Written for Edible Santa Barbara: Spring-Summer 2021 

I come from a large French family who all have very strong opinions about wine. Red wine in particular, as that is what they have always favored, more specifically the wines from Bordeaux. To say that there is a cultural bias amongst them Is an understatement. Like many people, I also grew up with the view that rosé was not a very serious wine. It was trotted out on hot summer days, perfect for picnics and barbecues, or for quaffing down in large quantities at an outdoor party, a wine which was often a little too sweet, and one that few people had any qualms about adding ice cubes to. It was certainly not a wine that one would pair food with, let alone plan a meal, or an elaborate party around. Oh, how times have changed!

Rosé sales have exploded over the past decade, notably for pale, dry, more acidic Provencal styled rosés. Wine makers across the globe, and all over Santa Barbara county have taken note.  Many have added a rosé to their wine portfolio where ten years ago they made none. This surge in the wine’s popularity began in the early 2000s in France. Now, rosé outsells white wines in that country.  Its lack of pretention and affordability have made it hugely attractive to millennials in particular, and some savvy marketing by some of Provence’s biggest producers have driven its popularity to Instagram frenzied heights. The demand for the beautifully hued wines has made the US the second largest consumer of rosé, after France. Sine 2014, The United States even has a National Rosé Day (this year it’s on 12th June). In 2017, rosé sales in the United States jumped a staggering 53% and the trend continues. So, what is all the fuss about and why did we all embrace this style of wine now?

Eight years ago, I was lucky enough to have lunch at a winery in Provence, that has since become synonymous with the epitome of rosé, Chateau D’Esclans. home of Whispering Angel.   Located in undulating hills, inland from the Mediterranean, some 25 kilometers from the ancient city of Fréjus, the vineyard, and its charming and charismatic owner, Sacha Lichine, were turning the rosé world on its head. He believed that rosés could be subtly crafted wines, and set about transforming the market. “What differentiates today’s rosés from the overly sugared blush bottles of the past, is finesse” he once said. His goal was, and is, to make “wines that are light yet floral, with a delicate richness, and the paler the wine, the better.” This is the style of rosé that has become so prestigious, and has influenced winemakers around the world. As we toured the winery, he and his cellar master explained their wine making process: maceration. Rosés are made from many varietals of red grapes which, once harvested, are gently crushed to allow the juice to macerate (sit on their skins), anywhere from a few hours to a few days, in order to extract the desired amount of color and flavor. The juice’s limited contact with the grape skins give rosés their much-vaunted pinkish hues. The grapes are then lightly squeezed in a press to extract the optimal amount of juice, which is in turn poured into a stainless steel tanks, or oak barrels, and vinified similarly to a white wine. I learnt more about rosés in those few hours than I had ever known before. The visit broadened my perspective.  

A few years later, I returned to the Chateau, on what was then it’s 10th anniversary celebration. As the sun set, the Italianate building was bathed in pink light, and the 300 guests were serenaded into a huge covered marquee, hung with elaborate chandeliers and festooned with gigantic floral arrangements. The appetizers and the multi-course dinner all featured prodigious quantities of truffles, paired with a vertical tasting of the chateau’s finest wines. The evening was enchanting, and I could write paragraphs about the astonishing food and two-foot high pyramids of black tubers, but what struck me the most was just how far ‘simple’ rosés had come. This was now wine on an international, globetrotting, best seller list.

No sooner had I returned to the States, than I started reading about rosé festivals across the country. The press announced that guests in the Hamptons had a momentary panic attack when it appeared that they were going to run out of ‘the pink stuff’, it seemed Florida positively bathed in it, and New City launched an annual ‘Pinknic’, a two-day festival bringing together chefs, foodies, musicians, and more, dedicated to celebrating summer with a fresh glass of rosé in hand. At the 2016 event, banners read “Save water, drink rosé”, and they did, en mass. California, now home to more than 4500 wineries, also joined in. From Napa Valley to Los Angeles, La Vie en Rosé themed festivals flourished, sprouting like the states spring poppies, in every wine growing region. Everyone got the message, rosé was refreshing, uncomplicated, easy to choose and fun! The advent of Covid-19 put stop to mass gatherings, but wineries quickly pivoted to online tastings to share their latest vintage. Now, after a one year hiatus, drink pink festivals and competitions are gearing back up for 2021.

I admit I have joined in the fun too. Whereas ten years ago, I would never have served a rosé at a cooking class, much less paired it with dishes at a wine makers dinner, now those very winemakers are extolling the virtues of their own rosés to pair with all types of food. Karen Steinwachs, the esteemed winemaker at Buttonwood Farm and Winery, often suggests rosés (she makes two: a very pale, very dry grenache rosé, and a Syrah rosé) to go with foods that are notoriously difficult to pair wines with, such as grilled artichokes and asparagus, or with an endives, herb and goat cheese salad for example. She has made a convert of me, and I now champion its versatility. For instance, I use a lot of herbs in my cooking, and have found that serving a crisp rosé with a herb pesto risotto, is just the ticket. It also works incredibly well with all types of grilled and roasted fish, white meats, vegetarian feasts, and provides a refreshing complement to spicy food, such as a hot Thai curry, an Indian Vindaloo, or a spicy chili.

A few years ago, I travelled in Europe with friends from California. During our peregrinations around the French countryside, we cooked and ate meals together in every pied-à-terre we stayed in. This nocturnal communal gathering always began with a platter of excellent gooey cheese procured from whatever local market we could find, a crunchy baguette or fougasse, a little pate or rillettes and some rosé. This was de rigueur. This lovely ritual followed us back across the Atlantic, and when our motley crew got together, everyone brought rosé. We laughed every time, reminisced about the trip, caught up on news about our kids, munched on a piece of cheese, and delighted in a glass of nostalgia, pink tinged of course. Hopefully we will be able to gather around the table, and do the same again soon!

