constituent cuts, slowly stewed with sweet discus-shaped cipollini onions, homemade chicken stock, red wine, and San Marzano tomatoes. A few hours did the lagomorph good, and I was able to spoon the rich stew on the plate beside a healthy dollop of freshly mixed polenta.
Sadly, this photo didn't come out quite the way I wanted, but I was ravenous at this point and had just finished a few hours of cooking and plating and everything else for just two people. Julia had never had rabbit before but dove into it enthusiastically, and while I've prepared this meat many different ways in the past, I've got to say that this not only satisfied my cravings for rustic European food but was also my best rabbit dish to date. The onions were great but I knew that I could coax some more flavor out of them. Thankfully I had more cipollini waiting in a little net bag for Sunday lunch...
Time out for wine, which is really the focus of this blog, right? I had a pair of wines from Il Borro, a Tuscan winery operated by the Ferragamo family, famous for their fashionable shoes over the past hundred years.
Both wines are of the following label and built from the same combination of grapes:
Il Borro Toscana IGT
50% Merlot, 35% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Syrah, 5% Petit Verdot
The 2008 celebrates the 10th anniversary of this blend, and retails for around $36 dollars at 14% abv. The 2004 vintage was included for aging comparison and clocks in at 14.5% abv. I really like the inclusion of Syrah along with the standard Bordeaux grapes, whether we're talking about California or elsewhere. Both wines have a dominant profile of bright red cherry, with notes of cedar, leather, and a somewhat creamy finish. Hints of spice showed up later. While both wines had great full-fruit elements, the 2004 was smoother, better balanced, and had lighter tannins.
And, I must admit, both wines were amazing with the stewed rabbit. But how would they hold up the next day for Act II?
As I was celebrating getting out of a small cooking rut with some culinary successes, I chose to continue that momentum with some leftovers and a few additional ingredients. This Southern boy was craving cornbread and collard greens. But I didn't want a slab of ham and some broccoli-rice casserole to round things out. I slow-cooked a big bunch of mustard greens with garlic and leftover prosciutto, seared and roasted a lamb shoulder chop, and pan-fried some of the leftover polenta in slices, topped with a bit more of the shredded Romano.
But what about my precious little cipollini? Oh, I just tossed them with a combination of balsamic vinegar, maple syrup, and olive oil and roasted them for about an hour until they became the sweetest little gems that any root vegetable could ever hope to become. Sunday lunch was a solitary affair, and once again the wines worked quite well with the food I'd made. I was able to quietly toast the anniversary with a pair of great wines in front of me, and no worries about the massive consumption of onions and garlic for any potential social encounters in the following eighteen hours.
All in all a delightful and epicurean weekend. Part of me wishes that I'd been able to entertain more people with the dishes, but on the other hand, it was fun to cook for two and then one. Simple peasant food can often be the source of such deep and wonderful pleasure, and on a cold January afternoon, that can sometimes be best enjoyed in smaller settings.
Note: These wines were received as samples.