2006 Ruffino Chianti Classico Riserva Ducale

This week's wine blog is extra special because it was made possible by a culmination of efforts from multiple friends. It began a few weeks ago when my friend Nic and I wandered over to Omaha Steaks in Long Beach. We met with the general manager, Phillip Goodman, who just happened to be in my Creative Writing class many moons ago when we were both students at Cal State Long Beach. Phillip gave us a great discount and helped Nic and I choose a selection of NY strip steaks and 6 ounce filet mignons -- all nicely marbled and flash- frozen to preserve their freshness.

I left Nic in charge of creating the menu for this week, as he is an amazing chef and admitedly knows more about cooking steak than I do. After brainstorming various culinary combinations, we took our final list of ingredients to the Redondo Beach Farmer's Market to purchase some fresh grape tomatoes, corn on the cob, green onions, and shallots.
Nic at the farmer's market

Me and my bouquet of basil that only cost $1!

The view from the market

I acted as sous chef and eager student, while Nic explained the perfect method for cooking a tender filet mignon. I felt as though I was back in Florence at the cooking class I took many years ago when I was studying abroad -- jotting down notes, and being verbally quizzed from time to time:

Nic: "Why are we letting the steaks rest for 6-8 minutes after   cooking them?"

Me: "Because it allows the juices to settle. If we cut into the steak immediately after taking it off the heat, all the juices will pour out of it and onto the plate, which causes the meat to lose some of its natural tenderness and juiciness."

I got that one right, by the way.

After all of the chopping and mincing and searing and flambéing, the result of our efforts, was an incredibly delicious meal shared with great friends. It was also the last meal consumed at my beloved dining room table. I ended up selling it the very next day in preparation for my move to New York.

This was my first time eating Omaha Steaks, and I was quite impressed. Both steaks were flavorful and tender, even with the minimal amount of seasoning we used.

Although it seems natural to give you the recipes at this point, we must pause for a moment to remember that this is a wine blog and we haven't yet covered this week's selection. Without any further ado --let's talk Chianti, shall we?

2006 Ruffino Chianti Classico Riserva Ducale ($22.99 at Trader Joe's)

Like the Vin Santo we discussed last week, Chianti also hails from the beautiful region of Tuscany. Italians have been making this wine since the twelfth century, and it has since undergone multiple changes in production and even ingredients. In the 1800s, white grapes were blended together with Sangiovese, which is a red grape and is the primary ingredient in Chianti. Unlike in California -- where Chardonnay is made from Chardonnay grapes and Merlot is made from Merlot grapes -- in Italy, they like to blend multiple grapes together and then call the wine something entirely different. Very few wines in Italy are made from a single grape varietal, as they are here. That is why learning about Italian wine is both more interesting, and more complicated.

In addition, my Wine Bible  says that Italy has extremely strict laws that govern wine production and they have been in place for centuries. Like a stubborn old man who is set in his ways, the Italian government would not allow for any deviation from these traditions, less the vineyard owners wanted their new creation to be labeled "table wine" (quite an insult!), rather than the distinguished title of Chianti.

It wasn't until the 1970s that a group of renegade winemakers decided they didn't care and dared to experiment against government standards. Their table wines were nicknamed the "Super Tuscans" by the press, and were so successful that they eventually convinced the government to adapt some winemaking laws, and ultimately helped create the Chianti we know and love today. And no, it does not have white grapes blended with it anymore, just in case you were wondering.

This particular Chianti is made by Ruffino. I knew it would be a safe bet because it's from an extremely reputable vineyard, and was given 90 points from the Wine Spectator. It is smooth and delicious, with hints of blackberry and a touch of earthiness. It paired quite nicely with the filet mignon and NY strip.

Peppercorn Crusted Filet Mignon With Brandy Cream Sauce

4, 6 oz filet mignons, patted dry and at room temperature
Kosher salt, to taste
1 oz. whole peppercorns, cracked with rolling pin
2 Tbsp. canola oil
1 Tbsp. butter
1/4 cup brandy
1/2 cup heavy whipping cream

Brush each side the filets with canola oil, then sprinkle with kosher salt. Place the whole peppecorns on a sheet of wax paper, then cover with another sheet of wax paper and use a rolling pin to crush them into chunky pieces.

Once they have been broken down, firmly press each filet into the peppercorns until both sides are heavily crusted.

In a large stainless steel pan, melt the butter and canola oil on med-high heat. Cook the filets for 4 minutes on each side, and then take them off the heat to rest for 6-8 minutes (Hint: you'll know why this is important if you were paying attention earlier. Just making sure you're all paying attention . . .)

The filets should come out med-rare.

While the steaks are resting, start the brandy cream sauce in the same pan you cooked the steaks in. Drain off any excess fat, then use the brandy to de-glaze the pan. Take it off the heat and light it on fire. This burns off all the alcohol, and it's also rather fun.

When the flames have gone out, return the pan to the stove and reduce the heat to med-low. Let the brandy simmer for a few minutes until it becomes dark and syrupy, then whisk in the heavy whipping cream and allow it to continue simmering for about 5 more minutes.

Top each filet with the brandy cream sauce, and enjoy!

Seared NY Strip Steaks With Fennel Succatash

4 NY strip steaks, patted dry and at room temperature
canola oil
kosher salt and crushed black pepper, to taste
2 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
1 fennel bulb, chopped
1 cup green onion bulbs, chopped
1 lb. grape tomatoes, halved
4 corn cobs, kernals shaved off
sea salt and crushed black pepper, to taste

Use a large cast iron skillet that is suitable for putting in the oven. Preheat oven to 500 degrees with the skillet inside the oven while it is preheating. It should take around 30 minutes for the oven to  actually get that hot. (FYI, you may also want to disconnect your smoke detector for the evening because there will be lots of smoke once you start cooking the steak.) Don't say I didn't warn you.

While waiting for the pan to heat up, brush each steak with canola oil, then lightly salt and pepper each side.

Once thirty minutes has passed, remove the skillet from the oven and place it on top of the stove on med-high heat. Allow it to sit on the stove for 5 more minutes, continuing to get hotter, then drop each steak on the skillet and count to thirty seconds. Flip them,  then count to thirty seconds on the following side. Next, place the whole pan back in the 500 degree oven and bake for 2 minutes on each side. Remove them, and let the steaks rest for 8-10 minutes. They should come out about med-rare.

While the steak is resting, start making the fennel succatash by sauteeing fennel in olive oil until it is transluscent. Add the green onions and continue sauteeing until it is soft (about 2 more minutes). Season the raw corn kernals with salt and pepper, then add them to the pan. Continue sauteeing for another 2 minutes, add the grape tomatoes, and cover. Simmer for another 2 minutes and then serve with the NY strip steak or filet mignon.

If you want to learn more about Omaha Steaks, or to find a location in your neighborhood, click here.

Brigid and Nehemiah