Wine and fruit

Henri is feelin’ fruity and loopy

Photo By nikchick

Henri has long maintained that the best dinner parties have themes, whether based on a movie (Babette’s Feast, Big Night, Diner or Ratatouille, for example), a nationality (Basque, Greek, Argentine), or even a particular food item. I’ve attended potlucks where each dish, from appetizers to desserts, had to include an item such as eel, pomegranate, dill, feta or bourbon.

One of my favorites, though, was one that L. and I attended when we were living in the Village back in the early 1980s. The theme: Fruits and Wine. Perfect, we thought, looking at the invitation. We’re halfway there. We selected a very nice Cabernet Franc and headed over.

Sacre bleu! Major misunderstanding—sort of like when the Yankees’ make-up game we attended turned out to be not what we expected.

Turns out we were supposed to bring both.

Our hosts were most accommodating, however, and encouraged us to stay despite our initial embarrassment. Which was a good thing, as we sampled that evening a wide range of excellent dishes made with fruits and wine, dishes that I continue to rely on today, two in particular. One is peaches in red wine, which Colette recently served after a delicious summer meal of grilled halibut with pesto, new red potatoes with butter and rosemary, and a salad of heirloom tomatoes, basil and slices of fresh mozzarella.

And this is the perfect time of the year for it, with the abundance of delicious peaches currently available, particularly those grown locally. In fact, not only can you find excellent local peaches at the nearby farmers’ markets, but starting this week, the University Farm has been hosting “U-Pick Peaches” for $1/lb—Monday through Friday, 7 a.m. to noon. Picking should continue for another two or three weeks (for information, phone 898-6343).

Another delicious fruit-and-wine dish is orange slices in white wine and brandy. This dessert is very good this time of the year, as it’s refreshingly cold and light, but it’s also nice in winter for the same reason, particularly after a hearty stew or other heavy meat dish. And of course, oranges, unlike peaches, are available year round. Both of the following recipes are from Anna Thomas’ classic The Vegetarian Epicure, Book Two.

Peaches in Red Wine

2 to 2 1/2 lbs. small peaches
4 1/2 cups red wine
3/4 cup white sugar
1 cinnamon stick

In a large sauce pan, simmer the wine with the sugar and cinnamon until sugar is dissolved. Add whole peaches and simmer gently for about eight minutes. Remove pan from heat and let peaches steep in wine for another half hour or so. Remove peaches, gently, with a spoon, allow to cool, and then carefully peel. Arrange in serving dish, and pour remaining wine over the tops and chill for at least an hour before serving.

Oranges in White Wine and Brandy

6 large navel oranges
3/4 cup white sugar
8-10 whole cloves
1 cinnamon stick, broken into small pieces
1 1/4 cups dry white wine
2 tablespoons brandy
seeds from one pomegranate

Peel oranges with a sharp knife, removing as much pith as you can. Slice oranges very thinly and arrange in large serving bowl. Sprinkle with sugar, cloves and cinnamon pieces. Slowly pour in the wine, without washing out the sugar—wine should just cover the tops of the slices. Drizzle on the brandy, then cover tightly with plastic wrap and marinate in refrigerator for at least a couple hours. Before serving, sprinkle pomegranate seeds over the top.

Notes: 1) Don’t use cheap wines for these dishes, although you don’t want to squander a really good wine on them either. For the peaches dish, a medium-priced Zinfandel or Merlot will work, and for the oranges dish, try a Sauvignon blanc or decent Chardonnay. 2) Both desserts are even better washed down with a good port.