Comfort Food and Red Bordeaux: A Heavenly Match on a Cold Day

In anticipation of this winter’s cold weather, I’ve already switched my wine orientation here in New York City to heartier, bolder reds.  I’ll pair them with anything from the stick-to-your-ribs osso bucco at Casa Nonna to a hanger steak at my local bistro Demarchelier or even the fabulous fried oysters remoulade at the Seahorse Tavern.  I love the website from the Bordeaux Wine Council for ideas for pairing either at a restaurant or at home. The tips are useful and the website is quite comprehensive.  Through it, I found Rob Moshein, a Bordeaux wine buff from Texas, who I interviewed about some of his favorite recipes to accompany these fabulous reds. 

Rob, who works with the Austin-based wine specialist store,The Wine Cellar at Bee Cave, noted that the tannins and acids of red Bordeaux go especially well with the protein-heavy nature of winter comfort foods.  I totally agree.

Here are three suggestions from Rob for wines and recipes to match three of my favorite winter dishes, cassoulet, French onion soup, and cauliflower (now on menus everywhere and rapidly replacing Brussels sprouts as the side vegetable of choice):

Cassoulet - serves 6-8
Pairs well with Château Segonzac, Blaye, Côtes de Bordeaux, 2009: Rich, black fruits, silky tannins and solid structure.

4 cups dried white beans, flageolet or cannellini

1/2 pound not-too-smoky slab bacon

1/4 thick sliced prosciutto or pancetta

small bunch fresh parsley -- leaves chopped, stems saved

10 sprigs fresh thyme

2 bay leaves

3 whole cloves

salt and black pepper

1 pound boneless beef for stew, cut into 1-inch cubes

oil or fat as needed

2 medium onions, sliced

duck confit (if you can't find this, roast two whole turkey thighs and reserve)

8 garlic cloves, peeled

2 cups chicken stock, plus more as needed
1 tablespoon chopped garlic

1/4 teaspoon cayenne

1/2 pound garlicky sausage, preferably in one piece

1 cup bread crumbs

1. Bring 5 quarts of water to a boil in a large saucepan and add the beans. Remove from heat and let soak for 1 hour.

2. Cut the bacon slab and prosciutto or pancetta each into 4 large chunks and cover in water in another saucepan; turn the heat to medium, and when the water boils, turn it down to a gentle simmer.
Cook for about 30 minutes.

3. Make a bouquet garni by combining the parsley stems, thyme, bay leaves and whole cloves in a piece of cheesecloth and tying it into a bundle.  Add it, along with the bacon/prosciutto, to the beans; bring to a boil, then lower the heat to a gentle simmer. Cook, skimming occasionally, until the beans are just tender, 45 to 90 minutes. (Add water if necessary; ideally the beans will be moist but not swimming when they’re done.) Taste and adjust the seasoning to taste if necessary.

4. Sprinkle the beef with salt and pepper. Put 3 tablespoons oil or fat in a large pot over medium-high heat. When it’s hot, add the beef and brown the pieces well. Add the onions and cook, stirring occasionally, until soft, 5 or 6 minutes; turn off heat.

5. Remove the duck confit or turkey from the refrigerator and scrape off the fat; debone and shred the meat. Add the meat and garlic cloves to the pot with the beef, along with 2 cups chicken stock, chopped garlic and cayenne. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to a gentle simmer; cover. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the beef is very tender, 1 to 11/2 hours. Taste and adjust the seasoning if necessary.

6. When you’re ready to assemble the cassoulet, discard the bouquet garni. Cut the fat from the meat and cut the meat into small pieces.

7. Heat 2 tablespoons oil or fat in a medium skillet over medium-high heat, add the sausage and cook, turning as necessary until well browned; transfer to a cutting board and slice into quarter-inch rounds.

8. Heat the oven to 375. Transfer the beans to a large enameled cast-iron pot with a slotted spoon to leave behind most of the cooking liquid. Add the sausage and bacon on top, then the duck-and-lamb mixture; gently stir to blend well

9. Put the pot over medium heat and bring to a simmer, uncovered, then turn off heat. Cover with bread crumbs and chopped parsley leaves and bake, uncovered, for 20 minutes. Reduce the heat to 325.

10. Bake the cassoulet until it’s hot, bubbling and crusted around the edges, 30 to 40 minutes; add a little water or stock if it starts to look too dry. Then, enjoy!

French Onion Soup  - makes 4-8 servings
Pairs well with Château Puy-Blanquet, Saint Emilion, Grand Cru, 2009.  This elegant Merlot-based wine has a vibrant cherry tone, is clean and crisp on the palate, but not too heavy for soup.  It has nice spice and pepper flavors on the finish.

The stock:

3 lbs. meaty beef soup bones

2 bay leaves

4 whole peppercorns

salt to taste.

Put the bones onto a large baking pan and roast at 375 for 20 minutes until browned.  Transfer the bones to a large stock pot.  Add a cup or two of water to the baking pan and scrape up all the browned bits on the bottom and add to the bones in the pot.  Add the bay leaves and peppercorns and add just enough water to cover. Bring to a gentle boil over high heat then cover and lower the heat and let simmer for at least 90 minutes. (This can be done in advance, just strain when cooked, cool, cover and refrigerate until needed for the soup).

The soup:

3 pounds onions, sliced both thick and thin.

3 tablespoons butter

1/4 cup all-purpose flour

beef stock (from above)

ground pepper and salt to taste

1/2 brandy or cognac (optional)

1/2 pound Gruyere cheese grated

Melt the butter in  a large soup pot.  When the foam subsides, turn the flame to medium and add the onions.  Stir well and often until the onions are soft and golden, about 30-45 minutes.  Add the flour and stir well, cook about 5 more minutes, stirring, to cook out the raw flour taste and start to color the flour golden.  Add the stock, cover and simmer on a low flame for 90 minutes, stirring occasionally. Taste and adjust the seasoning with salt and pepper as needed. Add the brandy if using and cook another fifteen minutes, stirring occasionally.  Put equal parts of the grated cheese into individual soup bowls and ladle in the hot soup on top.  Serve with good crusty bread.

Chou-fleur Gratinée - serves 4
Pairs well with Mouton Cadet Bordeaux Rouge, 2010.  A light, easy wine, with typical currant and cherry aromas on the nose. This wine is silky with moderate tannins.

1/2 pound bacon

large onions, sliced

1 pound potatoes thick sliced

1 pound fresh cauliflower, cut up bite size

1/4 pound Gruyere cheese, grated

Heat oven to 350.

Put a tablespoon of oil into a frying pan and cook the bacon until just crisp.  Add onion and sauté until the onions are just soft and turning golden.

Put the potato slices in a large pot and add enough water to more than cover. Add salt to taste and bring to a gentle boil, add the cauliflower and cook until both are tender, about 5-7 minutes.  When cooked, drain thoroughly.

In a gratin dish, layer 1/3 of the potato and cauliflower, and then scatter 1/3 of the bacon onion mixture across and top with 1/3 of the cheese.  Drizzle the layer with 1/3 of the cream and repeat until all is used.  Bake in the 350 oven for about 30 minutes until bubbling.  Let rest two or three minutes before serving piping hot!


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