Thursday, July 10, 2008

Summer Pasta with Nicolas Joly

I know - I just wrote that I might have to change direction, think about wrapping it up here at Brooklynguy, and now only a few days later I write the longest post in the history of blogging. Whaddayagonnado?

I've been working on a pasta dish that's perfect for summer. When I do it well it marries savory and herbal flavors. It's light but it's also completely satisfying. A plate of this along with a green salad - a lovely summer dinner. There are only 6 ingredients and it's pretty easy to make. That said, it's taken me a few tries to get it really right - balanced with savory ricotta and garlic, aromatic herbs, and summer squash. I've tried mint, marjoram, and chervil for this dish. Any aromatic herb will be interesting. It's best warm, although I find that the flavors mingle and are quite good on days two and three, right out of the fridge. Here's the recipe:

4 small - medium yellow or zucchini squash.
Coarse kosher salt.
1 large green garlic clove. Use any garlic if you can't find green garlic, but any farmer's market has it right now.
4 oz good ricotta cheese.
10 oz spaghetti.
A handful of washed fresh mint leaves.

In summary, all you're doing is salting and then frying grated squash. You're tossing that with ricotta cheese, garlic, and herbs in pasta. More details:

Wash the squash. That rhymes. Dry it, and grate it into a large non-reactive bowl
. Grate a layer of squash into the bowl and liberally add salt. Then grate another layer of squash, add more salt, and repeat until you're out of squash. I find that each squash is about a layer. Allow the salted squash to sit for about a half hour. You're salting both to season the dish but also to draw some of the water out of the squash. Meanwhile, bring a large pot of salted water to boil for the pasta. Wash and dry the mint.

When a half hour is up, heat some olive oil or butter in a cast iron skillet. Put the spaghetti in the boiling water to cook,
al denté is best. Take a handful of the squash and squeeze as much of the water out as you can. Do not wash the salt off the squash. Place it into the skillet and flatten it a bit. Repeat until you've used all the squash. Cook, stirring every now and then, until some parts are browned and the squash is soft and cooked through. Peel the outer layer off the garlic and pound it in the mortar and pestle with a bit of salt. Pound it into a fine paste. Take two ladles of pasta cooking water and put aside in a bowl before you drain the pasta.

Drain the pasta, add the cooked squash, the garlic, the ricotta. Finely chop the mint and add it too. Mix this all together, adding pasta cooking water little by little to help blend the ingredients. Taste as you go, stop when you like the texture.

So that's the dish. What wine for this dish? I've tried Beaujolais, and it works. But I prefer a white with this. Most recently, a sec-tendre Chenin Blanc with the McDuff - yes, this is that dish, that time prepared with zucchini and marjoram. Then I remembered a comment that Peter of the tasty Cookblog left when I asked how to pair a complex
Savennières. He suggested pasta with caramelized onions, walnuts, and orange zest. This is clearly a different dish, but somehow it still seems right. So this time I went with a Savennières, a beautiful dry Chenin Blanc from the master of biodynamics, Nicolas Joly.

Joly makes controversial wine. Wines from older vintages get raves, before he went down the
biodynamic farming natural wine making road. For more on this, see Peter Liem's discussion of his vertical tasting during a binge weekend in Oregon. Don't miss the comments, by the way. The modern wines, though, seem to divide people, even groups of Loire lovers. This has a lot to do with the incredible bottle variation that plagues Joly, and many other natural wine makers. Joly adds no sulfur at all, so the wines are unstable, and that's it. When you buy them you know you might get a bad bottle.

There is another thing about Joly's wines that might annoy people. They supposedly require many days open in a decanter before showing well. I'm going to be honest - that put me off. I'm not sure I can be that accurate about what I will be doing and drinking that far ahead. I read this interesting and amusing set of posts by JD Harden of the new and highly readable blog Rational Denial. He vigorously decanted and tasted over five days. He found that the wine improved over five days, but he never really loved it to begin with.
I decided to give Joly another try, and to essentially ignore the five day wait.

