Sherry Week: A Taste of Leicestershire
Happy Sherry Week! I was very excited to be selected by the International Sherry Week team to be one of just 20 bloggers who are creating their own bespoke sherry pairing recipe. We were asked to create a dish which reflected the area where we live that would pair well with a bottle of sherry that the organisers would send to us.
This set my mind racing. What would my sherry be? I am a bit of a closet sherry fiend, I don’t mind telling you. A good fino sherry is one of the most deeply underrated wines out there. It makes me despair that the Great British Public hasn’t really got beyond the granny’s knitting sweetened sherry image. Sherry is a catchall term for a diverse range of beautifully complex fortified wines. They range from bone dry to syrupy sweet and are INCREDIBLE with food.
What is sherry?
This wine is made in the south west of Spain in the so called ‘Sherry Triangle’ of towns. They are Jerez de la Frontera, Sanlucar de Barrameda and El Puerto de Santa Maria. The Palamino grape (almost universally used for sherry) is grown on chalky soils in intense summer heat, along with smaller quantities of the Pedro Ximinez (PX) grape that is used to sweeten dry sherries. Always check your sherry is from the Jerez (saying Jerez-Xeres-Sherry on the top label and back of the bottle) or Manzanilla – the geographically protected areas of origin. Accept no substitution!
After it is fermented, fortification with grape spirit takes place and the wines enter the solera system. This gives sherry its signature flavours. The solera is a series of oak barrels with an air gap at the top, which allows the wild yeasts to grow into a layer of ‘flor’ at the top of the liquid, protecting it from oxygen and helping it to develop yeasty, bready notes. The dry Fino or Manzanilla sherries are made in this way.
As they continue to age in the solera system, the newly fermented wine from each vintage is added into the top of the system and the wine taken out from the bottom is bottled as ready to drink. In older sherries the layer of flor dies, exposing the wine to the air making it darker in colour and taking on more nuttier and caramel flavours. This is Amontillado sherry – and this is what I was sent with to pair with food.
Other styles include Oloroso – fortified to a higher degree so flor never develops and therefore it always ages in contact with the air. It is dark and full of dry fruit character. Oloroso is often sweetened with a little PX to make a cream sherry.
Amontillado sherry pairing with food
The International Sherry Week team sent me a bottle of Gutiérrez Colosía Amontillado to play with. This, like most sherries, is relatively inexpensive considering the quality – you shouldn’t find it hard to pick up a bottle for not too much over £20. It is on the bolder end of the Amontillados – having a deep colour which reflects the nuttiness and richness of the flavour of this beautiful dry sherry.
The bodega is located right by the sea in El Puerto de Santa Maria and I fancy that you can detect just the merest hint of sea air in this sherry. Think sea air and salted almonds! These flavours probably also reflect the wine’s first three years of life as a Fino, before the oxidative treatment of the last 6 or so years gave it the beautiful amber caramel colour and indeed some hint of caramel flavour along with a trace of honey and that deliciously creamy mouthfeel.
Like all Amontillado, these flavours and texture cry out for a sensitive pairing to bring out the best in them. For me, complimentary ingredients work the best – complement the nuttiness with nuts – almonds, hazelnuts, chestnuts. The richness and salinity has an earthiness that works well with mushrooms, pates – wonderfully savoury earthy flavours. While chicken and lighter game like rabbit is a good pairing for Amontillado, I have always enjoyed the way it complements the autumnal flavours of root vegetables. And so it hit me. My dish would have to be seasonal – a November dish for Sherry Week which put roasted root vegetables at its heart. A vegetarian classic that would brim over with the flavours of Leicestershire, yet be constructed in such a way as to really bring out the beautiful complexity of this deep, intense sherry.
I began to assemble my ingredients. For my root veg, there was only one place for me to go. The Perfectly Edible UK project intercepts food that would otherwise go to landfill and gives it a new lease of life. I have been following their project for a number of years since their early days as part of the Junk Food Project. Now, under their new guise as well as a weekly cafe, they also offer a pay as you feel market, which I love to visit every week if I can as it is a great way to stock up on fruit and veg whilst preventing food waste!
Of course, it’s a bit pot luck as to what veg has been saved each week – but I hope that shows that this recipe is quite flexible depending on what you have in the cupboard!! Also, I chose to use my Perfectly Edible vegetables as I wanted one of my flavours of Leicestershire to be an unashamedly sustainable and ethical one. We’re doing our bit to combat food waste – are you?
Next up I was looking for my complimentary flavours. That note of honey in the Amontillado was too much for me to resist including. Of course, we all know that honey roast vegetables are delicious, and it just so happens that I am friends with The Bee Farmer, a wonderful honey producer here in Leicestershire. Now, time was tight so unfortunately I wasn’t able to hit Dave up for some honey, but I happened to know that some other friends of mine, Antonio and Daniele, also stock it at Gelato Village in Leicester city centre. I like Dave’s honey predominantly because it’s delicious, but also because each jar has a code on the back which you can tap in on his website and find exactly which hive your honey comes from.
