Eric Akis: Spring dinner menu a great blend of B.C. wine and food

Eric Akis

If you enjoy fine B.C. wine and eating food that perfectly pairs with it, let me suggest two splendid ways to do that: One requires you to buy a ticket, get dressed up and attend a fun event that raises funds for a worthy cause. The other requires you to shop for B.C. ingredients, put on an apron and cook up a delicious wine-paired dinner.

The event, organized by Make-A-Wish B.C. & Yukon, is called ReWined. It takes place from 6:30 to 9 p.m. on April 10 at Victoria’s Crystal Garden, 713 Douglas St.

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A main supporter of this event is the Naramata Bench Wineries Association (naramatabench.com). At ReWined, wineries from that top B.C. wine-growing area will pour samples from their exclusive spring releases.

Naramata Bench is on the southeast shore of Lake Okanagan. Its geographic orientation, microclimate and soil composition make it a site uniquely suited to growing a wide variety of grapes that are used to produce award-winning wines with complexity, balance and finesse.

While sampling some of those wines at ReWined, you’ll also be able to enjoy small plates of food prepared by some of Victoria’s best restaurants and food providers. Tickets for ReWined are $100 per person and can be purchased online at makeawishbc.ca/naramata. You will receive a tax receipt for a portion of the ticket price, and funds raised at ReWined will help Make-A-Wish B.C. & Yukon grant life-changing wishes to children living with a critical illness on Vancouver Island.

After attending an event such as ReWined, you might be inspired to prepare some of your own fine food and serve it with some of the wines you tried. That’s why today, I have also provided a three-course menu of recipes that all have wine pairing suggestions compiled by Tina Baird from the Naramata Bench Wineries Association.

Eric’s B.C. Spring Dinner Menu for Six

• B.C. Mushroom and Goat Cheese Paté

• Roasted Halibut with Cherry Tomatoes, Capers and Asparagus

• Dark Chocolate Coffee Panna Cotta

B.C. Mushroom and Goat Cheese Paté

The tasty appetizer sees a sautéed mix of richly flavoured mushrooms blended into a paté with tangy goat cheese. Spread it on toasted baguette or crackers.

Preparation time: 20 minutes, plus soaking time

Cooking time: Six minutes

Makes: Six (about 1/4 cup servings)

1(14 gram) pkg. sliced dried mixed mushrooms (see Note)

3 Tbsp butter

4 oz. brown (cremini) mushrooms, sliced

2 oz. shiitake mushrooms, tough stems removed and discarded, caps sliced

1 Tbsp finely chopped shallot

1 large garlic clove, finely chopped

• salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

1/2 tsp fresh thyme leaves, plus some for sprinkling

1 (150 gram) tub plain Salt Spring Island goat cheese (see Eric’s options)

Place dried mushrooms in a small bowl and cover with the one cup warm water. Let mushrooms soak 90 minutes, until plumped up and reconstituted. Drain the mushrooms well, and then dry on paper towel.

Melt butter in a large skillet set over medium-high. Add the fresh and dried mushrooms, shallots and garlic; season with salt and pepper. Cook mushrooms, stirring frequently, five minutes, until tender and moisture has evaporated from them. Mix in the 1/2 tsp thyme and cook one minute more. Remove pan from heat; cool mushrooms to room temperature.

Spoon mushrooms into a food processor and add the goat cheese. Pulse until a smooth paté is created. Taste paté and season with additional salt and pepper, as needed. Transfer paté to a serving bowl. Cover and refrigerate until ready to serve.

When ready to serve, let paté warm at room temperature 20 minutes. Sprinkle top of paté with bit of fresh thyme leaves and dig in.

Note: Dried mixed mushrooms are sold in small bags in the produce department of many supermarkets. I used Champ’s Mushrooms brand and it contained an exotic mix of mushrooms, such as lobster and chanterelle.

Eric’s options: Although the flavour won’t be as tangy and rich, you could replace the goat cheese with 3/4 cup spreadable B.C.-made cream cheese.

Wine pairing suggestions

Serve the mushroom paté with one of these Naramata Bench wines:

• Terravista Winery 2016 Fandango: This white wine that tastily lingers on the palate blends Albarino and Verdejo grapes, and has aromas of zesty citrus, herbs, spices and melon.

• Bench 1775 Winery Glow Rosé: This dry, complex rose brings together aromas and tastes of juicy cherry, dried thyme and Meyer lemon zest.

• Hillside Winery 2014 Pinot Noir: This silky textured, beautifully complex red wine has juicy raspberry and wild strawberry aromas and flavours.

• Lake Breeze Vineyards 2016 Roussanne: This white wine has a lovely, gentle bouquet of honeysuckle, white peach and spice, all complemented by secondary lemon and herbal notes.

Roasted Halibut with Cherry Tomatoes, Capers and Asparagus

Fresh B.C. halibut is in season and this recipe fillets of that fish are roasted and then topped with colourful sautéed mixture of cherry tomatoes, capers and asparagus.

