Food & Wine
At this time of year, things are touch and go in my summer garden, which is keeping me excited.
I'm determined that this year I might get it right. Sadly, I get little right the first year. One of the plants I have issues with is the grapevine. The first time I put one in I took it under advisement to plant an ‘Albany Surprise', assured that I couldn't kill it. The surprise was that six months later it was dead.
Next was a grapevine in a pot as suggested by Bob Flowerdew's book The Gourmet Gardener. Good, but the harvest was meager. Last year, still in its pot, the crop looked better but was aced by a rogue chook. This year, finally planted, the leader taking off along the back wall, grapes hung heavy at holiday time. I planned my Valentines Day dinner accordingly.
Knowing my vine should be lovely and ripe, in advance, using store-bought grapes, I wrote, tested, photographed and enjoyed this recipe for two. It is a sophisticated meal; the duck is rich and the grapes are sweet. As a self-saucing recipe, it hits the mark for my husband who loves all meals that come with gravy.
There is no need for fussing with the rest of the meal as the braise has so much flavour. A polenta quickly made or mashed potatoes and a few green beans all easily thrown together. It's also one of those excellent dishes that can be prepared in advance and thrown in the oven at the last minute. Alas my plan had a flaw. Yesterday, I fought a bird for the final grape, the rest devoured, grape-bunch skeletons the only evidence of their former success.
Perhaps this error is fitting for Valentines Day. The explanation espoused by Wikipedia is that the day was invented by the medieval poet Chaucer in his epic poem The Parliament of Fowls.
Although the saint existed, in fact there is more than one St Valentine, Chaucer allegedly gave the day its romantic connotation. I can only really guess that consumerism had a part to play when chocolate hearts, roses and gifts became a part of it. It seems far from the birds gathering to choose their mates.
In search of chocolate hearts, I googled "how valentine was matyred" looking for a hint of bleeding heart. Christianity.com is unsure which St Valentine is referred to and gave no answer. Therefore I see every reason why duck with grapes should be just as suitable as chocolate hearts.
"If you fare in love as owls do in the light," whether you're up for the full seduction or sharing a meal together in front of the telly, a good duck dinner should set the tone.
DUCK AND GRAPE BRAISE
1 Tbsp grapeseed oil
2 duck legs
2 shallots, roughly chopped
carrot finely chopped
1 tsp chopped marjoram
tsp thyme leaves
1 bay leaf
1 cup black seedless grapes
salt and pepper
1 Tbsp chopped parsley
Heat the oil in a casserole. Brown the legs slowly on both sides allowing the fat to ooze out, ensure it is a lovely even brown colour as it will not brown much more in the oven. Pour off the fat (and reserve for making the best roast potatoes). Let the pan cool a little.
Cook the shallots, marjoram, thyme and carrot in the cooled pan, covered, for 10 minutes.
Add the duck, grapes, salt, pepper and water and cover again. Bake in oven for 30-35 minutes and rest the duck for 15 minutes under foil before serving.
Serve garnished with a little chopped parsley.
Prep: 25 minutes
Cooking: 35 minutes
- © Fairfax NZ News