Food Stuff

The New York Times


July 20, 2004

Unabashed Companion for a Piquant Dish
Florence Fabricant

The albariño grape -- or alvarinho, as it is called in Portuguese -- makes wines with many personalities.

With the light, steely and herbaceous examples from vineyards often cooled by salty Atlantic breezes, I am happy to open some sweetly briny littleneck clams to eat on the half shell. No recipe is needed for a treat like that.

Before dinner in Galicia, in northwestern Spain, an albariño might be accompanied by sautéed pimientos de padrón, - small, green, slightly piquant chilies. These are sometimes available fresh in the United States, from sources including Tienda. Some chili flakes can also energize the clams.

Then there are attractive albariños with floral allure, body and fruit. These demand more, so I would consider rich, fresh sea urchins. Or I might broil littlenecks coated in garlicky bread crumbs moistened with fragrant green olive oil, or even topped with crumbled Portuguese linguica sausage.

Fish is a reliable main course. I went to the market with an open mind and found a fresh black sea bass. Knowing how well the wines handle herbs and a touch of spice, I concocted a condiment, along the lines of the charmoula green sauce of Morocco, using cilantro, mint, garlic, paprika, lemon and olive oil.

First came a ceviche of fresh Nantucket bay scallops briefly marinated in lime juice, with scallions and avocado. The fish followed, with orzo tossed with diced bell peppers. After a green salad, the menu was rounded out with some cheeses -- including Évora, a salty Portuguese sheep cheese, and Roncal, a nutty-tasting cheese from northern Spain -- along with pears and honey.

And from start to finish, all we needed in our glasses was Albariño.

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