France

WINE & FOOD KILLERS: L’Austral Jolie Brise Blanc 2017 and Strawberries & Meringue with Pistachio Gelato, Olive Oil & Sichuan Pepper

This dessert had two inspirations. One was Instagram – specifically, a photo taken at Paris restaurant Cheval d’Or, which showed a scattering of strawberries on a stoneware plate, drizzled with olive oil and sprinkled with ground Sichuan pepper. It sounds outlandish, but it actually makes sense that Sichuan pepper works with the fruit; strawberries and black pepper are a tried-and-true combination, and Sichuan peppercorns, both tinglingly electric and fruity in flavour, add just that little extra kick.

The other inspiration was my all-time favourite, desert-island dessert, which I had at London’s P Franco a few years back. It was just a pistachio ice cream, but somehow better than every other pistachio ice cream that has ever came before it. It was also drizzled in fine olive oil and sprinkled with sea salt.

As you have likely gleaned by now, I prefer my desserts with a savoury edge – enough to counterbalance the sweetness and prevent them from being cloying. This dish, with its olive oil and pepper, plus meringue and strawberry and gelato, is the ideal blend of both.

You could very well pair this dessert with a wine with some residual sweetness – in fact, that might be the more popular choice. Me, I quite like this bone-dry pet nat alongside. It has that classic Chenin Blanc nose – mingled notes of pear and apple, honey and lemon – which conjures whispers of sweetness, though on the palate it’s all fizz and zesty acidity. I think this dessert is just savoury enough to support it. Like the pleasingly tart strawberries, this bubbly adds its own refreshing, contrasting piquancy.

Strawberries and Meringue with Pistachio Gelato, Olive Oil & Sichuan Pepper Meringue
Adapted from Delicious
Serves 2

For the meringue:
½ lemon
Three large eggs, room temperature
175g (6oz) caster sugar
½ teaspoon vanilla-bean paste (or vanilla extract)

For the dessert:
½ tub pistachio gelato (available at specialist retailers and good supermarkets)
200g (7oz) strawberries of various sizes (large ones hulled and halved)
3-4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil (the best quality you can get)
½ teaspoon ground Sichuan pepper (or black pepper)

1. First, make the meringue. Preheat your oven to 120° Celsius. Ensure your large mixing bowl and electric whisk are completely clean (any traces of grease or fat will prevent the meringue from properly forming). Wipe both the bowl and beaters with a lemon half; the acid helps the meringue form and stabilise.

2. Crack the eggs and separate the whites and the yolks (discard the yolks, or save for another project). Add the whites to the bowl, ensuring there are no traces of yolk or shell. Beat on high speed, using your electric whisk, until the whites form soft peaks. Gradually add the sugar, 1 tablespoon at a time, and beat well in between. Beat for a total of 5-6 minutes, or until the meringue is stiff and glossy. Add the vanilla bean paste and beat until just incorporated.

3. Dollop the meringue on a large baking sheet, lined with parchment paper or a silicon mat. Using a spatula, spread the meringue into a thin, even layer; it should be no more than half an inch thick.

4. Bake the meringue for approximately 1 ¼ hours, or until it is completely set and no longer tacky, but has not darkened in colour. Remove from the oven and leave to cool on the tray completely. Once cool, break into jagged, misshapen pieces (you will likely have extra meringue left over; store it in an airtight container and enjoy as a bonus dessert).

5. Arrange the strawberries between two plates or bowls. Add several small scoops of gelato to each serving. Drizzle over the olive oil and sprinkle the berries with the Sichuan pepper. Add several meringue pieces per plate. Serve immediately.

Claire M. Bullen is a professional food and travel writer, a beer hound, wine buff and an all-around lover of tasty things. Our first book with Claire, The Beer Lover’s Table: Seasonal Recipes and Modern Beer Pairings, is out now and available in all good book stores (and at HB&B). Follow her on Twitter at @clairembullen.

Wine & Food Killers: Pierre-Olivier Bonhomme Touraine Sauvignon 2017 and Salmon Crudo

If you ever need a wine to suit all manner of tastes and predilections, this amiable bottle is a born crowd-pleaser. Hailing from the Touraine appellation in the Loire Valley, Pierre-Olivier Bonhomme’s Sauvignon Blanc is farmed organically, fermented with indigenous yeasts, unfined and unfiltered.

That natty-wine cred is all well and good, but purity tests aside, this bottle is simply, lip-smackingly good.

