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Homeward Bound

One of the results of the strange times we have been living through in the past few months has been an increase in home cooking. For a while, staying home was compulsory, but even when restaurants and cafés were able to reopen their doors, Covid19 nervousness kept many customers away. For the sake of the hospitality industry we hope this doesn’t become the new normal, but we are pleased that people are trying new recipes and, of course, discovering how much their enjoyment can be enhanced by finding the perfect vinous accompaniment. On these pages are a few ideas to keep you going.


Cacio e pepe (pasta with pepper)

Wine match: Oaked Sauvignon Blanc

This is one if the simplest dishes in the Italian pasta repertoire, yet it has a surprising number of interpretations. The basics are al dente pasta, black pepper and grated cheese, but the cheese can be Parmigiano-Reggiano or Pecorino, the pepper can be  heated through in butter or extra-virgin olive oil and the emulsion can be encouraged with a spoonful of the salty pasta water or simply an extra splash of oil. I like to toss whole black peppercorns in a hot cast-iron pan, crush them in a mortar and pestle and warm them through with a little butter, melted but not at all coloured. When the pasta has a minute or so to go, I add a generous spoonful of the cooking water to the pan, followed by the now-cooked pasta. Stirred through quickly and transferred to warmed serving bowls, the dish is topped with a generous amount of freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano which diners toss for themselves. Salt is not usually necessary thanks to the cooking water and cheese. The peppery edge is nicely complemented by any Sauvignon Blanc, but choosing one that has seen the inside of an oak barrel (Te Mata Cape Crest; Sacred Hill Sauvage; Cloudy Bay Te Koko; Hunter’s Kaha Roa et al adds an extra dimension.


Capsicum stuffed with swede and butternut

Wine match: Dry Riesling

This delicious dish was inspired by a recipe in Yotam Ottolenghi’s excellent Plenty More, but it has gone through a few transitions in our kitchen. The capsicums, including the stalks,  are split asunder and de-seeded, drizzled with oil and baked cut side up until their edges begin to blacken. The swede and butternut are cubed, braised in oil with a splash of mirin and a handful of dried oregano, then mixed with a few capers, rinsed and roughly chopped, finely chopped garlic and ginger and a spoonful of chopped and lightly pan-fried shallot. This mixture is spooned into the capsicum halves, topped with shaved Parmigiano-Reggiano and grilled. Chardonnay works well in the glass alongside, but we have had even better success with Riesling labelled dry, but carrying just enough sweetness (6-7g/L residual sugar) to lift the character of the butternut.


Mussels with Cream sauce

Wine match: Chardonnay

Mussels are the bargain champions of the shellfish world. Purchased live in the shell, as they can be nowadays even in supermarkets, they are quickly prepared and will easily feed a family for a couple of dollars per person. Recipes abound, but we believe simple is best. Steam them open in a splash of Chinese cooking wine spiked with a few herbs. Squeeze the shells together to enable you to pull out the seaweedy ‘beard’, remove the top shells and drizzle the exposed mussels with a little cream that has been stirred into the pan, incorporating any remaining liquid. Scatter chopped parsley over the top and your entrée is served! Chardonnay has the muscle to match the molluscs’ assertive flavour, but ask for one that has had acid-softening malolactic encouraged during its fermentation. The resulting texture ties in nicely with the creamy flesh and drizzled sauce.


Lamb rump with red wine sauce on braised lentils

Wine match:  Merlot or Merlot/Cabernet blend

Merlot, either flying solo or paired with Cabernet Sauvignon, is a great match for lamb, and its spicy, earthy flavours also sit nicely with the similar rusticity of braised lentils. We cook them using a method we were shown by Thierry Breton, a Paris chef who runs a trio of adjoining restaurants in a side street near the Gare du Nord. Red onion, garlic, celery and carrot, all finely chopped, are braised in oil and butter. While they soften, the lentils are placed in a pot of cold water and brought to the boil, then drained. The process is repeated, but this time the drained lentils are added to the vegetables and cooked over a very low heat until they are soft, but still offer a little resistance to the bite. A judicious splash of stock can be added as they cook if they are in danger of sticking. Seasoning is left until they are cooked, as it can otherwise toughen their skins. We spiked the lamb with slivers of garlic and anchovy, pushed into nicks in the meat with mini-sprigs of rosemary, seared it skin-side down then roasted it pink. A Merlot and stock reduction sauce completed the dish.


Beef cheeks with gingered kumara mash

Wine match: Shiraz or Primitivo

You might have to order beef cheeks from your local butcher, but they are worth the wait and make a splendid partner for the robust characters of Barossa Shiraz or Italian Primitivo. We’ve had success with both, and also enjoyed them with a rare Nero d’Avola grown and produced in South Australia’s McLaren Vale. Cooked long and slow, the cheeks offer delicious flavour and fall-apart texture unrivalled by any other part of the beast. The flavours in this dish were inspired by a plate of braised duck we enjoyed some years ago at Jacques Reymond restaurant in Melbourne, but here we’ve swapped the bird for beef. It works. We cut the cheeks into 3cm chunks, then browned them in oil in an ovenproof casserole and put them aside. Into the casserole went chopped red onion, smaller onions peeled but left whole, celery, carrot, garlic, ginger, chilli and a few sliced mushrooms, all stirred just to coat them with the meaty juices. Chicken stock and a tin of Italian tomatoes, roughly chopped, were added, plus a splash each of light soy sauce, mirin, pomegranate molasses and Worcestershire sauce. A single star anise, a small cinnamon stick, a few cardamon pods and a teaspoon of whole black peppercorns were wrapped in muslin secured with twine, making these undissolvable ingredients easy to remove later. Cooked in a 160degC oven for three hours, the cheeks gained green accents from a handful of thawed edamame beans added for the last few minutes of cooking, and were served on a bed of buttery mashed kumara spiked with grated ginger. Yum!

By Vic Williams