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Bright Flavors, Tempting Pleasures for Valentine’s Day

Miami chef Michael Schwartz shares recipes for buttery crab cakes, chocolate dessert and more. Plus, get 12 recommended Rieslings, Chardonnays and Sherries
Photo by: Ben Fink
For the first course, showcase in-season fruits like persimmon and pomegranate in this winter salad.

Samantha Falewée
Posted: February 9, 2018

In the 1980s and ’90s, Miami’s Design District was devoid of the sleek galleries, high-end fashion and jewelry boutiques, modern architecture and playful public art installations that have arrived over the past decade. Named not for the beacon of international design the district has become, it takes its name from the furniture warehouses that populated the then-ramshackle section of the Buena Vista neighborhood. It was there that chef Michael Schwartz opened the restaurant, Michael’s Genuine Food & Drink, in 2007, on a leap of faith and a simple mission: serve fresh, local, approachable food.

One regional James Beard Best Chef Award and several new restaurants later (the latest addition to his Genuine Hospitality Group, Amara at Paraiso, opened last week), the Philadelphia native is a leader in the Miami culinary scene. For Valentine’s Day, he shares a creative, indulgent and tempting three-course meal. The recipes are sourced from Schwartz's cookbook, Michael's Genuine Food: Down-to-Earth Cooking for People Who Love to Eat.

His Persimmon and Pomegranate Salad with Crumbled Ricotta and Pomegranate Vinaigrette highlights seasonal fruits in a mélange of vivid flavors, Jumbo Lump Crab Cake with Carrot Butter Sauce is a succulent, buttery main, and a silky Milk Chocolate Cremoso with Espresso Parfait calls on an unexpected ingredient that serves as a fruity, bitter foil to the sweet cremoso. Genuine Hospitality Group sommelier and beverage manager Amanda Fraga picks a wine for each dish, and below you’ll find an additional 12 recommended wines, all rated 90 points or higher and representing great value at $30 or less.

In addition to his family of restaurants, including Fi’lia by Michael Schwartz, Ella, multiple Genuine Pizza eateries and a handful of Royal Cruise Line restaurants, Schwartz has a hand in making his own wine, too. The chef has teamed with friend and vintner Jim Clendenen of Au Bon Climat winery in California to produce a red blend, Lua Rossa.

As you begin prepping for your Valentine’s Day meal, “read the recipes all the way through before you begin!” advises Schwartz. It’s a refrain we’ve all heard before, but can so easily forget in the flurry of getting started. “So many make the mistake of starting without doing that first and it’s a ‘recipe’ for disaster,” the chef quips. Buying good-quality ingredients from trusted local vendors is another big step forward.

That is especially true with the salad, which takes advantage of in-season exotic fruits like pomegranate and persimmon. “The combination of tastes is awesome: peppery watercress, sweet-spicy persimmon, tart pomegranate seeds and salty cheese, all held together by a tangy vinaigrette,” Schwartz writes of this easy recipe in his cookbook. Any leftover vinaigrette can keep for about a week in the fridge, and goes well with grilled meats, too. To pair with the salad, sommelier Fraga recommends a Riesling with lively stone fruit flavors and fresh acidity, like a Clemens Busch Qualitätswein Trocken Mosel Vom Grauen Schiefer.

Schwartz combines lump crab meat with butter and cream and then chills the mixture to bind the crab cakes. He explains that the melting butter then soaks through the cakes as they’re pan-frying. A Chardonnay like Au Bon Climat Santa Ynez Valley Sanford & Benedict Vineyard 2015 complements the sweet-and-creamy crabmeat filling with notes of pear, apple and lavender—and gives a shout out to Schwartz’s pal Clendenen.

If you’re cooking for two on Valentine’s Day, make the crab mix in the morning, let it chill in the fridge for a few hours—up until you begin prepping for the holiday lunch or dinner—and use roughly half of the mix for the meal. The remaining crab can be breaded and cooked the next day for delicious leftovers. (The subtly sweet carrot butter sauce, which is mainly butter, cream and carrots, is best made anew the following day).

