In this issue -- Cool weather prompts Randy to think of braised meats, specifically beef braised in red wine. The result, a recipe for beef in the intense, raisony Amarone from northern Italy. Plus news from a ratatouille cookoff and visits to FAB - French American Bistro -- as well as the newly redone Joel.



THE FIRE AND THE HEARTH



** An occasional newsletter devoted to food, wine, and
those things that make for a good life **

November 16, 2007 -- Vol. 10, No. 2

Any hint of cool weather after a long, hot summer refreshes my appetite and sends me looking for recipes for soups, stews and, my favorite, braised meats.

Trying to thin out our wine rack, I came across a bottle of Amarone della Valpolicella 1993 from Dal Forno Romano in the Veneto region of northern Italy. I set that one aside for the fall birthday party (more on that later), but the idea of a beef roast braised in amarone, which I had never cooked, began to interest me more and more.

Amarone -- a deep rich red with flavors of cherry and hints of leather -- is an interesting wine because of the way it is produced. The method, referred to in Italian as "Appassimento," calls for the grapes to be stored after harvest on wire racks in breezy lofts for up to three months before the grapes are pressed and the wine is made.

If this sounds like the way grapes are dried -- "raisoned" -- to make dessert wine, the process up to this point is similar, but that's where the similarity ends.

In the fermentation process, all the sugars are consumed, so that the wine is very dry, and also high in alcohol. Typically, an amarone is 14.5 percent alcohol compared to 13 percent for a California cab or 8 percent for a German reisling.

The drying process leaves lots of old fruit flavors, and these make for a terrific beef roast braised in amarone. If you look in any Italian cookbook you'll find one or more recipes for beef braised in amarone, barolo, chianti or some other red wine. After considering about a dozen recipes, here is the way I decided to cook this dish.

MANZO BRASATO ALL'AMARONE                                      

Ingredients

Method

In a Dutch oven large enough to hold the roast and the vegetables, cook the bacon until it renders its fat. Remove the bacon. Salt and pepper the roast. Over medium-high heat, brown the roast in the bacon fat until it has a deep brown color.

Remove the roast. Leave about a tablespoon of fat in the pan. Add the chopped vegetables, bouquet garni, and lemon zest. Stir and cook over medium heat until the vegetables begin to wilt and most of the brown bits from browning the meat come off the bottom of the pan.

Set aside about 1/4 cup of the wine. Return the roast to the pan, add the remainder of the wine and enough stock to come up to the top of, but not cover, the roast. Bring the pot to a boil. Skim any foam that rises to the surface. Reduce the heat to a bare simmer. Cover the pot and braise the roast for 4 hours. Turn the roast every hour. If you simmer at too high a temperature and the cooking liquid begins to evaporate, add a little stock.

After 4 hours of braising, the roast will be fork tender. Remove it to a cutting board and cover with foil. Strain the sauce into a small pot and keep warm.

To serve, make a bed of the vegetables on each plate. Add slices of the beef. Add the 1/4 cup of raw wine to the sauce and nap the beef with the sauce.

Serves 4 generously

SOIREE RATATOUILLE

My version of Thomas Keller's Confit Byaldi which features at piperade topped by summer vegetables and baked. Photo by Kelly Alderman

Any food lover who hasn't seen the Disney movie "Ratatouille" is missing a treat. It's a delight and cooks will note the accuracy of the details in the kitchen scenes as well as the methods and the dishes.

Every month at Cafe Alsace, the owner, Benedicte Cooper, invites those who would like to attend to a "Diner en Francais." The crowd is usually about 10 people, half native French speakers and the rest those, like me, who would like to improve their French.

Recently, after the debut of the movie, Benedicte opened the restaurant's kitchen to individuals and teams who prepared ratatouille. There were five entries, and I prepared the recipe from the movie. The recipe is from Thomas Keller at the French Laundry in Yountville, California. Keller calls it Confit Byaldi, and I like the dish because, while non-traditional, it keeps the vegetables in tact, cooking them slowly.

The recipe calls for a piperade to be the base of the dish. It is a melange of tomatoes, garlic, onion and roasted bell pepper. Next slices of eggplant, zucchini, yellow squash and tomato are fanned out over the piperade. The dish is cooked in a slow oven for two and a half hours.

