Dear Friends of Flatiron,
Happy new year! 2019 has officially begun and I am filled with hope and excitement for the coming year. More so than ever before I feel the possibility of new adventures are right around the corner. One of these adventures, for me, is expanding my home cooking skills to the realms of fermentation and preservation and my first experiment is already underway. As I might have mentioned a few times already I’m REALLY excited about the fruit-filled Meyer lemon tree in my backyard. I’ve already made enough lemonade to give both my wife and I ulcers and I’ve experimented with the fresh fruits to the point of vitamin C overload, but the fruit still keeps coming! Waste not, want not, so I decided to make a big batch of preserved lemons.
Preserved lemons are a staple flavor of Mediterranean cookery. The simple combination of salt, lemons and time transforms the fruit in ways that both heighten some flavors and soften others. The bracing acid of the lemon flesh takes a back seat to the intense floral essence of the skin, which is rendered both more supple and less bitter from the process. I often find the flavor of preserved lemon in white wines throughout the Mediterranean. Vermentino from Corsica or Sardinia is one of my favorite white grapes found in the region and often has strong notes of sea salt and lemon zest. Both islands have cuisine filled with fresh-off-the-boat seafood, often simply prepared, which find no better pair than a glass of chilled Vermentino like Domaine Abbatucci’s “Cuvee Faustine” Blanc from 2014. Though preserved lemon is much more a North African ingredient than Corsican or Sardinian, the flavor plays nicely. Try swapping it in with this whole roasted fish and aromatic olive oil recipe.
Another island with white wines filled with delicious lemon-packed flavors is Sicily. Grillo, Catarratto and Carricante are some, just to name a few, the last one being the key grape in Etna Biancos and other volcanic whites. I recently had the Pomice Bianco 2016 from Tenuta de Castellaro and fell in love. This white is brimming with rich, pithy flavors of lemon rind and blossom all kissed by sea spray, however the acidity isn’t over the top. It has texture and weight that let it stand up to more robust flavors, so I paired it with a roast chicken with preserved lemons and potatoes. I added a little twist to this recipe by rubbing some cumin on the bird as well as coating it in a few tablespoons of honey after 20 minutes in the oven. The honey helps keep the salt in check and the cumin really lifts the citrus notes of the wine.
When it comes to citrus-centric dishes, red wine pairings can get confusing, especially with the intense flavor of preserved lemon. Citrus will clash with big, tannic wines but can also easily overpower lighter grapes like Pinot Noir or Gamay. The answer again lies in the indigenous red grapes from around the mediterranean coast. Cinsault is one great variety, spicy and floral with a delicate crushed orange flavor, though it is seldom seen made as a single-grape wine and more often is found in the rosés of Provence.
Another great Mediterranean red grape that I discovered works well with preserved lemon the Greek variety Limniona. The airy raspberry, thyme and blood orange filled bottling from Domaine Zafeirakis is an outstanding example that is also a fantastic value. And I would be remiss not to mention one of my favorite Spanish grapes, the Catalan variety Sumoll, which once almost went extinct. Sumoll became a minor obsession of mine after tasting the natural wines from Penedes and I’ve been excited to see more versions of it arrive to on our shores since. One great example comes from Mas Candi in their 2015 Cabories. A blend of Sumoll, another lesser-known grape, Mando, and the white variety Xarel.lo, the wine is a wild garden of red berries, flowers and a very unique note of wet stone that supports the brighter lemon flavors present in the food.
I’ve never lived in a state where citrus is so available so maybe we can chalk my excitement up to that. However I’m pretty confident that my lemon obsession is shared by many of you out there. Let’s get this year started off right by celebrating what we’ve got in our own backyard and toasting the bounty with some new and interesting wine.