Food and wine pairings can tell a story

Here with a Loaf of Bread beneath the Bough,

A Flask of Wine, a Book of Verse – and Thou

Beside me singing in the Wilderness –

And Wilderness is Paradise enow.

The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam

” … the odour of Burgundy, and the smell of French sauces, and the sight of clean napkins and long loaves, knocked as a very welcome visitor at the door of our inner man.”

Jerome K. Jerome

The advent of vineyards on the North Fork and the subsequent evolution of artisanal foods have brought a minor revolution to our region. Not only are we becoming a major tourist attraction, we are also beginning a conversation among ourselves about food and wine. Often the conversation is controversial, loaded with emotion and skimpy on facts. But it is pretty exciting that it is happening at all. What is all this nonsense about matching food and wine? Does it really matter? And what about cooking with wine? Are there rules for that, too?

What I have learned after a lifetime of drinking wine with my dinner is that a well-made wine calms my nerves, stimulates my appetite and makes me want to reach out to my dinner companions. I also find that I look forward to even the simplest of meals when I know that a good wine will be served. The food and wine must enhance each other if this formula is to work.

This is how the meal becomes a poem and the story of the bottle complements the story of the food. It is always much more than just scientifically matching food and wine. It is remembering our experiences and memories that are attached to the bottle, whether they are geographical, personal or emotional. We are fortunate to be on the North Fork, where these stories abound.

Filet Mignon with Pinot Noir Cherry Sauce

Brush 4 filet mignon steaks with olive oil. Let them come to room temperature. In a saucepan, combine 1 1/2 cups pinot noir with 3 tablespoons balsamic vinegar. Bring to a boil and add 8 peppercorns, 4 whole cloves and 1 bay leaf. Boil, uncovered, for 20 minutes until liquid is reduced to 1/2 cup. Strain the sauce into another saucepan and add 1 cup pitted bing cherries. Continue to simmer for 10 minutes and remove from the heat.

Heat a cast-iron skillet to very hot and add the steaks, cooking in batches to avoid crowding. Place the steaks in a warm oven and deglaze the skillet with the wine/cherry sauce. Fold in 1 tablespoon of cold butter, season with coarse salt and pepper and pour over the steaks.

Accompany this dish with a rich pinot noir from Burgundy, Oregon, California or the North Fork.

Note: These steaks can be char-grilled with equally good results. Also, boneless, skin-on duck breast is a great substitute for the filet mignon.

Loin Lamb Chops with Port Wine Sauce

Prepare a marinade by combining 1 cup port wine with 1 tablespoon chopped fresh rosemary and 1 teaspoon minced garlic. Cover 4 thick loin lamb chops with the marinade and refrigerate for 2 hours. At service time, remove the chops and dry with paper towels, reserving the marinade. Brush the meat with oil and cook at high heat in a cast-iron skillet. Remove when medium rare and hold in a warm oven.

Strain the marinade into the skillet and bring to a boil. Fold in 1 tablespoon cold butter and pour over the chops.

Serve a rich merlot from the North Fork. Garnish with a rosemary sprig.

Swordfish Piccata

Cut 1 1/2 pounds of swordfish into quarter-inch-thick cutlets. Make a batter by combining 2 eggs, 1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese, 1/4 cup flour and 1/4 cup milk. Season the swordfish with 1 teaspoon coarse salt and 1/2 teaspoon pepper and dust in flour. Heat a sautà pan and add 2 tablespoons olive oil. Dip the swordfish in the batter and cook in the oil until golden. Cook in batches to avoid crowding, adding more olive oil if necessary. Remove the browned fish and keep warm.

Deglaze the pan with 1/2 cup sauvignon blanc and bring to a boil, scraping any drippings from the bottom of the pan. Grate the zest from 1 lemon and reserve. Peel the lemon and cut into thin slices, removing the seeds. Stir 2 tablespoons cold butter into the sauce and add the lemon slices, zest and 2 tablespoons chopped parsley. Serve the swordfish over linguine and pour the sauce over all.

Accompany this meal with a North Fork sauvignon blanc.

Serves 4.

Lobster with Rosà and Beets

Bring 1 quart water to a boil and add 1 tablespoon lemon juice and 1 teaspoon coarse salt. Scrub and trim 6 medium beets and place in the boiling water. Simmer for 30 minutes or until beets are tender when pierced with a knife. Remove beets and cool. Peel and cut them into thick slices. Set aside.

In a large soup pot bring 4 quarts of water to a boil and add 4 live lobsters (1 1/4 pounds). Bring back to a boil and simmer for 20 minutes. Remove and cool. Remove lobster meat from the shells and cut into 3/4-inch pieces. Set aside.

In a large sautà pan combine 1/4 cup minced shallots and 1 cup dry rosà wine. Cook until reduced to 1/2 cup and stir in 1 cup heavy cream, 2 tablespoons cold, unsalted butter and 1 tablespoon lemon juice. Add back the cooked beets and lobster. Peel and slice 1 orange into small pieces and fold into lobster mixture. Garnish with grated orange zest. Serve over white rice or white quinoa.

Drink a dry North Fork rosà .

Serves 4.

John Ross, a chef and author, has been an active part of the North Fork food and wine community for more than 35 years. E-mail: [email protected].