Preparation time: 25 minutes

Cooking time: 16 minutes

Makes: six servings

12 to 15 asparagus spears, tough stem ends trimmed

6 (5 oz./140 gram) halibut fillets

4 Tbsp olive oil (divided)

1 Tbsp lemon juice

• salt and white pepper to taste

15 to 18 cherry tomatoes, each halved

1 Tbsp capers, with a bit of juice

1 large garlic clove, minced

1/2 tsp finely grated lemon zest

• pinch red pepper flakes

1 to 2 Tbsp chopped fresh oregano or basil

Bring a small pot of water to a boil. Cut each asparagus spear, widthwise and on a slight angle, into 2-inch pieces. Add them to the boiling water and cook one minute. Drain asparagus well, cool in ice-cold water, and then drain well again. Set asparagus in a bowl and refrigerate until needed.

Preheat oven to 375 F. Line a sided baking sheet with parchment paper. Set the fish on the baking sheet, skin-side down. Combine 1 Tbsp of the olive oil and lemon juice in a small bowl. Brush mixture on fish; season with salt and pepper. Roast fish, uncovered, 15 for minutes, or until the just cooked through.

When the fish has baked eight minutes, heat the remaining oil in a large skillet set over medium-high. When oil is hot, add the asparagus, tomatoes, capers, garlic, lemon zest and pepper flakes and cook and stir three minutes, just until tomatoes soften slightly. Mix in the oregano (or basil), season with salt and pepper, cook one minute more, and then remove pan from the heat.

When fish is cooked, set it on plates and drizzle it with the pan juices. Top each piece of fish with some of the asparagus and tomato mixture and serve.

Wine pairing suggestions

Serve the halibut with one of these Naramata Bench wines:

• Poplar Grove Winery Rose: This quartz-coloured wine has aromas of strawberry, rhubarb and roses, and flavours of grapefruit and watermelon with hints of lime zest.

• Upper Bench Winery 2017 Riesling: This crisp and dry white wine has aromas of gooseberries, lime and peach, and flavours that include Granny Smith apple.

• Bench 1775 Winery Sauvignon Blanc: This white wine has bright citrus acidity and aromas and tastes of gooseberries, mown grass and ripe white peaches.

• Three Sisters Winery 2016 Bench White: This off-dry wine features the aromas and flavours of peaches and apricots with notes of honeydew and poached pear.

Dark Chocolate Coffee Panna Cotta

This is a divine, chocolatey, coffee-spiked version of the classic Italian-style, custard-like dessert. It will bring a blissfully sweet ending to a dinner.

Preparation time: 25 minutes, plus chilling time

Cooking time: about six minutes

Makes: six servings

1 cup homogenized milk

1 pouch (1 Tbsp) unflavored powdered gelatin (I used Knox brand)

2 cups whipping cream (divided)

1/4 cup granulated sugar

1 tsp pure vanilla extract

6 oz (170 grams) good-quality dark chocolate, finely-chopped (see Note)

1/2 cup strongly brewed coffee

• a few pinches ground cinnamon

• shaved dark chocolate, to taste, for garnish (optional; see Note)

Pour milk into a small bowl, sprinkle on the gelatin and let stand until needed.

Place 1 1/2 cups of the whipping cream, sugar and vanilla in a small- to medium-sized pot set over medium heat. Bring to just below a simmer, and then whisk in the milk/gelatin mixture.

Return to just below a simmer and then mix in the chocolate and cinnamon. Whisk just until the chocolate is melted and a smooth mixture is created. Now whisk in the coffee.

Divide and pour the panna cotta mixture into six, six-ounce decorative shallow bowls, glasses or pudding cups. Cool the panna cotta to room temperature. Individually wrap and refrigerate the panna cotta until set, about four hours or overnight.

When ready to serve, whip the remaining whipping cream until soft peaks form. Set a dollop of whipped cream in the centre of each panna cotta. Sprinkle with a little shaved chocolate, if using, and serve.

Note: I used Callebaut Belgian dark chocolate in this recipe. It's sold in blocks at some supermarkets. I bought it at Thrifty Foods. You can use a vegetable peeler to shave off some of the chocolate and use a garnish for this dessert.

Wine pairing suggestions

Serve the panna cotta with one of these Naramata Bench wines:

• Black Widow Winery Vintage One: This robust Port-style wine has a dark cherry/plum colour and a black currant/plum aroma.

• Hillside Winery 2012 Hillside Mosaic: This bold and aromatic red wine is an intriguing five grape mix of Merlot, Malbec, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot.

• Lake Breeze Vineyards 2016 Meritage: This full-bodied, well-structured red wine has a complex flavour with tastes that include red and black fruits, with hints of vanilla and spice.

• Upper Bench Winery 2014 Estate Merlot: This easy drinking red wine has flavour notes that include hints of stewed fruit, coffee and baking spice, and an aroma that displays such things as plum, cherry and cedar.

Eric Akis is the author of eight cookbooks. His columns appear in the Life section Wednesday and Sunday.

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