I popped over to Gelato Village to grab a jar and while I was there I talked to Antonio, the Maestro Gelatiere, about his nuts. Hazelnuts of course! He uses the very best for his gelato, Tonda Gentile PGI hazelnuts from his home region of Piedmont. I am a massive fan, having visited Piedmont on a number of occasions, so I managed to wangle a handful to use in my recipe while I was there. Don’t worry if you can’t get these specific hazelnuts, any will do – but I do love the very particular natural sweetness of these Italian beauties.
My recipe needed that seasonal earthiness to match the Amontillado. What would work better than wild mushrooms? And what better flavour of my home county than our local mushrooms? Now, I am not confident enough in mushroom identification to go and pick my own. I needed expert help. If you want to get mushrooms in your local area you should seek an expert too.
For expertise in my area, I turned to Chef Andrea Scarpati of Sapori Restaurant and Bar. (I am name dropping a bit with this blog, aren’t I?) This fabulous Italian restaurant has just been recognised in the Michelin Guide for the first time. Very happily it is just 20 minutes walk away from my house. I knew that Andrea used lots of local, seasonal produce in his cooking and he did not disappoint! He had a selection of mushrooms he had collected when walking with a friend on Beacon Hill. This is about 6 miles away across the beautiful Bradgate Park. I’ll be honest, borrowing mushrooms isn’t quite as much fun as hunting for them yourself. But I was on a schedule to perfect my recipe in time for #SherryWeek.
Ingredients assembled, it was time to cook my dish. After a few attempts, I like this rendition and I hope you will enjoy it too. I went for a root vegetable risotto because I wanted the non-dairy creaminess that comes from agitating the gluten in the rice to match that devious, subtle non-dairy creaminess in the sherry. I think that the weight of the dish and the wine is evenly matched and both have subtly complex layers of flavor which balance each other well. But try it for yourself and let me know if you agree!
Obviously a vegan version would omit the honey and butter. Make sure the sherry you use is ‘en rama’ (unfiltered) if creating a vegan version.
This is really a recipe within a recipe, make your honey and sherry roast veg first, then make the risotto and add the veg towards the end. Or of course you can just make your honey sherry veg and serve them with Sunday Dinner – if you have a chicken dinner with these veg and a nice fruity, nutty stuffing then it should also pair beautifully with the Amontillado!
Roasted Vegetable Risotto
To create the honey-sherry roast vegetables for two:
- Selection of mixed root veg – peeled and roughly chopped (I used red onion, courgette, red pepper and parsnip – 1 of each and I also threw a little kale into the risotto at the last minute as they had it at Perfectly Edible!)
- 2 tbsp Gutiérrez Colosía Amontillado
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- 1 tbsp local honey
- ½ tbsp smoked paprika
- Salt to taste
To create risotto for 2:
- A splash of olive oil
- A knob of butter
- 1 onion
- 2 cloves of garlic
- ½ tbsp smoked paprika
- Slosh of Gutiérrez Colosía Amontillado
- 200g risotto rice
- 500ml veg stock (warmed through)
- 200ml passata
- your roasted vegetables
- a handful of wild mushrooms, sliced and pan-fried in butter
- a handful of hazelnuts, chopped
- Preheat the oven to 220’C.
- Mix the vegetables with olive oil, honey, smoked paprika and sherry. Season to taste.
- Pour the mixture into a roasting tray. Bung it in the oven for 30 minutes or until the vegetables are cooked with crisp edges.
- Meanwhile, fry the onion and garlic gently in butter and olive oil in a pan.
- When they are soft and translucent, add the smoked paprika and fry gently for 30 seconds to a minute. Then deglaze the pan with a slosh of Amontillado.
- Add the rice and cook for another minute.
- Mix the passata and hot stock together and gradually add to the rice. Allow each ladle of liquid to be absorbed before you put more in.
- Keep stirring to stop the rice sticking and to help to release the rice starch.
- After about 20 minutes or so all the liquid should be gone, leaving a creamy risotto with al dente rice. You want it cooked all’onda (with waves) according to the Italians.
- Stir in another knob of butter, your roasted vegetables, kale and other veg that doesn’t need much cooking, fried mushrooms and hazelnuts – reserving a little hazelnut to garnish.
Et voila! Serve with a glass of Amontillado. Chill it in the fridge, but taken out half an hour before serving (approximately when you started the risotto). Please let me know how you got on in the comments. I’d love to hear about your favourite sherry pairings on Twitter! Share your thoughts with #SherryWeek to be a part of the conversation.
The bottle of sherry was gifted to me by the International Sherry Week team. The rest I sorted out for myself!