It pours a flaxen gold, brilliant and electric. On the nose, it’s opulent with honey, lushly floral, with a touch of piquant lemon zest and something deeper and more animal: the faintest scent of wool and lanolin, perhaps. On the palate, it tastes sweetly of elderflower and apple, though there’s enough acidity to prevent it from becoming cloying. Here is a wine that feels like languid spring afternoons on the grass, like sunny kisses, like endless Sundays…

It’s best not to over-complicate a wine like this; if you’re eating alongside, go for something simple and quick and made with the best-quality ingredients you can find. I like this salmon crudo as a pairing: the wine has no trouble with the fish’s oiliness, while the dish’s lightly honeyed and citric dressing emphasises the Sauvignon Blanc’s best attributes. Add oregano for herbaceousness, shallots for sharpness, and pine nuts for crunch.

Feel free to riff, too, if you’re feeling creative – swap the salmon for trout or mackerel, use lime juice instead, try mint or tarragon. Crudo is a flexible format, and one that rewards experimentation.

Salmon Crudo
Serves 2

For the dressing:
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil (as high-quality as you can afford)
1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 tablespoon freshly squeezed ruby grapefruit juice
1 ½ teaspoons runny honey
Pinch fine sea salt

For the crudo:
1 medium-sized shallot
Juice of 1 lemon
2-3 tablespoons pine nuts
1 fillet skinless, sushi-grade salmon or trout
Flaky sea salt, such as Maldon
Fresh oregano leaves, to garnish
Grapefruit zest, to garnish

1. First, prepare the dressing. Add all ingredients to a small bowl and whisk until uniform. Set aside.

2. Peel the shallot and slice into very thin rounds. Separate the layers and add to a small bowl. Squeeze over the lemon juice and leave the shallots to lightly pickle for 15–20 minutes while you prepare the rest of the dish.

3. Add the pine nuts to a small frying pan and place over medium-high heat. Toast, tossing frequently, for approximately 5 minutes, or until the pine nuts are golden-brown. Remove from the heat and set aside.

4. Using your sharpest knife, cut the salmon into very thin slices (be sure to slice against the grain, on a bias). Arrange between two plates, and top each with a light sprinkle of sea salt.

5. Top each slice of salmon with a shallot ring and an oregano leaf. Sprinkle over the pine nuts. Pour the dressing around the fish slices until it forms a very shallow layer on the plate. Grate over the grapefruit zest and serve immediately.

Claire M. Bullen is a professional food and travel writer. Our first book with Claire, The Beer Lover’s Table, is out now and available via our online shop and hopefully at your favourite booksellers. Pick up a bottle of the glorious Bonhomme Touraine Sauvignon here, and to sign up for our Natural Wine Killers natural wine subscription box, head here.

Natural Wine Killers: Jean Christophe Garnier Bezigon Chenin 2017

A mere two editions since our December box, here we are extolling the virtues of Chenin Blanc once again. Where then it was all about the bubbles, with an immensely enjoyable Vouvray Brut, this time the focus is on a dry still wine.

In that column, we waxed lyrical about the versatility of Chenin Blanc from the Loire. Its ability to produce truly invigorating wines from dry to sweet and sparkling is almost unmatched in the world of wine. Within the Loire, there are other white grapes which garner more attention (the Sauvignon Blancs of Sancerre and Poulliy-Fumé are household names), but for me, the chameleon-like nature of Chenin is more likely to set my heart racing.

This wine from Jean-Christophe Garnier is from the Anjou sub-region of the Loire Valley. Although it is a cool climate with maritime influences, the Mauges hills protect the region from the worst of the weather coming in from the Bay of Biscay. This shelter, combined with warmer soils, gives winemakers the confidence to leave their grapes on the vines longer, and seek out greater levels of ripeness.

The western section of Anjou contains the appellations of Savennières (home to some of the greatest dry Chenins) and Coteaux du Layon (a source of some of France’s most underrated sweet wines). Garnier’s plot comes from the small, but acclaimed village of Saint-Lambert-Du-Lattay. Although technically in the zone of Coteaux du Layon, Garnier makes dry wines, following his own rules and using the generic Vin de France denomination.

Garnier’s is a no-frills operation. He uses an old apple press, taking 2-3 days to extract all the juice from his berries, and after fermentation, ages the wine in large oak foudres for one year (hence the oxidative, bruised apple and almond aromas). He starts with organically cultivated grapes picked at maximum maturity, giving the wine a honeyed, baked apple aspect. There’s some volatile acidity there too, giving it a fresh finish, but not at the expense of the fruit. Paired with a fatty, rich plate like Anjou pork rillettes, and you’ve got just the tonic for a dank wintry evening.

Claire Bullen’s pairing: Braised chicken thighs with honey-glazed root vegetables or a mixed charcuterie platter

Paul Medder is a freelance wine educator and works for one of the UK's leading wine distributors. He occasionally tweets @PaulMedder. To sign up for our Natural Wine Killers natural wine subscription box, head here.