Pairings: Rich chardonnay sings with cream sauce

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California-style chardonnays, those blowsy, mouth-filling wines so popular in the late 1970s and 1980s have gotten so much better, largely because winemakers have gotten a handle on both balance and acidity.

Our Wine of the Week, Shafer 2017 Napa Valley Carneros Red Shoulder Ranch Chardonnay ($52), is a perfect illustration of this trend.

Although the wine is rich and full-bodied, weighing in at 14.9 percent alcohol, it is neither cloying nor flabby. There’s plenty of fruit, especially stonefruit, ripe kiwi, and guava, but it is buoyed by a brightness once uncommon in chardonnays from California.

Other than being better overall, these wines are much easier to pair successfully. In addition to classic matches, such as fresh corn, polenta, scallops, salmon, mussels, grilled oysters, white poultry, rabbit, and pork loin, you’ll enjoy this wine with curries that are not too spicy, fresh fennel, fennel seeds, fennel pollen, hazelnuts, roasted sweet peppers, sweet potatoes, winter squash, and roasted carrots. Roasted sweet potatoes topped with brown butter and toasted hazelnuts is an easy and rather glorious match.

The wine goes well with turkey, too, and you may want to keep a few bottles on hand for upcoming holidays.

In today’s recipe, a creamy sauce tempers the wine’s high alcohol, while the earthy flavors of both the roasted garlic and roasted cauliflower engage both the wine’s flavors and its voluptuous texture. The fennel pollen connects with the fruit, and the chives boost the wine’s subtle citrus notes. It’s a great match that vegetarians and omnivores alike will love.

Cauliflower Steaks with Roasted Garlic Cream Sauce

Makes 2 to 3 servings

1 large or two small garlic bulbs

2 thin slices of butter

— Kosher salt

— Olive oil

1 large cauliflower, greens removed (see Note below)

1½ teaspoon fennel pollen, optional

¾ cup half and half, plus more as needed

— Black pepper in a mill

2 teaspoons snipped chives

— Several chives, untrimmed, for garnish

To make roasted garlic: Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Put the garlic upright into an oven-proof container that holds it fairly snugly. Set a slice of butter on top of the garlic and press down gently. Season generously with salt, and pour in enough olive oil to come halfway up the sides of the garlic. Add about ½ cup water, pouring it directly into the olive oil and not on top of the garlic.

Cover tightly, set in the preheated oven, and cook until the garlic is as tender as warm butter, about 35 to 45 minutes, depending on both the size and age of the garlic. To test for doneness, carefully press your thumb on a fat part of a clove; it should give almost zero resistance. Remove from the oven and let cool.

Set the garlic on a clean work surface and carefully remove the root. With the garlic on its side, use the palm of your hand to press out the roasted garlic. Discard the skins and mash the garlic with a fork until it forms a smooth puree. Put it into a small bowl and set aside. Reserve the cooking liquid. (This part of the recipe can be completed up yo a day before finishing the dish.)

Increase the oven heat to 450 degrees. Cut the cauliflower into ¾- to 1-inch thick slices, cutting through the poles, not the equator. Some florets may fall but do not worry about them.

Set a baking sheet next to your work surface. Use a pastry brush to coat the sliced cauliflower with the cooking liquid from the garlic; if there isn’t enough, add more olive oil to stretch it. Transfer the cauliflower (and any florets) to the baking sheet, oiled side down.

Brush the other side of the cauliflower with the remaining cooking liquid and season all over with salt. Sprinkle half of the fennel pollen, if using, over the cauliflower and set the baking sheet in the oven. Cook for 7 minutes.

Meanwhile, pour the half-and-half into a small saucepan set over medium-low heat, add the roasted garlic puree and the remaining fennel pollen (again, if using), and whisk until smooth. Heat through, taste and season with salt and pepper. Cover, remove from the heat, and keep warm.

After 7 minutes, turn the cauliflower steaks over. Cook for about 7 minutes more, or until it thickest parts of the stems are tender when pierced with a fork. Remove from the oven and transfer to a colorful platter.

Taste the sauce, correct for salt and pepper if necessary, and heat through as needed. Pour the sauce over the cauliflower, scatter the snipped chives over everything, garnish with whole chives, and enjoy hot.

Michele Anna Jordan is the author of 24 books to date, including “The New Cook’s Tour of Sonoma.” Email her at

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