2005 Nicolas Joly Savennières Les Clos Sacrés, $27. Mine is not flawed, and it's from the 05 vintage, so it is probably more fruit forward than the 2004 JD discussed on Rational Denial. In fact, I loved this from the moment I opened it, although there was a distinct cheesy phase, kind of unpleasant. Gorgeous and complex nose of minerals, wax, faint baking spice, and an undercurrent of roast nuts. This actually reminds me of good Champagne. Not a fruit-driven nose, more mineral and wax, but absolutely regal and lovely. The fruit comes out on the palate, with pears and other orchard fruit supported by good acidity and more minerals. It's still young and there is plenty of room for relaxation and balance. But you know what - I'm not sure that I would stash this wine away for 20 years, as you might with many Savennières. It's delicious right now and it's already complex, it's not only about fruit. Let's see what happens over the next day or so. Oh - it works perfectly with this pasta dish. Very intense wine, but it supports the flavors of the dish and together they bring out the best in each other.

Day 2 - this wine is not showing as well! There are nice aromas of lemon chiffon and orchard fruit, and still amazingly intense minerality, but there is also a lot of alcohol heat on the nose and palate - 14.5% is pretty high I guess. But in this ripe vintage, it'll get there if you vinify the wines all the way dry. It would have been interesting to check in for the next few days, but I just didn't have that kind of patience.


Director, Lab Outreach said...

At the Lab we say there's no such thing as coincidence, just every once in a while we witness a low probability event -- like the '69 Mets. As it happens, we ALSO opened a Joly wine with dinner last night. An '03 Clos de la Bergerie. Every so often, you get a Joly bottle that delivers. And this one was beautiful. Honey, quince and beeswax on the nose. Then full, ripe fruit, peach, quince and clover supported by a dry acidity and a tinny minerality. I felt I had proof that the prior bottle, the one you linked to, was indeed flawed. Then something weird happened. After 3 hours in the air, an oxidative aroma arrived. And in no time at all, it was as if I was drinking fino sherry. Bizarre. I'd really love to understand the transformative chemistry at work here.

Glad you're back (not that you went anywhere). Congratulations on your #2 en route. And thanks for kind words. Rational Denial will probably have to rename our Bubbledome Stadium (sorry McDuff) in your honor.

cheers, JD

Anonymous said...

We had the 2004 Nicolas Joly Le Vieux Clos in the Dordogne two months ago, and it was rocking. It doesn't look like this wine is imported into the US, unfortunately.

Director, Lab Outreach said...

Not sure why, probably something to do with copyright/trademarks, but Le Vieux Clos is labeled as Les Clos Sacres for the US market.

Wicker Parker said...

Ordinarily I'd think that these young Savennieres are simply shutting down, but the post and comments on Peter Liem's blog are a little frightening given how much Joly's wines cost!

Now, I find that even the basic Baumard Savennieres 2001 is just barely coming out of its shell -- it takes a day or two to emerge -- so perhaps there's an off chance that Joly's wines go through a horrible dumb phase 4-6 years after the vintage. But only someone with extensive experience with his wines could say with any authority, and I have none. Doesn't sound like I'll be getting any soon, either...

Brooklynguy said...

i dunno, i like what i've had so far. there are hints, though, that the wines can have some odd aromas and flavors.

mike - the basic wine, called clos sacrés here, is under $30 and well worth it. assuming you get a good bottle...

Tracie P. said...

i recently had my first savennieres, it was joly "coulee de serrant" '05 (or '04?)--i totally butchered that spelling, i know. i've been of fan of the loire for quite some time, but i've never had this AC. what a crazy little chenin! the nose was viscous and sweet and nutty but the wine was dry and earthy and savory (i love me some savory)...oh my god.

what a treat.

Tracie P. said...

j david--virginie, joly's daughter told us that the importer thought that "vieux" wouldn't work on the label for america, so they changed it. she wasn't sure why.

BG--jeremy and i tried the coulee de serrant '07 twice, the first had been open for 5 days, the second had been opened that day. the fresh one was definitely richer with a bit more fruit, but the 5-day bottle was still incredibly good. BTW, the '07 as you might guess had a level of acidity that threatened to split my tongue in half!

Brooklynguy said...

hi tracie - probably because they think we;re a bunch of idiots who can't handle the fact that languages other than english exist...and sometimes they're right. it's cool that you're getting into savennieres. i'm not sure how i feel about Joly's wines in general, the jury is still out. haven't liked the wines i had most recently. but i'm still open minded. there are other great ones too. next time you're in nyc come by with the do bianchi-man, and we'll have some.

Tracie P. said...

will do!