Swirl Wine Bar & Market

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Pasta alla Norma, Ziti with Tomatoes, Eggplant, and Salted Ricotta

From Lidia's Italy by Lidia Bastianich

Sicilians are passionate about both food and opera, so it is no surprise that one of the island’s most celebrated dishes is pasta alla Norma. What better way to honor the composer Vincenzo Bellini, a native son of Catania (on Sicily’s eastern coast), than to name a delicious pasta for Norma, one of the great operatic masterworks of all time?

I love both the opera and the dish, and, I can assure you, aside from their name, they’re quite different. Those of you familiar with opera know that the title role of Norma is so difficult that only the greatest sopranos ever sing it. On the other hand, this recipe is simple and
easily made.

Serves 6
2 or 3 small firm eggplants (1 pound total)
1 ½ tablespoons coarse sea salt or kosher salt, or to taste
1 cup vegetable oil
1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for a final flourish
4 garlic cloves, crushed and peeled
¼ teaspoon peperoncino flakes
4 cups (or a 35-ounce can) canned Italian plum tomatoes, preferably
San Marzano, crushed by hand
1 pound ziti
6 large fresh basil leaves
2 cups ricotta salata, freshly shredded on a hand grater

A heavy-bottomed skillet or sauté pan, 12 inches or wider, for frying
the eggplant and then cooking the sauce and pasta
A large pot, 8-quart capacity, with a cover, for cooking the pasta

-Trim the eggplants, and slice them (skin on) into 1±-inch chunks. Toss them with 1 teaspoon of salt, and drain in a colander for 30 minutes to an hour. Rinse, and pat them dry with paper towels.
-To fry the eggplant, pour the cup of vegetable oil in the skillet, and set over medium heat. Spread all the eggplant chunks in the hot oil, and leave them in place for a few minutes to start browning. Fry for about 10 minutes, tossing and stirring occasionally, until the eggplant is soft and cooked through and nicely browned on all sides. Lift the chunks out of the oil with a slotted spoon, and spread them on a platter lined with paper towels. Put the eggplant in a warm spot
(such as a briefly heated oven) while you make the sauce and pasta. Discard the frying oil, and wipe out the skillet.
-Pour 6 quarts of water, with 1 tablespoon salt, into the big pot, and bring to a boil.
-Pour the olive oil into the skillet, toss in the garlic cloves, and set over medium-high heat. Sprinkle the peperoncino in, and cook until the garlic is lightly colored, then pour in the crushed tomatoes. Slosh a cup of water in the tomato container to rinse it clean, and stir that in along with another ± teaspoon salt.
-Bring the tomatoes to a boil, then lower the heat and cook the sauce at a bubbling simmer for 12 minutes or so, until slightly thickened.
-Meanwhile, when the pasta water comes to a rolling boil, stir in the ziti. Cook until almost al dente, then lift them out with a spider, drain for a moment, and drop into the simmering tomato sauce. Toss together for a minute or two, until the ziti are cooked and coated
with sauce. Turn off the heat.
-Tear the basil leaves into shreds, and scatter over the pasta along with a cup of the shredded ricotta salata. Drizzle a couple of tablespoons of olive oil all over, and toss well. Now spread the eggplant chunks on top of the pasta, and sprinkle over it the remaining ricotta salata. Serve immediately, spooning both pasta and a portion of eggplant chunks into individual warm pasta bowls.

The Etna Revisited

For months now you've been hearing me go on and on about our upcoming wine and culinary tour of Sicily (which by the way we are leaving in less than 2 weeks!!) and especially my fascination with the exceptional wines and producers of the Mount Etna. The region is way off the radar of most wine drinkers, albeit Wine Spectator's latest edition did do a somewhat lame article, "Remaking Sicily" where they gave an approving nod to a few producers mainly influential importer, consultant and winemaker Marc de Grazia of Tenuta delle Terre Nere.

Growing vines in the shadow of Europe's only active volcano is not for the faint of heart. Towering above Catania, Sicily's second largest city, Mount Etna has one of the world's longest documented records of historical volcanism, dating back to 1500 BC with minor eruptions still taking place today. The major eruptions and lava flows over the last few centuries have created the huge variety of lava formations that make up Etna’s unique topography. Eruptions from volcanic vents on the east side of the mountain have melted a destructive trail through any communities that lay in their path towards their ultimate destination – the sea.

