Stone fruit and herb sangria

Summer is here. All that stands between me and falling deeply, fully, thankfully into it is one class of final essays and a little bit of paperwork. And then! It’s all soaking up sun and aimless wandering on the beach and all the vacation I can stomach. No, wait, that’s someone else’s life. For me it’s gardening and finalizing an article and planning a class and, well, okay, vacationing. But more on that later…

In celebration of the summer hanging just out of reach, I thought a nice little beverage might fit the bill. The inspiration for this one came a couple of Sundays ago, as we had lunch with M., a friend from graduate school who happened to be in town for an extended birthday voyage. We decided the occasion merited drinks with lunch, and I had a sangria that, oddly, is NOT the direct inspiration of this one. Rather, as we clinked forks and glasses, M. told me about her favorite way of making the drink in question, which involved stone fruit and herbs – her preference is sage; here I’ve used thyme as I tend to find sage a mite strong, but you could easily do both. This drink is easy to play with.

Typically sangria involves wine, fruit, and something a touch stronger to fortify it like brandy or liqueur. It gets lightly sweetened, and the fruit is allowed to steep a while to soak up some of the liquid. M. replaces the typical apples and oranges with stone fruit, and rather than the usual simple syrup she uses a spoon or two of apricot preserves, which very cleverly reinforces the stone fruit flavor while sweetening the drink.

Between the preserves and the fruit pieces, which break down a little bit as they sit in the wine, this isn’t a crystal clear brew. But it is crystal clear that it deserves to be drunk. It is bright and light – a perfect aperitif – and would pair well with almost any snack you can think of: flatbread, crostini, savory cheeses, maybe some cold salmon, and definitely the wine-soaked fruit at the bottom of your glass. As my sister noted when I sent her a preview photo, “Looks delightful. A+ Would drink.” Some people like to top up their sangria with sparkling water or lemonade. I do not, but you can if you want to. This is, after all, your summer.

* a note for serving: I used a champagne glass here for presentation purposes and loved the look of it, but once loaded with fruit, it held an unsatisfying quantity of actual drink. I’d suggest a wine glass or even a tumbler. Additionally, while the slices of peach looked very pretty, smaller chunks are a little easier to navigate both while pouring and in the glass itself.

 

Stone Fruit and Herb Sangria
I wouldn’t dare estimate how many people you like to serve out of one bottle of white wine…
At least 2½ hours (mostly time chilling), but could be prepared as much as a day in advance
750ml bottle crisp white wine (I used a vinho verde from Portugal, which was slightly effervescent)
2 tablespoons peach or apricot preserves
3-4 large sprigs of thyme or sage
3 ripe peaches or other stone fruit, pitted but not skinned, cut into thin slices or chunks as you desire
½ a lemon, thinly sliced or cut into chunks
optional: ¼ cup orange liqueur or limoncello
ice plus extra herb sprigs to serve
sparkling water or lemonade to serve, if desired

 

  • In a small pot, combine the preserves with about ¼ cup of the wine and the thyme or sage. Bring to a simmer, stirring occasionally, until the preserves melt down and emulsify, so to speak, into the wine.
  • While this mixture is simmering, put the peaches and lemons into a large pitcher or punch bowl, then add the hot wine and preserves mixture, including the herb sprigs. Add the remaining wine and the liqueur, if using.
  • Refrigerate until cold; at least two hours is enough, but overnight is even better to let flavors mingle.
  • Serve over ice, being sure to get some of the fruit into your glass. Add an extra sprig of thyme or sage if desired, and top up with sparkling water or lemonade if that’s your thing.

Frozen Sangria

Food Blog July 2013-1673Chances are, where you are, or were, or will be soon, it’s hot.  Or it was.  Or it’s going to be.  But past, present, future, when it’s hot out, and you still want dessert, you are probably going to have certain demands: it must be easy.  Mimimal measuring.  Simple directions. No fine chopping or dicing or mincing.  It must require short cooking time, if any.  No long baking times (sorry, bread pudding), no stewing or roasting or brûléeing.  It must be refreshing and delicious and maybe even a bit surprising, to pull you out of your mid-summer funk.  Not that I’m having one of those…

Food Blog July 2013-1628

Frozen sangria.  Does that make your sweat-beaded forehead wrinkle with interest?  It makes mine feel a little curious, a little intrigued, a little go-on-I’m-listening…

Sometimes feet get in the way of your photoshoots...

(Sometimes feet get in the way of photoshoots…)

Frozen sangria requires relatively little of you.  It wants flavor – some sugar, some spice, some whatever’s-your-favorite red wine.  It wants just a little simmering to infuse the liquid with cinnamon sticks, with cloves, with orange peel.  We’re playing a little game with ourselves here: imparting winter flavors into an icy treat.  Maybe the reminders of that holiday season half a year away will help us cool down just as much as the temperature of our dessert.

