Pairings: Try this hearty syrah with cheesy veggies

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Grilled Sausages, braised short ribs over creamy polenta, sweet potatoes in apple cider vinegar and butter sauce, lentils, Korean beef ribs, blueberry chutney, and braised greens: These are some of the foods that flatter our Wine of the Week, Qupé 2017 Santa Maria Valley Bien Nacido Hillside Estate Syrah ($45).

The wine has attitude, a feistiness that comes from a combination of forward black fruit threaded through with pretty little veins of bright red fruit, as if sweet yellow and red raspberries were hidden among black-fleshed plums, juicy blackberries and ripe blueberries, all of it punctuated with freshly cracked black peppercorns. It is a generous wine, with a halo of sweet spices rounding out its profile.

In cool weather, you’ll enjoy this wine with hearty foods, the kinds that warrant long cooking. Black bean soup, black bean ragout, hearty barbecue sauces, braised duck legs and beef shanks with farro all welcome this wine alongside.

But these are not the foods we want in mid-August; we must look to local produce for the best seasonal matches.

Ripe tomatoes, eggplant and roasted sweet peppers are perfect matches. Even a BLT piled high with very crisp bacon will flatter this wine.

For today’s recipe, I’m suggesting a side dish that can be made successfully only at this time of year. It is rich without being heavy and is welcome at almost any outdoor barbecue, unless we’re in the midst of a heat wave, in which case you should hold this lovely wine until things cool off a bit.

Tomato & Eggplant Gratin

Serves 4

2-3 thick bacon slices, cut into small dice

6 garlic cloves, minced

— Olive oil, as needed

3 cups cubed eggplant (from 1 medium-large eggplant, peeled)

— Kosher salt

5 medium-sized ripe tomatoes, peeled, seeded, diced and drained

2 tablespoons minced fresh Italian parsley

— Black pepper in a mill

3/4 cup heavy cream

3/4 cup fresh breadcrumbs, lightly toasted

¾ cup (3 ounces) Joe Matos St. George cheese

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Put the bacon in a large deep frying pan set over medium heat and cook until the bacon is almost crisp. Use a slotted spoon to transfer it to absorbent paper.

Reduce the heat to low, add the garlic and sauté in the bacon drippings for 1 minute. If the bacon has given off little fat, add a tablespoon or two of olive oil, so that there is about 1/8 inch of fat in the pan. Add the eggplant, season with salt, cover the pan and cook until the eggplant has softened, about 12 minutes.

Remove the lid, increase the heat to medium and cook, turning gently, until the liquid from the eggplant is evaporated. Add the tomatoes, stir gently, and cook 5 minutes more.

Add the parsley, season again with salt and several turns of black pepper, and pour in the cream. Heat through, taste and correct the seasoning.

Remove from the heat and transfer the mixture to a baking dish.

In a separate bowl, toss together the breadcrumbs, cheese and cooked bacon. Season with salt and pepper and spread over the surface of the vegetables.

Bake for 35 minutes, or until the gratin is hot, bubbly and thick.

Remove from the oven and let rest at least 15 minutes before serving.

Michele Anna Jordan is the author of 24 books to date, including “The Good Cook’s Book of Tomatoes.” Email her at

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