Etna has two distinct viticultural areas, the eastern and northern slope. The former has a mild, maritime, fairly humid climate, quite a bit of precipitation and is also the source for most of Etna’s distinctive, mineral, salt-scented white wines that are mostly based on the local Carricante grape as well as reds from Nerello Mascalese and Nerello Capuccio. Sheltered from Mediterranean influences by the Nebrodi mountain range the vineyards on the northern slope see much less rain and the temperature differences between day and night can be extreme. Red wines reign supreme, with the Nerello Mascalese grape reaching qualitative heights. Here you also find much older, up to 130-year-old vines, partly ungrafted as phylloxera cannot survive on the very active volcanic ash sand.

The superstar variety of the region is Nerello Mascalese, with its bright red fruit, pleasantly earthy and floral notes, hints of tobacco and notable tannin, is often compared to the likes of Barolo and Burgundy. Nerello Mascalese ripens late, and grapes are grown up to a cool 4,000 feet on the slopes of Mount Etna so that they sometimes may not be picked until the end of October or even the beginning of November. The variety certainly holds its acid well and combined with a decent tannin structure, the wine is good to drink young and able to age too.

The Etna wines are excitingly different, very intriguing and unfortunately difficult to get in New Orleans....the only wholesaler in the city who is currently stocking an Etna Rosso is Matt Lirette (Lirette Selections). And not just any Rosso, but that of Salvo Foti, an impressive, leading local viticulturist who makes wine for many of the larger producers in the region as well as his own label, I Vigneri.

I've been a bit obsessed about these wines lately and have made a great contact with wine professional in Austin, A.J. Hernandez who is extremely knowledgeable about the region. He sent me a short list of "must see" producers and because of his help and advice we have appointments with 3 exciting producers in the area, Frank Cornelissen, Passopisciaro and Vini Biondi (Salvo Foti is the winemaker here). The Etna is awash with amazing small producers and other names to look for include Alberto Graci, Terre Nere, Benanti to name a few.

So if you are intrigued by all of this, join us of our Tuesday tasting of "Italy's Southern Stars" where we'll be tasting my "wine of the moment", Salvo Foti's I Vigneri Etna Rosso as well as other favorite selections from Sicily, Sardinia, Puglia and Campagnia.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Wine of the Moment, 2005 Bennett Lane Maximus

If you follow Napa Valley's Route 29 north to Calistoga, and then keep going just 2 1/2 more miles you'll arrive at the pinnacle of the Napa Valley. This is the northernmost wedge where the Vaca mountain range meets the Mayacamas range and where you'll also find Bennett Lane Winery, sitting snugly at the edge of its own beautiful Cabernet Sauvignon vineyard.

Owners Randy and Lisa Lynch purchased the property only five and a half years ago, but Bennett Lane is already making a name for itself with its lush textured Cabernet Sauvignon and the no-nonsense red wine varietal blend Maximus, composed of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Syrah. The winery has garnered an incredible thirteen 90+ Point Scores from Wine Spectator in four short years and produces an amazing line up of both red and white wines.

The best deal in the Napa Valley, with Wine Spectator calling the 2005 release of the Maximus an "Outstanding Value" and with even more Cabernet in this blend than ever before, this deal has gotten even sweeter! The current blend is 64% Cabernet Sauvignon, 25% Merlot and 11% Syrah. The wine opens with aromas of dark cocoa, plum, ripe black cherry and subtle hints of vanilla. On the palate you get black cherry, plum, blueberry and subtle layers of cinnamon, nutmeg and cedar. With elegant, velvety tannins that enhance the mouthfeel, the wine has a long fruit driven finish and pairs well with practically everything, especially the Maximus Lamb Burger recipe this week!

Wine Spectator says 90pts: Firm, rich and intense, with ripe, vivid blackberry and wild berry fruit and a mix of currant and raspberry. Keeps a tight focus on the long, layered finish. Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Syrah, Petit Verdot and Cabernet Franc. Drink now through 2013. 7,000 cases made. –JL


Look for the Napa table on Tuesday night at our Swirl Uncorked event and get a taste of the Maximus as well as the other amazing wines by Bennett Lane and Nine North Wines!

