Friday, January 12, 2007

Amarone Meets Rossini and Callas

Frank’s Food and Wine Pairing

I’ve always wondered why Rossini retired at the height of his fame. One day he was at the peak of popularity, the next he vanished from the musical scene of his day.

The story goes that he decided to quit writing operas so he could go home, eat, and enjoy the company of the fairer sex. It’s also said he claimed to be basically lazy and simply didn’t want to work any more.

What does all this have to do with wine? The other day I was going through a cookbook and came across some recipes attributed to Rossini. Browsing through them I could see why he may have had a weight problem. The combinations where intriguing, but all were food and wine pairing dilemmas. Apparently Rossini liked to have everything at once – meat, cheese, wines, spices. I decided to create Filletto alla Rossini – an utterly decadent combination of fillet of beef, truffles, sauces, and Marsala (recipe follows).

The wine I chose may be a little over the top, but I was look for something to stand up to the richness of this dish. It needed to be a big wine and, in keeping with the spirit of the recipe, it needed to be an Italian red.

Filletto alla Rossini is a complex creation and the debate was which part of the dish to match or complement. The mushrooms and truffles would need a little earthy note, the braised meat required some tannins, and the sauces are all over the place. Ultimately, the wine I chose was a Masi Amarone Costasera 1997. Besides, if the wine didn’t go well with the food, it would be certainly wonderful for sipping after the meal.

How did it work? The dish is absolutely decadent – so much contrast but as a whole quite wonderful. The sauces really do work with each other, the morels and truffles bring totally different flavours and textures but blend together well.

The wine was surprising. With the food, it became velvety in the mouth and the little bit of earthiness came much more forward. The hint of botrytis, barely noticeable when sipping this wine on it own, came right out with the truffles and mushrooms. There is also a minor amount of sweetness to the wine which added a pleasing dimension to the dish.

This food and wine pairing definitely worked. Actually, it more than worked – it is a great combination. Sip after sip and bite after delectable bite, both changed to bring out the best and the most delicate nuances of the other throughout the meal.

So where does Maria Callas fit into all this? Well, since I was eating a Rossini dish, naturally there was opera playing in the background. I had just finished dinner and was enjoying the feeling of contentment that comes after a good meal enjoyed over a long period of time when I heard the unmistakable voice of Callas coming from the speakers. Un Voce Poco Fa from the Barber of Seville. Another perfect pairing – the wine and singer both with good mid-palette and exceptionally long finish at the end. The Italians call Amarone a meditative wine, and Callas’ crystal clear tones are notes to contemplate. The food, the wine, the music – all stellar. We will have to do this one again.

Susan’s note:

I’ll leave it to your imaginations to suppose what happened when I discovered Frank had actually embarked on this gastronomic adventure without sharing. The words were a little “stronger” than “oh, you did this on your own did you?” I make no pretense my ability to whip up some epicurean fantasy is even close to Frank’s, but I have absolutely no remorse about savouring them – heck, I’ll even do the dishes.

While I haven’t yet convinced him to spend another afternoon preparing Filletto alla Rossini for two, we did soon spend a delicious evening indulging in a second bottle of Masi Costasera Amarone Classico 1997. It was everything he said it was and more – filled with flavour, rich, smooth, and ultimately satisfying. And as much as I share a passion for Rossini operas, I can’t help thinking the great composer was onto something when he decided to retire and spend the rest of his days enjoying such life pleasures as good wine, good food, and good company.

PS: Frank’s also offered to try out another wine and Rossini recipe pairing for two. Sometimes guilt works wonders.

The Wine:
Masi Costasera Amarone Classico 1997
Amarone della Valpolicella Classico DOC
Grape varieties 70% Corvina, 25%Rondinella, 5% Molinara
Alcohol 15%

The Meal:Filletto alla Rossini

2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
8 tsp/40 g butter
4 fillet steaks
1 tbsp flour
1/2 glass Marsala
Salt and pepper to taste
4 slices Gruyere cheese
4 generous slices Prosciutto de Parma
1/2 cup Béchamel Sauce
4 slices bread
Truffles (preferably white)
Morel mushrooms

Heat the olive oil and butter in a heavy pan and fry the steaks. When the meat starts to brown, dust with flour, sprinkle with the Marsala, and boil until the sauce thickens. Season on both sides with salt and pepper. Braise the meat until it has absorbed the liquid, then remove and place in a flameproof dish. Lay the slices of cheese and ham on top of the meat, pour the Béchamel sauce over top, and bake for a few minutes in a preheated oven at 400°F (200°C) until the top is brown. Meanwhile add morels to the Marsala sauce. Fry the slices of bread in butter, surround with the Marsala sauce and Morels, and place the fillets on them. Top with sliced truffles. Enjoy!

From Culinaria Italy
ISBN: 3-8331-1133-X

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