The Glorious Twelfth is looming, but I need no groose loose about my hoose to get me packing away recipes for light and airy summer fare and thinking richer and darker. The clues are all around: red summer fruits making way for black, brambly ones, flashes of orange heralding the first of the squashes, and delicate, sun-loving herbs in the garden looking slightly less inviting now than glossy bay, silvery, pillowy sage and rosemary, still soft and feathery before it gets its winter spikes honed.
Unsurprisingly, this is the time of year when I get my worst cravings for pinot noir, soulmate of feathered game. I say worst because this diva of a grape is as capable of producing some of the world's worst wines as it is of delivering the most enthralling top drop known to man or woman. The first bird of the season demands, as nothing else, a celebratory and jealously hoarded bottle. Sometimes it's charming, expressive and genuinely pleased to join us for dinner. Sometimes it's gone into a fearful snit. And sometimes, when my nerves are altogether too frazzled, I welcome alternative suggestions.
Since discovering the River Café recipe below, I've never troubled to roast grouse in the traditional way. I'm very happy to tuck into that when someone else has done it properly, but I lack the confidence to gauge that vital point between unattractively bloody and hopelessly dried out. No danger of that with this recipe, wherein the bird is braised in Chianti, and served on a hunk of toasted sourdough bread that has absorbed the heady and velvety mix of wine, butter and meat juices in the pan. The bird remains pink and tender, and, when it comes to the accompanying glass, worthy of the blood of Jupiter himself. Or, as they call it in Tuscany, sangiovese. Go for a seductive one with a bit of bottle age, rather than a brooding blockbuster or cabernet-spiked supertoscano.
Benvenuti all' autunno!
MATCH OF THE DAY
Friendly: Villa di Vetrice, Chianti Rufina Riserva, 2009 (ref IT15961, £9.95)
Premier League: Rosso di Montalcino, Canalicchio di Sopra, 2011 (ref IT16831, £13.50)
Director's Box: Isole e Olena, Chianti Classico, 2010 (ref IT16711, £16)
Note: on the principle that a good wine can never be too good to cook with, our delicious entry-level Poggio del Sasso, Sangiovese di Toscana, 2011 at £6.95 (ref IT16431) makes a wonderful addition to the sauce (and to the chef) and it's plenty good enough to serve with the dish too.
Valdipiatta Vino Nobile di Montepulciano, 2009(ref IT15991, £17.50)
Malenchini Chianti Fiorentini, 2011 (ref IT16351, £7.95)
Selvapiana Chianti Rufina, 2010 (ref IT16721, £10.95)
GROUSE WITH BRUSCHETTA
(The River Café Cook Book Easy (1) by Rose Gray and Ruth Rogers, Ebury Press, 2008)
- 4 grouse
- 16 sprigs thyme
- 200g unsalted butter
- 1 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
- 350ml red wine
- ¼ of a sourdough loaf
- 1 garlic clove, peeled
Preheat the oven to 220/Gas 7
Stuff each grouse with 4 sprigs of thyme and a knob of butter. Season the outside of the grouse and inside the cavity.
Put the birds breast-side down in an oven tray. Drizzle over the olive oil.
Pour over a glass of the red wine. Roast for 10 minutes. Turn the birds breast-side up, pour over a second glass of wine and cook for a further 10 minutes, basting with the wine juices. Finally, add the remaining wine and butter and roast for 5 minutes. Remove from the oven.
Cut the bread into four thick slices. Grill on both sides and rub lightly with the peeled garlic.
Press the garlic side of each piece into the juices in the pan, and turn them over onto hot plates. Place the grouse on top and pour over the remaining juices.
I like to serve this with a salad of bitter leaves like chicory, watercress etc.