Maximus Lamb Burgers with Feta Cheese and Mint

In anticipation of our upcoming Swirl Uncorked tasting this week at the Degas House, I chose a wine from Bennett Lane in Napa as my wine of the week. These guys are located in the very northern corner of the Napa Valley and their whole line up of wines is amazing! So what better to pair their Maximus "Red Feasting Wine" with than a juicy lamb burger on the grill. And look for the Napa table on Tuesday night where Ron will be pouring the Bennett Lane and Nine North Wines!

Serves 4
From Bennett Lane Winery

1 ¼ lbs. ground lamb
4 T. Bennett Lane Red Maximus
2 T. mint jelly
2 T. shallot, minced
1 t. dried oregano
2 t. salt
2 t. black pepper
¼ lb. Feta cheese, crumbled
Hamburger buns or Ciabatta bread cut into 4 inch pieces

Put the ground lamb in a large bowl. In another small bowl, mix together the wine, jelly, shallot, oregano, salt and pepper. Pour wine mixture in bowl with the lamb. Fold in the cheese and gently mix together. Form by hand into 4 patties.

Grill meat over hot coals for about 4-5 minutes per side for medium rare to medium. Serve on toasted burger buns of choice, and serve with plenty of BENNETT LANE MAXIMUS RED FEASTING WINE!

Swirl Uncorked, Tuesday September 22 at the Degas House

We are taking our Tuesday night tasting on the road this evening as our friends at Uncorked Wines will be presenting an exclusive Swirl tasting of their portfolio of wines at the historic Degas House on Esplanade (see info below). The event will feature over 40 wines from importers and producers including Kermit Lynch, Peter Weygandt, De Maison Selections, Bennett Lane, Nine North Wines, Bottled Poetry, Barnard Griffin and more. Chef Daniel Esses will join us as well with his infamous small plates. Don’t miss this amazing opportunity to taste wines from one of the best portfolios in the city!

Reservations and prepayment are required for this event, attendance is limited Please call 504.304.0635 to reserve your spot. $10, $15 at the door if space is available.

The historic Degas House is the only home or studio of Degas anywhere in the world that is open to the public, beautifully restored and located on majestic Esplanade Avenue just eleven blocks from the French Quarter at 2306 Esplanade Avenue. Free, lighted and secured parking is available at the Musicians' Union Bldg., 2401 Esplanade Avenue.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

"Le Menu" Champagne Dinner with Clovis Taittinger

For over a year now we've been discussing an event with our friends Ti Martin and Dan Davis at Commander's Palace. Well I think this may be the dinner of all dinners as we've schedule October 8th as the date for our event featuring the wines of famed Champagne house, Taittinger hosted by non other than the man himself, Clovis Taittinger! Trust me, this is something you won't want to miss!!

So please join us for an intimate dinner with special guest Clovis Taittinger featuring premier selections of Champagne Taittinger at Commander’s Palace.

Thursday, October 8
Cocktails at 6:30pm
Dinner at 7:00pm
$95.00 per person, non-inclusive
For Reservations Contact Melissa Wallace at 504.207.9312

Le Menu
1998 Taittinger Comtes de Champagne Brut
Lobster & Grilled Corn Beignets with Choupique Caviar and Lemon Vodka Spiked Crème Fraiche

Taittinger Brut “La Francaise”
Bone Marrow Crusted Grouper
Confit of Chanterelles and Autumn Mushrooms
With Dandelion Vinegar-Mushroom Jus

Taittinger Prestige Rose Brut
Pan Roasted Breast of Dry Aged Duck
Confit Duck Leg, Butternut Squash, Crispy Bacon and Root Vegetables
With a Cognac and Red Currant duck Fond

Taittinger Nocturne Sec
Neapolitan Moderne
Chicory Coffee, Ponchatoula Strawberry and White Chocolate Iced Creams with Bocage Honey Pecan Brittle and Praline Syrup

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Champagne Dinner with Clovis Taittinger at Commander's Palace

For over a year now we've been discussing a wine dinner with our friends Ti Martin and Dan Davis at Commander's Palace. Well I think this may be the dinner of all dinners as we've schedule October 8th as the date for our event featuring the wines of famed Champagne house, Taittinger hosted by non other than the man himself, Clovis Taittinger! So put it in your calendar and I'll announce the full details next week after we get together to determine the wines and the menu. But trust me, this is something you won't want to miss!!

