As November approaches, comfort food reigns once again at the dinner table. Whether the setting is a fine-dining restaurant or the family kitchen, dishes that are warm, hearty and filling are the go-to choices in colder weather. Here we feature two recipes, from chefs at Restaurant Award–winning restaurants, that explore comfort food through different approaches to a fall favorite: a savory pie, fresh from the oven. Michael Mina's (see the full interview and recipe here) is a luxurious, complex entrée that can be served family-style. Greg Zanitsch's appetizer, below, wraps fall fruit in an enticing package that manages to be both rustic and elegant.
Multiday preparations and intricate recipes can beget delicious results, but chef Greg Zanitsch's beggar's purse achieves the same result more quickly in a single pastry.
Every October, the beggar's purse makes its seasonal debut on the menu of the Fig Tree restaurant in Charlotte, N.C. At first glance, it's a simple appetizer. The savory puff pastry is set in a pool of warm thyme beurre blanc, with the dough drawn up at the top to resemble a drawstring bag. Diners seem to hesitate before breaking into the purse with a fork and knife, but then the taste of green apple, yellow onion, roasted walnuts and a hint of gorgonzola spill through, steaming hot and filling the palate with a rich, rustic medley of flavors. There's a strong temptation to pluck the purse from its elegant presentation and eat it like an apple.
Zanitsch and his wife and co-owner, Sara, began putting the beggar's purse on the menu in fall 2005. The couple has run the Fig Tree for 11 years, earning a Best of Award of Excellence for the wine list every year since 2012.
Zanitsch started making the purse while working at Auberge du Soleil in Napa in the mid-'90s. He and Sara introduced it to the Fig Tree to take advantage of apple season, but they had no intention of making it a recurring item. "Guests were asking to be called or e-mailed when it returned to the menu," Zanitsch says. "[They] started to expect it in September, and we like to make them happy."
At home, making the beggar's purse for guests is a fun treat, as it's open to a wide range of variations. Though he may change the recipe for the restaurant year to year, Zanitsch has provided a base version here. Previously, Zanitsch has made the purse with mushrooms, pine nuts and brie. This year, he added complexity to the purse with a chutney of ginger, apricot preserves, cinnamon and brown sugar that complements the walnuts and gorgonzola.
A home cook could switch out the puff pastry for phyllo, wonton wrappers, crêpes—even ready-made dough usually reserved for crescent rolls—or vary the baked ingredients inside the purse. Other chefs have made versions with duck confit, lump crabmeat or candied apricot.
In the United States, the beggar's purse—reportedly derived from the French aumônière pastry—has gilded origins. The dish became popular in the 1980s through the antics at restaurateurs Barry and Susan Wine's trendsetting Quilted Giraffe in New York City. The bite-size purse was filled with beluga caviar and crème fraîche, and topped with edible gold leaf. Dozens of chefs, from Emeril Lagasse to Jean-Georges Vongerichten, mimicked the famous appetizer in following years.
Zanitsch's homier rendering of the purse for the fall season is deeply satisfying, as only comfort food can be. Best of all, the dish requires only five minutes of sautéing and 10 minutes of baking. Children can easily help mix the ingredients and shape the dough to make a purse that's just the right size.
With a successful wine match, comfort food can become downright decadent. The versatility of the beggar’s purse gives home cooks a world of pairing options. This version of the purse, with strong gorgonzola cheese, begs for German Riesling or Austrian Grüner Veltliner, says Zanitsch. But reduce the amount of gorgonzola or switch it with another cheese, like brie or Camembert, and Chardonnay could pair very well. Zanitsch says his 2016 recipe, with the addition of the chutney, has "more complexity and more wine pairing capabilities," and could hold up well to a light red such as cru Beaujolais.
Below, Wine Spectator recommends five lush selections of Riesling and Grüner Veltliner that have scored 88 points or higher.
Recipe courtesy of chef Greg Zanitsch, The Fig Tree, Charlotte, N.C.
For the beggar’s purse:
- 2 green apples, diced
- 1/2 yellow onion, diced
- 2 tablespoons butter
- 1 cup gorgonzola
- 1 cup walnuts, chopped and toasted
- 8 sprigs thyme
- 1 sheet puff pastry
- 1 egg
- 2 ounces milk
To make the beggar’s purse:
1. Sweat the onion in 2 tablespoons of butter. Add 8 sprigs of chopped thyme.
2. When the onion is translucent, add the diced apples and sauté for 4 minutes or until the apples are tender.
3. Let the mixture cool in a large mixing bowl, then fold in 1 cup of crumbled gorgonzola and 1 cup of toasted walnuts.
4. Divide puff pastry into 6 equal portions. Scoop 1/4 cup of the apple mix into the center of the puff pastry. Pull up the sides of the puff pastry, making a little pouch. Crimp and seal at the top.
5. Whisk the egg with 2 ounces of milk. Brush the pastry with egg wash and bake at 450° F for 10 minutes or until golden-brown.
6. Serve over thyme beurre blanc. Serves 4 to 6
For the beurre blanc:
- 1 cup white wine
- 1/2 shallot
- 1 bay leaf
- 6 peppercorns
- 2 sprigs thyme
- 2 ounces heavy cream
- 3/4 cup butter, softened
- 8 sprigs thyme, chopped
To make the beurre blanc:
1. Reduce the cup of white wine, adding in the shallot, bay leaf, peppercorns and 2 sprigs of thyme. When the reduction is almost dry, add the heavy cream.
2. Whisk in the butter. Season with salt and pepper. Add in the remaining chopped thyme.
Five Aromatic Whites
Note: The following list is a selection of outstanding and very good wines from recently rated releases. More white wines rated in the past year can be found in our Wine Ratings Search.
DOMÄNE WACHAU Grüner Veltliner Smaragd Trocken Wachau Terrassen 2013
Voluptuous and richly spiced, with some honeyed notes to the ripe apple, pear tart and glazed apricot flavors. Shows seductive smokiness midpalate, presenting a pastry-accented finish. Drink now through 2021. 6,000 cases made.
WINZER KREMS Grüner Veltliner Qualitätswein Trocken Kremstal Kremser Goldberg Kellermeister Privat 2014
Concentrated and well-spiced peach cobbler, glazed apricot and apple tart flavors are rich and well-rounded in this medium-bodied white. The finish offers a smoky touch to the dried tropical fruit notes. Drink now through 2022. 5,000 cases made.
ROBERT WEIL Riesling QbA Rheingau Tradition 2014
Rich and lush-tasting, with plenty of custardy notes to the apple cobbler, red peach and ripe melon flavors. Citrus and spice accents on the finish, with roasted pineapple hints. Drink now through 2020. 5,100 cases made.
LAURENZ Five Grüner Veltliner Qualitätswein Trocken Kamptal Friendly 2014
A supple white, with Gala apple, kiwifruit and dried mango flavors, showing a creamy mouthfeel. Hints of dried tarragon emerge on the well-rounded finish. Drink now through 2019. 4,000 cases imported.
ÖKONOMIERAT REBHOLZ Riesling QbA Trocken Pfalz 2014
This offers plenty of pastry and buttery notes to the ripe apple, pear tart and lemon curd flavors. The vibrant finish has a golden-raisin edge and hints of smoke. Drink now through 2018. 350 cases imported.