And of course there must be chocolate. What’s the secret to the puddinglike Milk Chocolate Cremoso dessert? A drizzle of olive oil topped with a dash of sea salt adds an unexpected pop of flavor. “Some people are like, whoa … olive oil and chocolate? But the combo really works,” writes Schwartz. The salt and oil cut through the Nutella-like flavor of the hazelnuts and chocolate. He also incorporates a slice of crisp sourdough bread for added texture. “A recipe is only as good as its ingredients, and this is no exception,” Schwartz cautions. “Use the best-quality chocolate—it makes all the difference between a waxy, vaguely chocolaty flavor and intense chocolatiness.” The chef favors Valrhona, Lindt and Scharffen Berger. The recipe makes enough to serve six people, but the dish will keep in the fridge for up to a week, so it's not a bad problem to have. Fraga says this dessert calls for the dried fruit and nutty profile of a Sherry like Emilio Lustau East India Solera.

The following recipes are excerpted from Michael’s Genuine Food, by Michael Schwartz and JoAnn Cianciulli (Clarkson Potter, 2011).

Persimmon and Pomegranate Salad with Crumbled Ricotta and Pomegranate Vinaigrette

For the Persimmon and Pomegranate Salad with Crumbled Ricotta:

Note: There are many types of persimmons. This recipe calls for fuyu, which you can eat when firm, are crisp and sweet like an apple, and are really easy to work with. The shiny, pumpkin-colored fruit ranges from pale golden-orange to rich reddish-orange. Generally, the darker the color, the sweeter the taste.

  • 1/2 bunch watercress, stems trimmed (about 2 cups lightly packed)
  • 1 medium head frisée (about 4 cups lightly packed)
  • 1 ripe fuyu persimmon, peeled and thinly sliced
  • 1/2 shallot, minced
  • 2 tablespoons Pomegranate Vinaigrette (recipe follows)
  • 2 tablespoons firm ricotta salata, crumbled
  • 2 tablespoons pomegranate seeds

1. In a mixing bowl, combine the watercress, frisée, persimmon and shallot. Drizzle with the Pomegranate Vinaigrette, tossing to dress the salad lightly and evenly. Divide the salad equally among chilled plates. Top with ricotta and pomegranate seeds. Serves 2 as a main dish or 4 as a small starter.

For the Pomegranate Vinaigrette:

  • 2 cups pomegranate juice
  • 1/4 cup Champagne vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
  • 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1/4 cup canola oil
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

1. Pour the pomegranate juice into a small pot and place over medium-low heat. Cook until the juice has reduced to 1/4 cup and is thick and syrupy, about 20 minutes. Set aside to cool.

2. In a small mixing bowl or mason jar, combine the cooled pomegranate syrup, Champagne vinegar, balsamic, olive and canola oils; season lightly with salt and pepper. Whisk or shake to blend and dissolve the salt; reserve at room temperature until needed. Keep any leftover vinaigrette covered in the refrigerator for up to 1 week. Makes about 1 cup.

Jumbo Lump Crab Cake with Carrot Butter Sauce

Ben Fink

For the Crab Cakes:

  • 1 pound jumbo lump crabmeat, drained well, patted dry and picked over for shells
  • 6 tablespoons (3/4 stick) unsalted butter
  • 1 small shallot, minced
  • 1 teaspoon Old Bay seasoning
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon dry mustard
  • Pinch of cayenne pepper
  • 1/3 cup heavy cream
  • 2 scallions, white and green parts, chopped
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 cup panko breadcrumbs
  • 1/4 cup vegetable oil
  • Carrot Butter Sauce (recipe follows)
  • Alfalfa sprouts (optional)

1. Put the crab in a mixing bowl and set aside. Combine the butter and shallot in a small pot over medium heat. Once the butter has melted, add the Old Bay, 1 teaspoon salt, 1/2 teaspoon pepper, the mustard, and cayenne. Stir to combine. Remove from the heat and whisk in the cream. Pour the butter mixture over the crab. Add the scallions. Fold the ingredients together gently but thoroughly, taking care not to mash the crabmeat. The mixture will look almost runny; don't worry, it will firm up in the fridge. Cover with plastic wrap and chill in the fridge for at least 1 hour.