To serve, the confit is cut into slices and drizzled with a vinaigrette made with some of the reserved piperade mixed with olive oil and balsamic vinegar.

My effort at Mr. Keller's dish placed third. The winner featured toasted almonds and golden raisins. The dishes ranged from a very traditional ratatouille made with home grown vegetables to a Cajun-style ratatouille that featured okra and lots of hot pepper.

Those who want to try Keller's recipe can find it on the Internet by Googling "Confit Byaldi" or visiting this link: http://www.presstelegram.com/food/ci_6334231.

BIRTHDAY DINNER

For more than a decade now, we get together in the fall with our friends Leigh Kirkland and Bob Sattelmeyer as well as Pearl and Tom McHaney to celebrate the birthdays of all of us but Kathy. She has a spring birthday (see the last issue of the F&H).

This year, I got to lean back and let Leigh and Bob stand at the stove. Their idea was to make a dinner where as many ingredients as possible were local. The meal began with "today's egg," a recipe we brought back from Restaurant Arzak in San Sebastion, Spain. A very fresh egg is cracked into plastic wrap, tied up in a ball, and poached. Leigh and Bob served this wonderful runny fresh egg in cups made of parmesan cheese.

The rest of the menu included a goat cheese vegetable terrine with squash and eggplant from their garden. Then there were Georgia shrimp, mixed with bits of country ham, and served atop creamy cheese grits made with Cypress Moon Goat Gouda cheese.

An intermezzo featured Campari and pomegranate sorbet.

The main course was duck thighs, braised in a muscadine and scuppernong hull sauce laced with red wine. The fork-tender duck was served over spatzle. And that's where we opened the 1993 Amaroni with its rich berry flavors and old fruit. Pearl, who is the group's pie maker, made an apple pie for dessert. Slices were served with Leigh's homemade vanilla ice cream.

The meal was, indeed, splendid. It illustrated not only the enjoyment of great food, carefully prepared -- and in this case with ingredients obtained as locally as possible -- but also the joy and comfort of time around the table with old friends. In his mythic story "The Bear," William Faulkner says of his young hero who sits around the campfires on hunting trips during the Delta autumn he had "heard the best of all talking."

To me, sitting around the table, savoring flavors and drinking good wines with old friends, one truly hears the best of all talking.


RESTAURANT NOTES

FRENCH AMERICAN BRASSERIES, Ivan Allen Jr. Blvd., 404.266.1440 -- For years we were fans of Brasserie Le Coze at Lenox Square, so we were happy when owner Fabrice Vergez moved closer to us -- in fact, into the Southern Company building where Kathy's office is located.

Recently we went to dinner to mark the fact that our niece, Kelly Alderman, has now lived in Atlanta for a year.

We began with crisp glasses of Veuve Cliquot champagne.

Kelly's first course was the white bean soup laced with pungent truffle oil, a standard at the old Brasserie Le Coze. It had lost none of its charm, smooth, creamy with great truffle flavor.

Kathy chose the escargot, cooked with a wonderful sauce of parsley and garlic. We munched the snails and then sopped up the sauce with the crusty dinner rolls.

I selected the foie gras torchon, a pink round of goose liver served atop a crouton and garnished with micro greens and preserved cherries. The rich foie gras was beautifully contrasted by the cherries that were, in effect, a sweet pickle. I washed this down with a glass of Ch. Suduiraut Sauternes 2004, sweet and mellow with flavors of apricot and peach.

Next we shared a cheese plate. Brie, aged pecorino flecked with bits of black truffle, and a dry aged manchego were served atop a bamboo board garnished by fruit, toasted Marcona almonds and membrillo, a beautiful red quince paste, both from Spain and both intended to be eaten with the manchego.

For our main courses, Kelly chose duck confit, fork tender and served with fresh tasting haricot verts -- thin French green beans, glazed baby carrots and garlicky frites. With her meal she drank Bourgogne Flaiveley 2004, a spicy pinot noir. Kathy chose another classic transferred from the former restaurant, the sauteed skate wing. The tender skate came atop spinach with tender new potatoes, capers and a sauce of nutty brown butter.

