Our study has, of late, resembled a winery. Paul's been talking for years about attempting to make cider or wine, and a couple of weeks ago bit the bullet and bought one of the home wine-making kits where you get the grape juice concentrate and everything. The aim was to produce 20 litres of vin ordinaire. It just so happens that the temperature in the study is just right for a fast and dirty ferment.
It's been very successful. It's certainly not wine we would serve to other people, and it lacks finesse and interesting flavours, but it is definitely drinkable.
So for the first time I find myself being strongly encouraged to chuck wine around like water in my cooking. 20 litres of wine gives a lot of freedom to experiment.
The first thing I have made was absolutely divine - a potato gratin, heady with wine and smoked garlic, rich with cream. We had it with a basic roast chicken and it was just gorgeous. I know most people in Britain are firmly wedded to the traditional roast potato for their Christmas lunch, but I think this could definitely fit into seasonal feasting somewhere.
Wine and smoked garlic potato gratin (serves 4)
small knob of butter
4 large floury potatoes (I used King Edwards), peeled and sliced
2-3 fat cloves of smoked garlic, peeled and chopped
freshly ground black pepper
200ml strong chicken stock
200ml double cream
250ml white wine (Paul's homemade wine is a pretty dry riesling type)
Preheat oven to 180C. Lightly grease an oven-proof casserole dish with a bit of butter.
Layer the potatoes with a sprinkling of the smoked garlic and some black pepper.
Mix the cream and chicken stock. I don't know if this is strictly necessary, but I was a bit anxious that the rough wine would curdle the cream and thought that mixing the cream with the stock first might prevent that from happening. And the cream didn't curdle, so either there was no danger of it happening in the first place OR my instinct was correct. Pour the wine over the potatoes, trying not to disturb the layers too much, then pour over the combined cream and stock.
Bake for much longer than you think is necessary, at least an hour, until the top is well-browned and you can feel all the potatoes collapsing into mush under the point of the knife.
Grate a tiny sprinkling of nutmeg on top and allow to sit for 5 minutes before serving.