We had the honor of meeting and dining with the youngest of the Taittinger family at the Ritz Carlton earlier in the year. The most humble of French aristocrats, Clovis presented 6 of his exquisite bubblies in the true European style of a four hour lunch. He also paid a visit to the shop on Saturday where he again shared incredible wine, cheese and conversation for a few hours before trotting off to his tasting at Ric Hoppers. We have always loved the Taittinger wines, but are now fans for life! Thank you to Penny Kelly, Kobrand and Clovis for the great wines and fabulous company! Taittinger at Swirl: La Francais (750’s and 375s) Prelude and Rosé (one of our absolute favorite Rosé bubblies ever!)

Wine of the Moment, Finca Labajos Ibero

Although the area of "La Mancha" is more famously known for a certain Spanish knight, Don Quixote's stomping grounds are also home the world's largest wine-producing area, with a total of 191,699 hectares under vine. Once known only for producing large quantities of simple quaffing wine, the last ten years has seen a huge cut back in production matched with a giant leap in quality.

Located in the heart of the Iberian peninsula, halfway between Madrid and Andalusia, this immense plateau of arid lands experiences extreme temperatures, hot summers and very cold winters. The vineyards are set out on a large plain with loose and healthy soils of limestone-clay composition. Its climate is suitable for creating wines of high quality, Mediterranean with continental influences, it experiences marked seasons and considerable contrasts in temperature, which is a very favorable factor in the production of aromas.

A look at the label of the Finca Labajos Ibero states that it is a "Vinos de la Tierra" denomination, a concept that is similar to the "Vins de Pays" of France and, according to Spanish law, is seen as a sort of transitional term for areas that can, after 5 years, apply for Denominación de Origen status. However, many wineries in Vinos de la Tierra areas are embracing the greater freedoms allowed outside of the D.O. system and are producing some really innovative and exciting wines. The main requirement under the Vinos de la Tierra designation is that the wine has to be made from grapes grown with in the region, which leaves the door wide open for creative winemakers to compete on an international stage.

The Finca Labajos Ibero is made by a female winemaker, Raquel Labajos, the current owner of the property that has been in her family for over 300 years. A blend of 40% Merlot, 30% Syrah, 20% Cabernet Sauvignon, and 10% Tempranillo, the wine epitomizes what is happening in the region with its intense complexity, red fruit aromas, juicy ripeness combined with earthy spice notes.

Robert Parker gives it 90 points and says "...Purple-colored, the wine reveals aromas of cedar, earth, mineral, black currant, and blackberry. This leads to a medium-bodied, balanced, structured wine with 2-3 years of aging potential. It has excellent grip and depth followed by a firm, pure finish. It should drink well through 2015."

We paired this a few weeks ago with Chef Glen Hogh's Pinchos Morunos at our Tapas event and was a show stopper! The best part? It's a lot of wine for only $13.50!!

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Pinchos Morunos by Chef Glen Hogh

Chef Glen Hogh of Vega Tapas Cafe was the featured chef at our Tapas Tuesday last month at Swirl. He was kicking of his new $2 Tuesday Tapas menu at the restaurant and wanted to do a little preview for our lucky patrons. My favorite dish were these delicious grilled pork skewers and I convinced Glen to share the recipe with us . We paired them with the Iberos Tinto Roble, a merlot tempranillo blend that stole the show that night and was a perfect match for the Pinchos Morunos!

If you haven't checked out Vega Tapas on Tuesdays, you've got to go! The food is incredible and served in true tapas style, so you can try a lot of things for a little money and have way too much fun doing it!


2 Pork Tenderloins, cleaned of all skin & fat
1 lb. Brown Sugar
¼ C Dried Thyme
¼ C Oregano
¼ C Chili Flakes
5 T Black Pepper
1/3 C Salt
¼ C Cumin
¼ C Coriander
½ C Paprika
1/8 C Nutmeg

Combine all ingredients in mixing bowl. Set aside. Pork should be split lengthwise to create 4 pieces. Liberally coat each and place on cooling grill placed in hotel pan. Refrigerate overnight uncovered to cure. Cut pieces into cubes and place on water soaked skewers (this will keep them from burning). Place skewers over high heat grill till scored and rotate. Remove.

Traditional ‘pinchos’ are served atop crusty bread. We add a horseradish sour cream to cool the heat from the spices.

Espera que disfruten !


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