2. When ready to cook, form the mixture into 6 crab cakes that are 1 1/2 inches thick (if making the entire recipe). They should be moist and just hold together. Put the crab cakes on the plate, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate to let the cakes set while setting up your breading station.

3. Add the flour to a pie plate and season with salt and pepper. Crack the egg into a shallow bowl, add 1 tablespoon water, and beat with a fork until frothy.

4. Put the breadcrumbs in another shallow bowl. Put a large skillet over medium heat, add a couple tablespoons of oil, and swirl the pan around to coat the bottom. Working with 3 crab cakes at a time (keep remaining cakes in the fridge), lightly dredge both sides of the cakes in the seasoned flour, dip into the beaten egg, and then coat completely with breadcrumbs. Gently lay the cakes in the hot oil and brown for 3 to 4 minutes on each side (turning only once or they will break up). Drain on paper towels. Add the remaining 2 tablespoons oil, and repeat with the remaining crab cakes.

5. To serve, pool 1/4 cup of the Carrot Butter Sauce on each plate, set a crab cake in the center and, if you like, garnish with alfalfa sprouts. Full recipe serves 6.

For the Carrot Butter Sauce:

  • 1 cup carrot juice
  • 1 small carrot, thinly sliced
  • 1 shallot, coarsely chopped
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 2 tablespoons heavy cream
  • 8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, cut into chunks, at room temperature

1. Combine the carrot juice, carrot, shallot and salt in a small pot over medium-low heat. Simmer until the carrot is completely soft and mushy, about 10 minutes. The liquid will reduce almost, but not quite, by half. Stir in the cream and simmer for 2 to 3 minutes to combine. It will look kind of a mess, a bit grainy and separated, but not to worry.

2. Remove from the heat. Whisk in the butter a few chunks at a time; the sauce will come together. Pour the sauce into a blender and hold a kitchen towel over the top for safety. Blend until completely smooth and a beautiful sunset color. Serve hot. Makes 1 1/2 cups.

Milk Chocolate Cremoso with Espresso Parfait

Ben Fink

Note: To toast the chopped hazelnuts, preheat the oven to 350° F. Spread the nuts in a single layer on a rimmed baking sheet. Bake, checking the nuts until they are fragrant and lightly toasted, 8 to 15 minutes.

  • 10 ounces milk chocolate, finely chopped (1 1/2 cups)
  • 2 2/3 cups heavy cream (separated)
  • 3 tablespoons granulated sugar
  • 3 large egg yolks
  • 1/3 cup confectioners’ sugar
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons brewed espresso, cooled
  • 1/3 cup chopped hazelnuts, toasted
  • Extra-virgin olive oil to taste
  • Coarse sea salt to taste
  • 6 thin slices sourdough bread, toasted

1. To make the cremoso, put the chocolate in a heatproof bowl and set aside. Combine the cream and sugar in a pot over medium heat and bring to a boil. In a large bowl, whisk the egg yolks until slightly thick and yellow. Whisking constantly, slowly add the hot cream to the egg yolks. Do not add it too quickly or the eggs will scramble. Return the eggs to the pot and whisk over medium-low heat until the custard is thick enough to coat the back of a spoon, about 2 minutes; do not boil.

2. Pour the hot cream mixture over the chocolate and whisk thoroughly until the chocolate is melted and smooth. Cover and chill the cremoso until completely firm, at least 6 hours or, even better, overnight. The cremoso can easily be prepared a day or two in advance.

3. To make the parfait, whip the cream with the confectioners’ sugar and vanilla to soft peaks. Gently fold in the espresso and spoon into 6 small (3- to 4-ounce) ramekins. Cover with plastic wrap and freeze for at least 1 hour or up to overnight.

4. To serve, set aside about 2 teaspoons of hazelnuts for garnish; divide the remainder among 6 dessert plates (about 1 tablespoon per plate if not making full recipe). Dip a metal tablespoon into hot water for a couple of seconds to heat up. Wipe the spoon dry with a kitchen towel and run the spoon along the cremoso to scoop a long wave that barrels over itself.

5. Spoon the cremoso on top of the hazelnuts. Drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with sea salt. Top each serving with a slice of sourdough toast, and set a ramekin of the parfait on the side. Sprinkle with the reserved nuts. Full recipe serves 6.