Food Blog July 2013-1626Finally, frozen sangria wants time.  Because we’re dealing with alcohol, freezing is going to take longer than if we were working with juice or water or even ice cream.  It will freeze – most wines are between 9 and 13% alcohol, and this relatively low percentage will still solidify, but it will take a little longer.  For satisfactory results, you’ll want to start this little project the day before.  I know; planning ahead is not always on your mind when you are struck with the yen for a frozen treat.  But this icy, deeply flavored bomb of spice, tipsy with wine, sparkling with citrus from freshly squeezed orange juice and freckled with mashed strawberries, is worth the extra wait.

Food Blog July 2013-1632Here, because I care about you, and I want you to know your options before you have to brave the melting temperatures to find your way back to the kitchen, I’m giving you two preparations (well, three, if you count the plain ol’ sangria itself).

Food Blog July 2013-1640First, let’s talk casual, fun, surprising: the popsicle.  Red wine, orange juice, tiny, tooth-freezing pockets of strawberry, frozen together in a shape that will pull you back to childhood even while the ingredients remain oh so adult.  Once they are poured and put up, you have a secret cache of popsicles ready for your next girls’ night, or barbeque, or just a late afternoon so oppressing that standing barefoot on the kitchen’s tile floor just doesn’t cut it anymore.

Food Blog July 2013-1655Food Blog July 2013-1648Our second preparation is a bit more elegant, a bit more dinner party, but still almost as easy: the granita.  Granitas are Italian desserts related to sorbets, except that they have a crystalline texture more like snow or shave ice.  Here, instead of spooning the sangria mixture into popsicle molds, it gets poured into a wide, shallow vessel, like a 9×13 baking dish, and again, moved to the freezer.  After a few hours, though, you pull it out and scrape through it with a fork.  This prevents the liquid from freezing into a solid mass.  After this initial freezing period, return once every few hours and scrape again, agitating the mixture into separated crystals (and strawberry chunks).  Several of these scraping sessions in, your liquid will be frozen and clustered in deep red flurries: a mound of feathery ice ready to be scooped and crunched after dinner or, if you prefer, perhaps even before.  That’s what your favorite patio table is for, right?

Note: these are great options for a stay-home dessert, but if you are traveling or feeding them to guests who will be traveling, be cautious about the serving size: unlike warm desserts, where you simmer off most of the alcohol, this is basically a frozen bottle of wine with some flavorings added in – the majority of the alcohol content is still there.

Food Blog July 2013-1673Frozen Sangria
Makes at least 12-16 servings, depending on the size of your popsicle molds or serving vessels
1 bottle (750ml) red wine of your choice
4 big strips of orange peel
3 cloves
2 sticks cinnamon
½ cup sugar
½ cup (4 oz.) freshly squeezed orange juice (for me this took 2 large oranges)
12 oz. strawberries, fresh or frozen and defrosted, chopped into small pieces or mashed with a potato masher

 

  • The day before you want to serve your frozen sangria, place cloves, cinnamon sticks, orange peel, sugar, and 1 cup of wine in a small saucepan and bring to a simmer over medium-low heat.  Keep at the barest of simmers until the liquid is reduced by half – you will end up with ½ cup of deeply flavored, spicy-sweet wine.  This will probably take 15-20 minutes, depending on how hot your burner is and the size of your pan.
  • Remove from heat, strain out spices, and allow the liquid to cool.
  • In a bowl, pitcher, or 9×13 inch glass baking dish (if you are making the granita), combine the rest of the bottle of wine, the reduced, spiced wine, and the orange juice.
  • Add the mashed or chopped strawberries and stir to combine.
  • At this point, you have three options.  If you want to serve this as a simple, pourable sangria, simply refrigerate until it is well chilled, then top up with sparkling water and serve in fun glasses.
  • If you want to make popsicles, spoon the liquid into popsicle molds until almost full (we want to account for expansion), being sure to get plenty of strawberry bits in each one.  Add sticks or holders and freeze overnight or until solid.  To unmold, dip each compartment into warm water for a few seconds, then carefully and gently pull the popsicle out.  Don’t rush them or they may break.  Just give them a few seconds to separate from the plastic.
  • If you are making granita, pour your liquid into a 9×13 inch glass baking dish and put it into the freezer for 3-4 hours.  If you are me, this step is complicated by trying to create room in my freezer for a 9×13 inch glass baking dish.  Just pack it in.  It will work out.  Or, as with last month’s spice rub post, use this as a mandate opportunity for reorganization.
  • After 3-4 hours things should be resolutely slushy.  Remove the whole dish from the freezer and drag the tines of a fork through the mixture, breaking up the solid chunks and redistributing them.  Return it to the freezer.  Repeat this procedure once every few hours until you have a feathery, crystalline heap of frozen wine.  It should look similar in texture to shave ice or a snow cone.  At this point, it is ready to serve or keep frozen for up to a week, with occasional re-fluffing.
  • I like to serve mine in big mounds in a fancy martini glass, but wine glasses, cups, bowls, or little jam jars will work too.  And if you want to recreate the snow cone experience, rolled cones of thick paper would likely do just fine.