Wednesday, 12 February 2014

Valentine's Day, Venus, Scallops and Chateau Climens

If you are looking for the perfect Saint Valentine's Day dish to prepare for your loved one then Coquille St Jacques fits the bill very nicely. This is a famous French dish made of a blend of scallops in a cream and butter sauce and traditionally served in the shell of the scallop. The scallop is the symbol of Venus (Aphrodite), the goddess of beauty and love. Legend has it that Venus was born from the sea foam in the ocean, rising from the waves on a giant scallop shell. This myth has given scallops their reputation as an aphrodisiac and the sweet flesh of the scallop has been a favourite food for centuries.

Scallop shells appear in art, history and legend – Botticelli's masterpiece The Birth of Venus is one of the most famous. Coquille St Jacques takes its name from Saint James (Saint Jacques in French) and the scallop shell is his emblem.

Saint James was the son of Zebedee, a fisherman of Galilee, and brother of John the Evangelist. He was one of the Twelve Apostles and legend tells of his mission to Spain and burial at Compostella, which then became one of the great centres of Christian pilgrimage. It was well-established as a place of pilgrimage by the 11th century, next in importance to Jerusalem and Rome. A scallop shell was carried by pilgrims to Santiago de Compostella and served both as a symbol of the pilgrimage as well as a drinking cup. Pilgrims would ask for sustenance at the churches, forts and abbeys along the way and it's said that they would be given as much sustenance as they could pick up with one scoop of the scallop shell. This meant that even the poorest household could give charity without being overburdened.

Coquilles St Jacques

Some recipes actually use Sauternes rather than a dry white wine in the ingredients. You can pep the recipe up with grated ginger if you like and the choice of cheese varies from Gruyere to Parmesan.

1 tbsp olive oil or butter
1/2 onion, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, crushed
8 scallops
125ml white wine
150-160ml double cream
1 good handful freshly grated cheese
handful of fresh parsley

Preheat the grill. Heat the oil or butter in a frying pan. Add the onion and garlic and fry, stirring, for 2–3 minutes until softened and translucent. Add the parsley and season with salt and pepper. Remove the mixture from the pan and set aside, leaving any juices behind. Reheat the juices in the pan. When they are very hot, add the scallops and cook them for 20–40 seconds on each side until golden. Return the garlic and onion to the pan, followed by the white wine, and cook rapidly for 1–2 minutes until the liquid is reduced. Stir in the double cream and cook steadily until further reduced and thickened. Spoon the scallop mixture into a flame proof dish or scallop shell and cover with grated cheese. Place the dish under the grill until the cheese is golden. Garnish with parsley and serve immediately.

Wine Pairing

The Pilgrim Way of Saint James actually runs through the Bordeaux wine region and the emblem of the scallop shell can still be seen on churches and buildings marking the Way or indicating that they were places offering food and shelter. The city of Bordeaux itself served as a port for pilgrims coming by sea and there were stopping points along the Way throughout the appellations. I mentioned earlier that Coquille Saint Jacques can be made with a splash of Sauternes so it seems appropriate to pair this dish with one of the best. Chateau Climens is one of the great white sweet wines of Bordeaux and is a First Growth (Premier Cru) from the Barsac region. Climens lies opposite Chateau Roumieu (the place name roumieu means a stopping-off point on the Pilgrims Way) and Climens' reputation over the centuries has gained it the nickname of the 'Lord of Barsac.'

Climens is one of the rare single variety growths of region, it's made from 100% Semillon and its wines are stunning. They are renowned for their intense bouquet and have aromas of pineapple, vanilla and apricot with flavours of quince, honey and candied fruits. The wines of Climens have a wonderful balance of power and finesse and would be a fantastic accompaniment to this Valentine's Day dish.


Tuesday, 4 February 2014

Cream of Parsnip Soup and Bordeaux White Wine

At this time of year there are a few vegetables left standing in the Kitchen Garden that have braved the winter; brussels sprouts and parsnips being amongst them. Parsnips actually taste sweeter after the first frosts but given our waterlogged winter we haven't seen much ice so far. Before sugar cane became Britain's source of sugar the parsnip was used to sweeten jams and cakes in the Middle Ages. I've read that the Ancient Romans enjoyed eating parsnips in honey and that the Emperor Tiberius had part of the tribute payable to Rome by Germany in the form of parsnips. Nowadays parsnips don't feature much in modern Italian cooking but they are fed to pigs that are bred to make Parma ham!

I have a lovely recipe for Cream of Parsnip Soup that is a great winter warmer. You can spice it up with a sprinkling of Feta cheese, crispy bacon pieces or with croutons tossed in chilli oil.

Cream of Parsnip Soup

1 lb parsnips, sliced
4 medium potatoes, cubed
1 onion, sliced
1 litre chicken stock
1 bay leaf
100ml single cream
50g butter
salt and white pepper to taste

Melt the butter in a saucepan and add the onions. When they are lightly browned, add the potatoes and parsnips. Sauté for about 5 minutes. Add the bay leaf. Cover the vegetables with chicken broth and simmer over low heat about 30 minutes. Remove the bay leaf and take the pan off the heat. Pur
ée the mixture with a blender. Add the cream and stir until blended into the soup. Serve hot.

Wine Pairing

A fruity white wine will echo the sweetness in the parsnips but you will also need one that will cope with the cream in the soup. A Bordeaux Blanc with a blend of Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon grapes would be a good choice. Chateau Les Eymeries is made with a 50 / 50 blend of these grapes and has very good balance. It's well crafted and very moreish in its own right with crisp, fresh flavours of sweet melon, pink grapefruit and apple with a subtle hint of pineapple and honey.