I chose a dish that reflected the sensibilities of Chef Kaighin Raymond, a CIA-trained chef who also worked at Brasseries Le Coze and its New York cousin Le Bernardin. It was a fillet of sweet tender flounder served with Manila clams. What interested me is that Chef Kaighin was trying something with the sauce that required, to say the very least, a delicate balance.

Pernod is a traditional flavoring for fish in Marseille, but it can be overwhelming. The answer here was a "Pernod broth" that gave the sauce that wonderful touch of anise but didn't drown out the other flavors. And those other flavors included a ragout of vegetables flavored with pancetta that included sweet, nutty bits of Jerusalem Artichokes.

The entire ensemble worked really well. A bite consisted of the sweet fish, tender clams, the bacon-laced vegetable ragout ending with just a hint of anise. With our entrees, Kathy and I drank one of our favorite white burgundies, a Meursault 2004 Mestre-Michelot. The key word in describing a Meursault is complexity. This wine has been in an oak barrel, but this time the winemaster knew what he or she was doing, and the oak does not dominate the taste of the chardonnay grapes. There is a lightness, a crispness, minerals, and oak.

For dessert, Kelly chose creme brulee, classically prepared with a crunchy top and a smooth vanilla cream. I chose a lemon crepe, stuffed with a lemon cream and topped with a raspberry jam and toasted pine nuts. It was lemony tart with the jam and pine nuts adding sweetness and crunch. Kathy chose a spoon to taste each of our desserts.

With our desserts, I drank a glass Calvados XO, a wonderfully smooth apple brandy. Kelly and Kathy chose a Grahams Six Grape port, dense and intensely sweet.

No visit to FAB would be complete without noting the differences in the new room. The old Brasserie Le Coze was narrow, parts of it dark, and not that large. The new room is a blend. It is vastly larger, the kind of giant room that reminds you of La Coupole in Paris, but the decoration is decidedly art deco with touches that remind me of a blend of styles that you can range from the clock, which reminded me of the Musee D'Orsay, to the colorful glass and iron work which made me think of the wonderful deco signs advertising the stations of the Paris Metro.

Dinner for three, $335 plus tip.

DJANGO, 495 Peachtree St., 404.347.8648 -- On a recent night, Kathy and I had tickets to the Shakespeare Tavern, and we chose to eat prior to the performance at Django, an outpost owned by the owners of Anis in Buckhead.

Its a funky space with a limited menu. We sat out back on the shady patio. There is a list of appetizers and small plates followed by a short list of main courses.

Among the small plate offerings are a daily pizza, ribs, and a bowl of mussels. We chose three dips -- Mediterranean yogurt, babaganouj and hummus, served with freshly grilled pita bread.

Next Kathy had a small salad, fresh greens lightly dressed with red onion and radishes, fresh and good.

Four our main courses, Kathy chose the three cheese raviolis in a pesto cream sauce garnished with toasted pine nuts. The pesto was creamy and the raviolis savory.

I chose the shrimp and scallop linguini in a garlic cream sauce. The seafood, which also included mussels, was absolutely fresh, tender and sweet. The combo of seafood, sauce and pasta, served with wilted baby spinach in the bottom of the bowl was delicious.

With our meal we drank a white Cotes du Rhone.

Dinner for two, $77.35 plus tip.

JCT KITCHEN, 1198 Howell Mill Road, 404.355.2252 -- With Kathy out of town, Kelly and I recently went to an exhibit at the Urban Grind Coffee Shop (962 Marietta St.) by one of our favorite artists, N. Claudette. Her latest exhibition is a collection of montages of objects and photos on the theme of "On Being Discarded." Afterwards, looking around close by, we decided to visit JCT Kitchen where chef Ford Fry likes to combine French bistro techniques with down-home southern ingredients.
	

The room, decorated in whites and beiges is inviting, with the feel that you should be at the beach. Our server, Roger, said the designer's intention was to make the space feel like a big living room. The only problem is the noise. Fortunately, a lot of the time you are eating, not talking.

Kelly began with the white bean soup, smooth and creamy with bits of bacon and a light drizzle of truffle oil. The soup had a delicious smooth, earthy flavor with the only downside some totally unnecessary croutons.

