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May 12, 2015
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WINE WITH…Lamb Chops with Zogghiu (Sicilian Mint Sauce)

The first sign of spring in our tiny urban kitchen garden is always the mint. On the first warmish morning this season it started poking bright green dots through the still-frigid damp earth, and by the following day it had shot out an inch of leafy stem. That’s the way it is with mint: you can practically sit and watch it grow--and invade your garden. Yes, it can be a nuisance, but good mint is so deliciously refreshing to the palate that we do our best to control its rambunctiousness without killing it off altogether. One of our favorite ways to use mint is in zogghiu, the Sicilian version of pesto. It’s said that this minty sauce was originally used by Palermo’s fisherman to enhance freshly caught seafood, but it is equally tasty with chicken, and superb with lamb. And it’s also a great sauce for pasta, or simply spooned over plain boiled potatoes.

All serious cooks insist that zogghiu, like traditional basil-based pesto, should be made with a mortar and pestle (pesto--get it?). We can’t argue with this wisdom, but on the other hand, when you’re running short of time, it’s absolutely okay to use the blender. We know for a fact that the resulting sauce may fall short of idealized creamy perfection, but it’s still going to be pretty darn delicious.

Lamb Chops With Zogghiu

Serves 4

The zogghiu may be made at the last minute, but it will taste even better if made an hour, or even a few hours, ahead of time.

2 cups torn or roughly chopped fresh mint leaves
1 cup torn or roughly chopped Italian (flat-leaf) parsley
2-4 cloves chopped garlic
½ teaspoon salt
freshly ground black pepper
¾ cup extra-virgin olive oil
¼ cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
4-8 loin lamb chops, depending on size
½ cup crumbled feta cheese

If you are using a mortar and pestle, place the mint and parsley leaves in the mortar along with the chopped garlic and the salt and pepper. Crush the mixture with the pestle; then add the olive oil to the paste. Continue working it in until the mixture is smooth and creamy, then add the lemon juice.

If you are using a blender, pour a couple of spoonsful of the olive oil into the bottom of the blender jar. Add the mint, parsley, garlic, salt and pepper and pulse the mixture a few times before turning it up to higher whirring action, pausing to scrape the mixture down when necessary. When the ingredients are thoroughly blended, add the lemon juice.

To prepare the chops, trim off any excess fat. Salt and pepper the meat lightly (if there is time, do this a couple of hours, and up to 24 hours, before cooking). When you are ready to cook them, pat the chops dry with a paper towel. Rub them lightly with olive oil and cook on a preheated grill, or pan-fry them until done to taste. Drizzle each chop with zogghiu (passing the rest of the sauce at the table) and sprinkle feta cheese over them. Serve with pasta (orzo is ideal) or potatoes (we like potato cakes flecked with carrots as an accompaniment).

*      *      *

This is a relatively easy dish to pair with wine, as it almost begs to be matched with a full-bodied, deeply-flavored red. The tangy mint and lemon in the sauce likes ripe fruit flavors in a wine, and the lamb chops are hearty enough to handle assertive tannins. So look for a forceful rather than a delicate wine. And in order to get an extra level of synergy, go for a red that displays either earthy or herbal secondary flavors. The former provides a tasty contrast, with the latter offers an enticing echo. Both types are delicious, and so dominate our recommendations.

Questions or Comments? Contact us at Talkofthevine@gmail.com
We're on Twitter as @WineWith and @PaulLukacs.

Selection

Approx. Price

Comments

Boekenhouts-kloof, Coastal Region (South Africa) Syrah 2012

(Imported by Vineyard Brands)

$70

Deep and dark, with hints of savory spice, and leafy tobacco, this is a classy take on Syrah. While it resembles a northern Rhône wine in its basic profile, it offers less peppery bite and more soft charm.

Cadaretta, Columbia Valley (Washington” “Springboard” 2011

$50

A Bordeaux-styled blend, this Washington beauty tastes rich and fruity, with echoes of green pepper and savory herbs underneath its dark berry fruit. In our experience, this winery seems to be firing on all cylinders these days.

Bonny Doon Vineyard, Central Coast (California) “Le Cigare Volant Réserve” 2009

$78

Though modeled on Châteauneuf-du-Pape, this wine tastes quite Californian. It’s full of sun-drenched ripe fruit, with earthy but clean undertones, and nary a hint of any aroma one might associate with a barnyard.

Medlock Ames, Alexander Valley, Sonoma County (California) Cabernet Sauvignon “Fifty Tons” 2011

$60

Though riper than many of its French cousins, this wine definitely follows a Bordeaux model, most notably in the streak of green that runs from the bouquet well into the finish. That herbaceous note in no sense detracts from the pleasure the wine provides. Instead, because it is subtle even though persistent, it only enhances the experience.

Maison Nicolas Perrin, Côte-Rôtie (France) 2011

(Imported by Vineyard Brands)

$57

Perhaps because it is quite young, this Côte-Rôtie does not taste as peppery or meaty as many do. Those flavors are there, but they play a secondary role, making the wine nuanced and subtle. Our guess is that it will be more enjoyable with a good ten years of bottle age, but it nonetheless pairs beautifully with this dish right now.