Thursday, November 15, 2012

plum and bay leaf soup

It was clear early on that this dish was going to be a search for marzemino dolce.

I could tell from the recipe that it was a wine. I could tell by the name it was sweet.

And I could tell from the reaction in every wine store where I asked for it that it might barely actually exist.

When the Babbo cookbook calls for a rare or otherwise hard to get ingredient, it tends to make general suggestions pointing you to an ingredient that you, as a mere mortal, can attain. In the recipe for for this soup, it doesn't so much suggest an alternative as hint to the family you're looking for.

"3/4 cup of marzemino dolce, a slightly sweet sparkling red dessert wine."

Sounds like I'd like it. So I was looking forward to it just to try the wine.

"You're not going to find that in a store," said my personal sommelier, Jeremy. "Not even one that sells wine. You might find it on the Internet."

So little faith.

I started this project almost two years ago now. In that time, every time I am in a store that sells wine, I look for marzemino dolce. Because every other ingredient in this recipe is easy, I figured once I found the wine, I could just knock it out.

Almost two years. No marzemino dolce. Most places had no idea what I was talking about. Some said they were unaware that there was such a thing as a dolce, implying that they were familiar with marzemino in its unsweet state. It is also possible they were lying.

So, on a recent trip, I decided to stop messing around. I was in Port Chester, N.Y., about to have lunch at Tarry Lodge, a restaurant in the Batali-Bastianich empire. Attached to the restaurant is a market and wine shop, which Pam quickly dubbed Little Eataly. I went into the wine shop and asked about marzemino dolce.

Morgan, who was working there that day, clearly knew exactly what marzemino dolce was, and knew exactly what the inventory was.

"We don't have that. I don't think we can get it."

Cool. It was almost like closure. I asked Morgan -- who will also feature prominently in a future post, if i ever actually cook the venison leg -- if he could suggest an alternative.

"I know it's sweet, and I know its sparkling. but I've never had it, so I'm not really sure what might be like it."

It's always refreshing when a wine guy has the confidence to say he doesn't know. It actually made me trust everything he said more.

We started talking about alternatives, but we had a trip into New York on our agenda, so I figured I could hold out until then. Surely, if anyone was going to have marzemino dolce, it would be Eataly.

"No, we don't have that," I was told by the guy at Eataly. It was at that moment that I officially gave up.
On the shelf was a bottle of Rosa Regale, a sweet sparkling red wine that I happen to know I like a lot, because I have been instrumental in emptying many bottles of it.

"Would that work?" I asked the guy at Eataly.

"Well, that's a brachetto, not a marzemino," he said, as if two sweet sparkling red wines could be really, really different. He didn't say no, but he definitely wasn't saying yes.

I pulled rank, and decided the answer was yes.

The rest of the recipe basically calls for plums and bay leaf to be cooked in a whole lot of simple syrup. Frankly, I wasn't sure how much flavor could possibly be imparted.

It was intense. There was a ton of plum flavor, and the bay just made it deeper. I was afraid the syrup was going to make it all too sweet, but didn't happen. The other flavors sort of pole-vaulted off the sweetness. Really good.

There was a sorbetto of vanilla yogurt that I managed to mess up. I ran it through my ice cream machine, but it never froze. So I kind of just hoped that the trip through the machine helped aerate it a little, and put it in the freezer. It tasted fine, but the texture was more like ice milk. And the recipe made a ton of sorbetto. I had cut the recipe in half, seeing that each serving was supposed to get three little scoops. I estimate I could have gotten 400 little scoops out of the halved recipe.

The book suggests pairing this with a moscato d'asti, which would probably be pretty good. But I still had most of a bottle of Rosa Regale sitting there, and it was open.

And then it was empty. Just like all the others. 

Up next: spaghettini with spicy artichokes and lobster

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