I had cold water oysters, served with a delightfully refreshing shallot mignonette.

For our main courses, Kelly chose the "natural salmon smoked and grilled" which was served atop butter-whipped mashed potatoes with a saute of trumpet mushrooms and bits of Granny Smith apple.

The salmon was flavorful and not, as often happens, overcooked. The mashed potatoes, packed with butter, were a delight. The tender fish got a real flavor boost from the earthy flavor of sauteed mushrooms punctuated with refreshing bits of apple.

I had the vegetable plate. What that meant on this night at JCT was a melange of corn, lady finger peas, all cooked al dente as a base topped with tender haricot verts and chunks of sun dried tomatoes, and carrots. The ensemble, in a buttery sauce, was delicious.

With our meal we drank a Niel Joubert South African Chenin Blanc, crisp and dry with just a hint of sweetness.

Dinner for two, $78.84 plus tip.

JOEL, 3290 Northside Pkwy., 404.233.3500 -- After attending the crowded reopening of Joel, we recently returned with our friends Kay DuPont and Jeff Disend to see if the remodel had affected the quality of the faire coming from the kitchen. I'm happy to report that all remains in good shape.

The new space is far more intimate than the old restaurant, redesigned, according to Joel, to resemble a Paris bistro.

Among the starters were liked particularly was a tomato tart, where small, peeled cherry tomatoes sat atop an eggplant caviar smeared on the crunchy crouton. It was light, delicate and smooth.

Another was the jumbo lump crab cake with pommery mustard sauce. The very fresh crab sat in the creamy mustard sauce which was finished with a touch of truffle oil. The flavor is smooth and pungent.

Among the entrees, Kay and I both sampled the Kurobuta pork. This was, in fact, pork served three ways -- a pork sausage, braised pork belly, and wine-braised pork cheeks served in a brown sauce with sauteed pears. The fork-tender pork cheeks are deeply flavored with hints of soy in the sauce.

Kathy chose the porcini mushroom tart, a flaky crust stuffed with pungent, earthy mushrooms and served alongside a peppery arugula salad.

Jeff had probably the best dish of all, red-wine braised beef short ribs. They had a deep, winey flavor and, drenched in the rich sauce, fairly melted on your tongue.

With our meal, I thought a pinot noir from Burgundy would be the best match. Sommelier Perrine Prieur, who is from Burgundy, presented us with a Pommard Garaudet 2001 -- a light red, earthy wine with touches of oak. At Perrine's suggestion, we followed that bottle with a Volnay en Chevret, 1er Cru, 2003 from Louis Latour. This wine was much more elegant with flavors of cherry and spice in the finish.

The shared dessert was Floating Island, a puff of meringue floating in creamy vanilla sauce and garnished with crunchy "rose pralines."

It was good to see that one of the best kitchens in the city is still at the top of its game.

Dinner for four, $393 plus tip.


WINES

NEIL ELLIS PINOTAGE 2006, $17.99 -- Recently, Kathy went to a wine tasting in Birmingham where South African winemaker Neil Ellis was presenting his wines. She brought home this wine. It has big berry flavors with spice and smoke. Pinotage is the South African grafting together of meritage and pinot noir. We had it with grilled ribeye steaks from Shields Market. Information about who distributes Neil Ellis wines can be found at www.vineyardbrands.com.

A final note: For those who never tire of reading about food, check my profile of Elisa Gambino and her Via Elisa pasta shop in the fall issue of edibleAtlanta magazine, on sale at Whole Foods markets.

Next issue, we visit the 10th anniversary Southern Foodways Alliance symposium in Oxford, Mississippi.

Until next time, a votre sante!

Randy Harber

Vol. 10, No. 2




Claimer: This newsletter is produced without charge purely for the enjoyment of those who receive notice of it. It may be reproduced free of charge or otherwise distributed to anyone you believe might enjoy it. Send comments, questions, experiences you want to share, requests for recipes, restaurant reports and requests to be added or dropped from the mailing list to rharber@comcast.net.

1998-2007, Randall Harber
Updated 11/18/07 6:18 PM ET