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May 8, 2012
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WINE WITH…PORK MEDALLIONS WITH CARROT AND ALMOND SAUCE

By Paul Lukacs and Marguerite Thomas

For many years Manhattanites with a craving for straightforward yet elegant and creative cucina Italiana have headed to Felidia, Lidia Bastianich’s flagship restaurant in midtown. At lunch there recently we were so dazzled by executive chef Fortunata Nicotra’s veal with carrot and almond sauce that we couldn’t wait to get home and try our own version. As is often the case with a home-cooked interpretation of exquisite restaurant fare, ours was not quite as refined and urbane as the original (we had to make a few adjustments, most notably substituting pork when we couldn’t find excellent veal), but the end result was quite delicious, and lovely to look at. It also proved to be a very rewarding partner for the selection of red wines we assembled to try with it.

This experiment was a reminder that for those of us who like to putter in the kitchen, going out to dinner often provides the inspiration to try new and different ways of executing traditional techniques. In this case, for example, instead of serving carrots as a side dish to go with the meat, why not use them for the sauce? Our resulting purée of carrot and almonds was simpler to prepare, more nutritious, and certainly prettier than any standard sauce we can think of. The inherent sweetness of carrots was lifted by a hint of cayenne and squeeze of lemon juice, which also bought out the earthiness of the vegetables.

Pork Medallions with Carrot and Almond Sauce

Serves 2

One pork tenderloin or two thick boneless chops
1 cup peeled and coarsely chopped carrots
1 small onion, chopped
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1 and a half cups chicken stock, plus up to 1 cup more if needed
1/8 teaspoon cayenne
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
2 shitake mushroom caps, approximately 2 inches in diameter
½ cup red or white wine
2 tablespoons slivered almonds, lightly toasted
1 and a half tablespoons butter
4-6 small fresh oregano or basil leaves for garnish (optional)
Salt and pepper

Cut the pork into rounds about one and a a half inches thick, two per person if using a tenderloin, one per person if using chops. Season the pork on both sides with salt and pepper. Refrigerate until needed.

In a sturdy skillet cook the carrots and onion in olive oil over medium heat, stirring until they begin to soften. Add the garlic and pour in a cup of chicken stock. Cover the pan and simmer until carrots are very tender (this should take anywhere from ten to twenty minutes, depending on size and freshness of the carrots). Stir in the cayenne and lemon juice. When cool enough to handle, transfer these ingredients to a blender or food processor. Do not wash out the skillet. Purée or liquefy the carrot mixture until it is silky smooth, adding more chicken stock if necessary to make a supple sauce. Adjust the seasonings. A few minutes before serving, warm over very low heat. (The sauce may be made up to an hour or so ahead of time.)

Meanwhile, add about a quarter cup of chicken stock to the skillet. Add the mushroom caps and simmer, covered, for about 10 minutes or until they have softened (if they begin to look dry add a little olive oil to the pan). Remove them and set aside. Do not wash out skillet.

When ready to cook the meat, heat the skillet and add the butter. When the pan is very hot and the butter foamy, add the pork and sear over medium to high heat. Lower the temperature if necessary to keep the meat from burning. When it is cooked through, or lightly pink in the center, remove it and add the mushroom caps to the pan. Over high heat, pour in the wine and cook, stirring the mushrooms around, until almost all but a spoonful or so or the liquid has been absorbed.

To serve, spread a slick of the carrot mixture around the bottom of two serving plates or shallow bowls. Center the pork on each, and top the medallions with a mushroom cap on each. Drizzle whatever liquid remains in the pan over them. Scatter oregano or basil leaves over the top if desired.

* * *

We found that the best wines to pair with this dish display earthy as well as fruity flavors, thus echoing the different sorts of flavors on your plate—sweetness from the carrots, and a rustic savoriness from the mushrooms and the pork. Overtly fruity wines seemed cloying, while more austere wines tasted limp and dull. In addition, the dish calls for a fairly full-bodied, hearty red in order not to overpower the wines, With both flavor and texture, then, the key here is to look for wines that complement and echo the dish rather than those that might provide a foil or contrast to it.


Selection

Approx. Price

Comments

Andrew Murray Vineyards, Central Coast (California) “Espérance” 2009

$25

A Rhône-styled blend, with some of peppery, dried herb characteristics that distinguish first-class southern French wines, “Espérance” also offers plenty of succulent plum and red berry fruit flavors, all of which served to enhance the different flavors in the dish.

Boekenhoutskloof, Western Cape (South Africa) “The Chocolate Block: 2010

(Imported by Vintage Brands)

$34

Despite the name, this wine does not taste much like chocolate. Instead, it exhibits a peppery, herbal streak along with dark fruit flavors. A blend of primarily Rhône varieties, with some Cabernet Sauvignon to provide tannic structure, it is substantial and richly satisfying to drink.

Hess Collection, Mount Veeder, Napa Valley (California) “19 Block Cuvée” 2008

$36

A Bordeaux-styled blend that manages to avoid the excessive jam or raisin-like character that mars so many northern California reds these days (whether because of judicious winemaking or the high altitude vineyard), this wine tastes simultaneously big and bold and sophisticated and sumptuous. It meshed very nicely with the dish, being powerful but not muscle bound.

Manzoni, Santa Lucia Highlands (California) Pinot Noir 2010

$26

We tried three different Pinots hailing from three different countries with this dish, and Manzoni’s by far was the best match. It wasn’t too light or too sugary, and evidenced a dark, savory undertone that contributed complexity and allure.

Villa Maria, Gimblett Gravels, Hawkes Bay (New Zealand) Cabernet Sauvignon/ Merlot “Reserve” 2008

(Imported by Ste Michelle Wine Estates)

$35

Seamless in structure and layered on the palate, this wine displays the sort of cassis and cedar flavors that one might expect in a Bordeaux-styled blend, without ever seeming overly tannic or alcoholic. Given its restrained elegance but lively freshness, it reflects an old-fashioned style made new and exciting by modern grape growing and winemaking.