Thursday, June 07, 2012

The Best Pairing of the Past Few Weeks - Bitter Greens, Bitter Dressing, and Oloroso Sherry

I remember a long, long time ago eating lunch at a friend's house in Connecticut. His grandmother lived most of her life in Italy and she spoke almost no English. She made our lunch and I do not remember most of what we ate, but I remember the very first thing we ate. It was a salad of dandelion leaves, nothing else, and it had this incredibly bitter dressing. Dandelion leaves are already bitter. I was worried. But somehow it worked, this elevation of bitter. In my understanding, this is a common thing in Italy, bitter greens with bitter dressing.

There is chicory at Bill Maxwell's stand at the farmer's market these days. Chicory is a bitter green. It's good for you, you should try it. There are many delicious ways to enjoy chicory, but the other day for lunch I was craving a salad that showcased the bitterness of the green. So I took two shiny white cloves from a green garlic bulb and along with two chunky anchovy fillets, mashed them to a paste with a mortar and pestle. I added a pinch of salt. Then added a couple of glugs of good olive oil and whisked. I put just a dab behind each of my ears. The dressing never really integrated - there was no egg yolk, no mustard, not even any vinegar. But it didn't matter - it was pungent and bitter and umami and delicious.

A few spoons of the dressing tossed with the greens, a quartered lightly boiled and hand-peeled egg, and a few strips of red pepper to remind me that there is, in fact, sweetness in the world. This is a healthy and satisfying salad, albeit one that should be followed by a piece of very high quality mint flavoured chewing gum.

What to drink with this salad and its bitter flavors? I wanted something that feels fresh and bright, and maybe with a sweet note. But not sweetness of fruit. Not sugar at all, actually, but something that has sweet aromas. And definitely but not something terribly acidic or piercing. Something that might complement the bitter, or at least not fight with the bitter. Emilio Hidalgo Oloroso Gobernador Sherry, $23, imported by Winebow. It made perfect sense.

I must admit that Oloroso is the dry Sherry category in which I have found the fewest wines to love, so far. But I am a big fan of Gobernador (and of essentially everything made by Emilio Hidalgo). The wine is richly complex on the nose, and also very elegant, a wine of finesse on the palate. It has a brightness in tone that I appreciate in a wine that also shows the richness of roast nuts and dried fruit peels. With a little bit of air, there is a lemony, almost sweetness to the aromas. And this is not an acidic wine, it is mellow.

Sometimes you get it right. This was one of those times. The salad and the wine were both delicious and the pairing elevated them both. And let this be a lesson to the both of us - Sherry pairs well with everything. 

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