Grilled Asparagus Salad

I have one of those cast-iron griddle pans that you can put on top of your stove. I never used it very much until a few years ago when I started to conquer my apprehension about grilling in general. I also had an aversion to schlepping and cleaning my underused barbecue that lived outside under a tree, so I thought I’d give this griddle thing a try. Why did I not do this before? It’s fantastic, and so easy to use! Asparagus cooked this way somehow taste even better. The little charred bits on the stalks are earthy tasting, yet the stalks retain their herbaceous qualities. This is now one of my favorite ways to prepare asparagus.

If you have mastered your barbecue, you can, of course, grill them over hot coals too, but put them in a vegetable grill basket or pan, otherwise they have the annoying habit of falling through the grill and getting overly singed.

For the salad:
1 lb green asparagus — tips left whole; stems cut into 1½-inch pieces

1 lb white asparagus — tips left whole; stems peeled, then cut into 1½-inch pieces

Olive oil

Salt

Black pepper

20-30 small Thai basil leaves

2 burrata — cut into eighths
 

For the vinaigrette:
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 teaspoon white wine vinegar or champagne vinegar
1 tablespoon finely chopped dill
1 teaspoon finely chopped chives

  1. Place the asparagus in a shallow dish. Lightly drizzle with olive oil, and sprinkle with a generous pinch of salt and 8-10 grinds of black pepper. Shake the dish back and forth a few times to make sure the asparagus spears are coated.
  2. Place a cast-iron griddle on the stove over medium high heat. Once it is hot, lay the asparagus stalks on the griddle and cook for 1 ½ minutes. Turn once and cook for another minute. The vegetables should still be bright green and al dente. Carefully remove the cooked asparagus and place them on a serving platter, arranged with tips pointing outwards like a giant flower. Dot the salad with basil leaves and burrata.
  3. In a small bowl, whisk all the vinaigrette ingredients to form an emulsion. Pour over the warm asparagus and serve.

Herb-Crusted, Slow-Roasted Salmon Scaloppini

Serves 8 people

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

1 tablespoon white wine

Zest and juice of 1 lemon

¼ cup finely chopped dill

¼ cup finely chopped chives

¼ cup finely chopped parsley

1 teaspoon sea salt

8-10 grinds black pepper

2 ½ lbs salmon fillet — sliced into ¼-inch thick scaloppini

  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
  2. In a large bowl combine all the ingredients except the salmon and mix together well to form a herb paste. 10 minutes before baking the salmon, add the salmon slices to the mixture, and coat both sides with the herbs.
  3. Arrange the salmon on an oven proof platter or shallow baking dish, covering the entire surface of the dish, except the rim, overlapping the fish as little as possible. Spoon any remaining herb mixture from the bowl over the salmon.
  4. Bake just until the surface of the fish lightens in color, about 4-5 minutes. Check one piece to ensure that it is just cooked through, then remove from the oven. Serve with the salad alongside.

Shaved Fennel and Radish Salad

This is a simple, yet very elegant, crisp and refreshing salad. It’s also quick and easy to prepare.  I particularly like to serve this alongside grilled or roasted fish, or as part of a vegetarian feast. 

Serves 8 people

4 medium sized fennel bulbs — very thinly sliced, lengthwise, on a mandolin if possible

10 radishes — ends trimmed then thinly sliced

4 oz crumbled feta

2 tablespoons finely chopped dill

Salt

Pepper

For the vinaigrette:
¼ cup olive oil

Zest and juice 1 lemon

2 teaspoons white wine vinegar or champagne vinegar

  1. Place the fennel slices, side by side in a concentric pattern, on a large serving platter. You will not use all of the slices to cover the platter. Add any remaining fennel slices to the center of the platter. Arrange the radishes on top of the fennel. Scatter the feta and dill over the top.
  2. In a small bowl, whisk the vinaigrette ingredients together to form a smooth emulsion. Pour the vinaigrette over the salad when ready to serve.

Raspberry Rose Panna Cotta

Serves 8 people

1 teaspoon vegetable oil

½ cup milk

¼ oz powdered gelatin

3 cups cream

1 tablespoon rose water

1 tablespoon honey

2 tablespoons sugar

¼ cup crème fraiche

  1. Very lightly oil the inside of eight small bowls.
  2. Place the milk in a large bowl and add the gelatin to it. Whisk together thoroughly so that the gelatin is fully dissolved in the milk.
  3. Place the cream, rosewater, honey and sugar in a saucepan. Bring the mixture to a boil stirring frequently to ensure that the honey has dissolved. As soon as the mixture boils, remove from the heat and let it cool for 5 minutes.
  4. Slowly incorporate the cream mixture into the milk, whisking constantly. Add the crème fraiche and whisk again.
  5. Carefully pour the panna cotta mixture into the eight oiled bowls. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for a minimum of 2 hours. This dessert can be made the day before.
  6. To serve, carefully run a think knife around the edge of each bowl. Place a small dessert plate over the bowl and invert it so that the panna cotta is now on the plate. Spoon some of the berry mixture over the panna cotta and serve. Repeat with each bowl.

For the berries:

1 tablespoon butter

2 teaspoons sugar

1 teaspoon rose water

6 oz raspberries

  1. Place the butter, sugar and rose water in a small sauté pan, placed over medium heat. Once the butter has melted, add in the raspberries and cook for 3 minutes shaking the pan once or twice.  Be careful to not overcook the berries.
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