12 Recommended Wines

Note: The following lists are selections of outstanding wines from recently rated releases. More white wines rated in the past year can be found in Wine Spectator’s Wine Ratings Search.

Lively Rieslings

FORGE Riesling Finger Lakes Classique 2015 Score: 92 | $19
Weighty for a Riesling, with a rounded feel and layers of creamed yellow apple, white peach and persimmon flavors. Delivers energy and cut throughout, with lemon pith, citrus oil and chamomile accents filling in. Shows length and range through the finish. Drink now through 2021. 1,800 cases made.—J.M.

FRITZ HAAG Riesling Qualitätswein Trocken Mosel 2016 Score: 90 | $20
Firm acidity fuels this light and refreshing white, while savory mineral details and flavors of lime and green apple provide charm. Graceful yet effusive, leaving a long, mouthwatering finish. Drink now through 2022. 3,600 cases made.—A.Z.

GUNDERLOCH Riesling Qualitätswein Trocken Rheinhessen 2016 Score: 90 | $24
This combines power and grace, with smoky mineral details framing the core of peach and pear. Dry, but offers a good amount of fruit, backed by vibrant acidity, leading to a long, mouthwatering finish. Drink now through 2023. 2,000 cases made.—A.Z.

RAVINES Riesling Finger Lakes Dry 2016 Score: 90 | $18
Very lively, with good cut from start to finish, as peach, yellow and green apple and honeysuckle notes stream through, backed by a lingering mineral hint. Drink now through 2020. 5,825 cases made.—J.M.

Balanced Chardonnays

JEAN CHARTRON Rully Montmorin 2015 Score: 90 | $26
A taut, minerally version, with apple, lemon and spice flavors woven around a thread of mineral. Juicy and balanced, offering a lingering aftertaste that echoes fruit and stone notes. Drink now through 2024. 1,485 cases made.—B.S.

JEAN-MARC BROCARD Chablis Ste.-Claire 2016 Score: 90 | $22
Pure and bracing, this white offers lemon, green apple and honey flavors. Balanced, winding down languidly on the earth-tinged finish. Drink now through 2020. 40,000 cases made.—B.S.

SARACINA Chardonnay Mendocino County Unoaked 2016 Score: 90 | $20
Succeeds in taming a strong citrus-grapefruit edge, letting the green apple, pear and tangerine notes shine. A zesty mix of complex flavors. Drink now through 2020. 3,437 cases made.—J.L.

THORN-CLARKE Chardonnay Eden Valley Mount Crawford Single Vineyard 2016 Score: 90 | $15
Starts off with accents of honeysuckle and peach blossom, giving way to vibrant lime, lemon and pear flavors. Set on a sleek frame, with plenty of oomph on the finish. Drink now through 2023. 1,000 cases made.—M.W.

Nutty Sherries

BODEGAS DIOS BACO Pedro Ximénez Jerez Oxford 1.970 NV Score: 91 | $21/500ml
Date, fig bread, ganache and prune flavors glide along together here. Viscous and broad through the finish, with the prune note lingering. Drink now. 2,500 cases made.—J.M.

BODEGAS YUSTE Pedro Ximénez Jerez Aurora NV Score: 91 | $18/500ml
Warmed date, toffee and buckwheat flavors glide along on a viscous, caressing texture, ending with ginger and Christmas pudding notes. Has good freshness in addition to the bass line. Drink now. 3,000 cases made.—J.M.

EMILIO LUSTAU Manzanilla Pasada Sanlúcar de Barrameda Almacenista Manuel Cuevas Jurado NV Score: 91 | $25/500ml
This has a broad edge, with lightly browned butter, singed almond, dried orange peel and walnut notes mixed together. Ends with a taut, dry finish. Drink now. 200 cases imported.—J.M.

GONZALEZ BYASS Fino Jerez Tio Pepe En Rama NV Score: 90 | $26
Dry in feel, but with juicy energy to the mix of lemon curd, dried lemon peel, chamomile and salted almond notes. Shows nice tension through the finish. Bottled April 2017. Drink now. 16,000 cases made.—J.M.

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