Spring concert picnic: apple-fennel salad recipe plus wine pairings

There is something so perfect about a warm spring evening spent under the stars listening to good music and eating good food. It gets even better when you have the happy accident of discovering an unexpected and unconventional food and wine pairing. The Mattie Kelly Arts Foundation kicked off its 8-week Concerts in the Park series on Thursday, providing a great excuse for a picnic (not that an excuse was necessary). A group of us put together a slightly organized potluck — we knew what the main course was going to be, and everything else fell into place.

We started with a cheese and meat platter with brie, cheddar, prosciutto, salami and walnuts, paired with Toad Hollow Vineyards 2007 “Eye of the Toad” Sonoma County Dry Pinot Noir Rose’. When I think of picnics, I think of rose, and this wonderfully dry wine is what I look for. Crisp and to the point with hints of pink peppercorn and red berries.

For dinner we had an apple-fennel salad with arugula (recipe below) and pork tenderloin sliders with spicy apple-cherry chutney. The pork tenderloin, which spent time in a tarragon marinade, was beautifully moist after spending 24 minutes on the grill. A bit of Dijon mustard and the chutney were all that was necessary to adorn the small soft sandwich rolls.

Vision Cellars 2006 Las Alturas Vineyard Santa Lucia Highlands Pinot Noir was an incredible match with the pork. An initial taste of anise giving way to black cherry and blackberries complemented the fennel in the salad, and the tarragon in the pork. Just a bit of spice worked well with the chutney and peppery arugula. This wine had a smooth mouthfeel and an incredibly long finish.

The biggest surprise of the evening came with dessert. Fudgy chocolate mint brownies paired nicely with Davis Bynum 2006 Russian River Valley Pinot Noir. This is the wine that won the gold medal in the Domestic Pinot Noir over $20 category at the 2009 Sandestin Wine Festival. Lots of bright fruit on the nose and a suggestion of mint on the palate teamed with a lovely soft texture. A sip of wine led to a bite of brownie, which led to another sip of wine, and so on, and so on…

Apple-Fennel Salad with Arugula
serves 6

1 cup apple cider
2 crisp apples (such as Pink Lady or Jonagold)
1 lemon
1 fennel bulb
3 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons cider vinegar, or white wine vinegar
5 oz arugula
Salt and pepper 

In a small saucepan, reduce the apple cider vinegar to a half cup. Remove from heat and let cool.

Meanwhile, cut the apples in quarters and remove the core. Preferably using a mandolin, slice the apples and fennel bulb as thin as possible. Place in a large bowl and squeeze the juice of the lemon over the slices, tossing the slices until coated with juice.

Combine the reduced cider, olive oil and vinegar in a small jar or container with a reliable top, and shake until combined. Pour over apple and fennel slices and toss.

Just before serving toss the arugula with the slices and dressing, and season to taste with salt and pepper.

To see what and where Colleen Sachs is eating and drinking, follow her on Twitter @colleensachs.