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Summer is a time for socialising, for inviting friends round for an alfresco meal. Natasha Hughes comes up with some perfect seasonal dishes to enjoy with a glass or two of Californian wine
After a long, hard winter (and a reluctant spring), summer is finally with us. It’s time to make the most of the sunny days and those long evenings that stretch out for hours.
Why not crack open a bottle of Californian fizz from Mendocino to celebrate summer’s arrival? Made in the same way as traditional Champagne – and often by the same people – California’s sparkling wines are richer and riper than their French counterparts, so they work equally well as an apéritif or matched with food. Summer seems to call for zesty flavours, so you’ll need light, fresh white wines to go with the grilled fish, vibrant herbs and salads, and the bright flavours of summer vegetables. Think lightly oaked – if oaked at all – and choose crisp Chardonnays from cooler parts of Carneros and Sonoma, aromatic whites from the Central Coast or the drier styles of rosé that are becoming increasingly popular both here and in the US. Summer is also time to fire up the barbecue, of course. You’re going to need full-bodied reds to cope with those smoky, robust, meaty flavours, but you don’t want a wine with too many firm tannins or too much new oak – they’re an anathema to the sweet, gentle spice of most barbecue marinades. Opt for a fruity Zinfandel from the Sierra foothills or Paso Robles – or look for opulently spiced southern Rhône grapes from the same regions. As we’ve seen in previous issues, there’s a Californian match for every dish under the sun, so when trying one of these seasonal recipes why not sample one of the paired wine suggestions too?
Seafood platter with dips
Plate up a selection of the following: gently boiled or steamed prawns, shrimp, lobster, crab, crayfish, clams and mussels, and raw oysters. Keep in the fridge until ready to serve. For the chilli mayonnaise dip, mix mayonnaise and chipotle salsa (or finely chopped chipotle chillies, pre-soaked in hot water for 20 mins) until the dip makes your tongue tingle but doesn’t blow your head off. To make the herbed yoghurt dressing, mix yoghurt with a tbsp or two of olive oil, a tbsp of lime or lemon juice and enough chopped fresh herbs (any or all of mint, basil, tarragon, dill, parsley, sorrel) to turn the mixture a vibrant green. Season well. For the Thai chilli and lime sauce, chop a bunch of fresh coriander (including the roots), then blend with 1 tsp salt, 1 clove garlic, 3 small green chillies, 1 tbsp sugar, 3 tbsp lime juice and 2 tbsp fish sauce (nam pla).
A seafood platter is the perfect meal for a summer evening with friends – or even that special someone. Heap a platter high with a selection of lightly cooked shellfish and molluscs and some raw oysters and add a selection of dips. Greet your guests with a flute of sparkling wine, either one made from a blend of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir or a more delicate blanc de blancs made from zesty Chardonnay alone, and pour generously as you pick your way through sweetly flavoured shellfish. The bright acidity and brioche notes of a glass of fizz marry perfectly with the delicate seafood, while the extra weight and ripe fruit that come from the Californian sunshine give these wines the body and personality to stand up to the richness of the dips.
We matched this dish to Schrambsberg’s Blanc de Blancs Brut 2006 (£21.88, Vineyard Cellars) and Louis Roederer’s Quartet NV (£23.50, Majestic).
Swordfish and salsa verde
Prepare the salsa first. Chop a large bunch of flat-leafed parsley, a handful of mint leaves and a small bunch of basil. Place in a bowl and add 2 cloves garlic, minced, 2 tbsp finely chopped capers, 1 tbsp finely chopped gherkins and 5 finely chopped anchovy fillets. Stir in the juice of 1 lemon, 1 tbsp white wine vinegar and 100ml extra virgin olive oil. Season to taste with salt and freshly ground black pepper. When you’re ready to eat, sear 4 swordfish steaks, 150–180g each, on a griddle for 2–4 minutes on each side (depending on thickness) until just cooked. (If you can’t get swordfish, any firm-fleshed white fish will do – try hake, monkfish, halibut or cod.) Season generously and serve with the salsa verde, boiled, buttered new potatoes and grilled vine tomatoes. (Serves 4).
Salsa verde may well be the ultimate summer sauce, with its combination of zingy citrus, pungent capers and gherkins, salty anchovies and perfumed herbs. It works well as an accompaniment to vegetables grilled on a barbecue, lamb cutlets, cold meats and any white fish with enough character to stand up to it. Finding a wine to partner salsa verde is also a question of character. Here, the combination of fish and salsa points to a white wine – look for an unoaked Chardonnay or Sauvignon Blanc, or perhaps a zesty Riesling. With charcuterie or lamb cutlets you could opt for a dry rosé or an unoaked red – a lively Sonoma Pinot Noir would do the trick. In all cases you’re looking for a wine with lots of personality, as well as enough acidity to prevent it from being eclipsed by the salsa.
We matched this dish to Duckhorn’s Napa Valley Sauvignon Blanc 2008 (£22.50, Planet of the Grapes) and Sebastiani’s unoaked Chardonnay from Russian River Valley 2006 (£11.49, Berkmann Wine Cellars).
Marinated barbequed chicken
Prepare the marinade in time for the chicken to marinate overnight (or 24 hours if possible). Mix a thumb of fresh ginger, peeled and grated, 1 tbsp brown sugar, zest of ½ orange and juice of 1 orange, 2 tbsp tomato ketchup, 4 tbsp brown/HP sauce, 1 tsp of chipotle chillies in adobo (or 1 chipotle chilli soaked in boiling water for 20 mins, then chopped), 1 tbsp corn oil and 1 tbsp Bourbon or whisky (optional). Score the skin of 1kg chicken thighs through to the flesh, then rub the marinade in well. Cover and leave in the fridge overnight. About an hour before you want to eat, place in a preheated oven at 180ºC and cook for 40–50 mins, then finish off on a barbecue if you want that extra smoky flavour. Serve with sweet potatoes and sweetcorn for an authentic US barbecue taste.
Summer wouldn’t be summer without a barbecue, and the Americans are experts at grilling dinner over an open flame. In California, anything goes, from chicken and fish to prawns, ribs and vegetables. The marinade is vital: it tenderises the meat and dictates the flavour of the finished dish. This particular marinade is inspired by a combination of American flavours (the chipotles and Bourbon in particular), enlivened with hints of ginger and fruity orange. The end result is a sauce that marries gentle spice with rich fruit and a hint of smokiness. You need a supple, juicy red wine to match this, without too many tannins or too much sweet vanilla oak. Try a southern Rhône blend from the Central Coast or a rich, fruity Zinfandel, a grape the Californians are proud to call their own.
We matched this dish to Gnarly Head’s Old Vine Zinfandel, Lodi 2008 (£10, Bibendum) and Bonny Doon’s Le Cigare Volant 2005 (£29.99, Selfridges).
Photographs ROB LAWSON
Originally published in Square Meal Lifestyle Summer 2010