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Sep 3, 2013
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WINE WITH…Zucchini Tian

Yes, the trees will soon take on autumnal coloring, and yes, beaches and pools have lost the irresistible allure they held only a couple of weeks ago. But nothing says “summer’s over” quite as compellingly as the end of zucchini season. Whether the zucchini is homegrown, purchased at a local farm-stand, or deposited anonymously on your doorstep, you just have to make one more meal with this much-maligned vegetable! Call it by its French name “courgette” if doing so makes it seem more appealing, and challenge yourself by giving the zucchini a starring role rather than a walk-on part as an accompaniment to meat or fish. Above all, prepare it with the idea of serving a nice wine with it.

Make zucchini fritters (terrific with Chardonnay), or courgette-based ratatouille (traditionally served with easygoing reds from Provence or Languedoc), or Caponata (try a zingy Prosecco with it for a festive touch). Or take the epicurean path we followed recently and make a traditional French tian, a one-dish meal based on zucchini and rice that needs nothing more to go with it than a good salad or two (fresh tomatoes and mozzarella, marinated mushrooms, green beans vinaigrette, and the like). And, of course, a bottle of delicious wine.

Zucchini Tian

Serves 4.

3 to 3 ½ pounds fresh zucchini
1 medium onion, diced
1 poblano pepper, finely diced*
3-4 tablespoons olive oil (divided use)
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 cup white rice
2 cups milk
2 tablespoons flour
½ cup grated Parmesan plus 3 tablespoons
Salt and pepper
1 tablespoon softened butter

There’s a lot of overgrown squash around this time of year, but since the larger ones can be watery and lacking in flavor, use the smallest zucchini you can get your hands on.

The tian may be made several hours or up to a day ahead of time, and reheated before serving.

Preheat the oven to 400°.

Using a box grater or food processor with a grating attachment, shred the zucchini. Place it in a colander over a bowl and toss with about 2 teaspoons of salt. While the zucchini exudes liquid into the bowl, sauté the onion and poblano in a large skillet with about 1 tablespoon of the olive oil for 2 or 3 minutes. Add the garlic and continue cooking over low heat until the onions are soft. Meanwhile, bring 2 cups of salted water to the boil and add the rice. Simmer for 5 minutes, then drain, reserving the rice.

Reserve ½ cup of the liquid that has drained from the zucchini, then rinse the shredded zucchini in cold water. Begin squeezing it by handfuls, blotting the squeezed zucchini as dry as possible on paper towels or with a clean kitchen towel. Raise the heat under the onion mixture and add the shredded zucchini. Continue cooking, stirring constantly, until it is just tender.

In a small saucepan, combine the half cup of reserved liquid from the zucchini with the milk. Heat it until it just starts to simmer, then remove the pan from the heat.

Sprinkle the flour over the zucchini mixture, stirring it over low heat to mix the flour in as thoroughly as possible. Pour in the heated liquids and continue stirring until the mixture begins to thicken. Remove the pan from the heat and mix in the ½ cup of Parmesan. Taste the mixture for seasoning.

Coat the bottom and sides of a 6-8 cup baking dish and pour in the zucchini mixture (the rice will absorb what seems like excessive liquid as the tian bakes). Drizzle 2 or 3 tablespoons oil over the top and scatter the remaining cheese over it. Bake in a preheated oven for 30-40 minutes, or until the tian is brown and bubbly.


*While most poblanos are fairly mild, some can be quite spicy. Taste a small piece, and if it seems too spicy for your taste use only half of the pepper.

*     *     *

We were unsure what sort of wine would go well with this rich yet delicately flavored dish, so tried a wide variety--reds as well as whites, light, delicate sippers beside others more powerful and full-bodied, wines dominated by fresh fruit flavors and some with a minerally, even earthy character. We sampled thirteen in all. Our favorites were almost all white, though we are recommending one red, an atypical example fashioned to be serve chilled. The whites run the gamut from fresh and lively to full and rich, as the only ones that did not work were a couple of extremely delicate wines which could not stand up to the dish. Otherwise, though, virtually every white we tried proved at minimum satisfactory, with four providing superior pairings. As a general rule, then, we would advise drinking almost any sort of white wine with this tian, as long as it has some weight and textural heft.

Selection

Approx. Price

Comments

Patient Cottat, Menetou-Salon, Loire Valley (France) “Anciennes Vignes” 2011

(Imported by Vineyards Brands)

$22

A chalky undertone augments citrus-like aromas and flavors in this complete and complex wine. Expressive without being assertive, it made for a wining match.

Evolúció, Tokaj (Hungary) Furmint 2011

(Imported by Boutique Wine Collection)

$13

A dry, vibrant white, filled with bright fruit flavor and marked by a mineral-tinged finish, this wine, much like the Menetou-Salon, had enough flesh to complement the fairly rich tian, but not so much as to get in the way. A delicious discovery.

Frisk, Victoria (Australia) “Prickly Rosso” 2012

(Imported by Old Bridge Cellars)

$12

A blend of Merlot and Dolcetto, but vinified so as to retain residual sugar, this wine tastes like a light and relatively refined Lambrusco. Medium-sweet, it was delicious with the tian, and had just enough acidity so as never to seem cloying or heavy. Drink it in the near-term.

La Crema, Monterey (California) Pinot Gris 2012

$20

Showing the influence of oak but never allowing the wood to dominate, this Pinot Gris is dominated by fruit that tastes much like fresh pears. The oak adds body and weight, making it a fine partner for this particular dish.

Oyster Bay, Marlborough (New Zealand) Chardonnay 2011

(Imported by Oyster Bay Wines USA)

$12

Unoaked so bright and lively, this wine tastes of autumnal fruit, with a squeeze of citrus to add vivacity. It helped the tian seem refreshing as well as sumptuous.