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Beef is to Americans as bread and wine are to the French, food writer Molly O’Neill wrote in her cookbook, “A Well-Seasoned Appetite.”

That big slab of tasty, marbled meat — love it or not — gives us an excuse to circle the wagons, come together and realize that we are not alone.

Happily, a juicy cut of chargrilled New York steak is also a great excuse to pop that bottle of cabernet sauvignon you’ve been saving for a special occasion, such as Christmas Day or New Year’s Eve.

Healdsburg chef Dustin Valette started dreaming about the perfect food-and-wine pairing for cabernet while drinking a 2015 Aperture cab with his friend, winemaker Jesse Katz of Aperture Cellars in Healdsburg. Valette came up with a dish that pushes all the right buttons of the wine, from accenting its herb and spice notes to taming the bitter tannins with fat. The wine has layers of red fruit and spice in front and a lingering finish of toasted oak.

“Jesse and I were sipping his new Aperture cabernet while talking about food,” Valette recalled. “One glass led to another and the next thing we knew we had concocted the ultimate wintertime food-and-wine pairing — charred steaks and red wine — perfect for those festive moments.”

The two friends share a similar work ethic and a no-holds-barred approach to life as well as to food and wine.

As a winemaker, Katz likes to boost the wine’s characteristics and concentration through dry-farming, careful crop thinning, bleeding off of grape juice, cold soaks and a mix of hot and cold fermentations.

As a chef, Valette tries to augment the flavor of the charred steak by pairing it with complex, umami-laden ingredients that keep the palate elevated while complementing the wine’s herbacious, vegetal and spice notes.

So he came up with a dish that would make the big, red wine shine — Peppercorn-Crusted New York Steak — and polished it to a fine sheen by adding a buttery mushroom fondue, roasted bone marrow and potato-and-pepper hash.

“You sear the mushrooms, then add butter and thyme and red wine,” he said. “You are building all these flavors, and the charred steak adds a note of bitterness.”

When explaining his pairing, Valette uses the metaphor of a valley and a mountain peak to describe the flavor ride provided by serving a big, juicy steak with a big cab. You start upwards on your journey, taking a bite of the mushrooms and then the bone marrow before taking a bite of the steak and a sip of the wine, which takes you over the top.

“You crunch down — that’s the peak of the flavor — and when you swallow that’s the valley,” he said. “Then you take a bite of mushroom and bone marrow. That keeps the flavor elevated for a longer time.”

Taking a sip of the cabernet helps cut through the fat clinging to your tongue, he said, clearing your palate for another layer of flavor from the second bite of the mushrooms and bone marrow.

So instead of a sharp, jerky, rollercoaster ride, the food-and-wine pairing takes you on a longer, smoother and more satisfying plateau at the summit.

“The roasted bone marrow and umami flavor of the mushrooms keeps your palate elevated,” he said. “There’s such good umami flavor in there.”

To help support the structure of the dish — just as the tannins support the structure of the wine — Valette added some roasted potatoes, then threw in roasted peppers for another layer of complexity.

“The role of the potatoes is to add a foundation, a base to keep it elevated,” he said. “The roasted peppers are the equivalent of the peppery flavor of the wine — that steps up the flavor.”

Although he sources padron peppers in the summer and fall, Valette suggested roasting mini bell peppers during the winter, when the local padron peppers are no longer available.

For your Christmas or New Year’s Eve menu, Valette also suggested a Chestnut Soup as a starter and a Poached Quince and Frangipane Cake for dessert. Both take advantage of the seasonal nuts and fruits that are special treats at this time of year.

“I get my chestnuts from the farmers market,” he said. “It takes so long to roast chestnuts, but they are so good. I never understood them until I went to Italy and tasted them from a street vendor.”

The cake, which is on the menu at Valette restaurant in Healdsburg, is made with almond paste and quince poached in mulled wine.

This time of year, Valette can often be found foraging in the vicinity of Lake Sonoma, hunting down a few of his favorite mushrooms in his top-secret spot.

“I’m a porcini guy, and there’s nothing better than a fresh one,” he said. “If we find the big ones, we’ll slice and dry them out. They make really good soup.”

The following recipes are from Dustin Valette of Valette in Healdsburg. “Peeling chestnuts is slow, though fun to do sitting by the fire,” he said. “I also have a trick. You take the chestnut, and make an x in it (not the stem end), toss it in oil, roast in the oven at a high temperature. then the skin peels back a bit and you can peel it back with your fingers.”

Roasted Chestnut Soup

Makes 6 servings

3 pounds chestnuts, peeled

1 yellow onion, peeled and sliced small

1 garlic, whole head, peeled and sliced small

1/2 bottle of chardonnay (preferably Dry Creek Vineyards!)

3 quarts of fresh chicken stock

1 bunch of fresh thyme

6 ounces of unsalted butter

4 ounces of Bay scallops

2 ounces of crème fraiche

— kosher salt

— fresh black pepper

First start by sautéing the onions, garlic and chestnuts over medium heat in half of the butter. Season with salt and pepper as you are sautéing. Once the chestnuts and onions are tender, add the thyme and deglaze with the wine. When the wine is reduced by half, add the chicken stock and simmer for 30 minutes or until the flavors have melded together. Puree the soup in a blender (be careful when pureeing hot liquids) or with an immersion blender.

Now that the soup is ready, place back in a pot on the stove, add the remaining butter and adjust the salt and pepper.

To garnish: Sauté the bay scallops in some butter and whisk the crème fraîche to soft peaks. Arrange the bay scallops on the bottom of the bowl and place a nice dollop of the crème fraiche on top.

Peppercorn-Crusted New York Steak with Wild Mushroom Fondue and Roasted Bone Marrow

Makes 4 servings

4 12-ounce Prime New York steaks (dry aged Wagyu is the best)

— fresh black peppercorns, crushed

2 pounds wild or King Trumpet mushrooms

6 ounces cabernet sauvignon (not the Aperture)

4 8-inch long marrow bones (ask butcher to cut length-wise)

1/2 pound baby or marble potatoes (preferably dry farmed)

1/2 pound mini bell peppers

1 cup baby wild arugula

— unsalted butter

— kosher salt

Prepping the Steak: Start with the highest quality steak you can find. ( use a Prime, 21-day dry aged Wagyu beef, though trust your butcher and ask for the best.) Season the steak with kosher salt and crushed black pepper; allow to rest at room temperature.

Mushroom Fondue: Clean all the mushrooms using a brush and remove any form of dirt. Finish by lightly rinsing in warm water. Cut the mushrooms into medium-size chunks, discarding the gills. In a large pan sear the mushrooms until golden brown, add 2 ounces butter, the red wine (never use Aperture, drink that instead!), cook until they become creamy. Readjust the seasoning and reserve hot.

Potatoes, Bone Marrow and Mini Bell Peppers: Cut the potatoes in half, toss the mini bell peppers with olive oil and sea salt. Roast together in a 400-degree oven until the potatoes are half cooked, about 6 minutes. Add the seasoned bone marrow to the oven and finish roasting the potatoes and veggies, about 4 to 6 minutes more. The bone marrow is finished when it’s golden brown and the marrow is hot throughout.

Cooking the Steak: Crust the steaks with peppercorns and in a large cast iron or thick bottomed pan, sear the crusted New York over high heat. Leave in the pan long enough for the steak to take on a dark color and thick crust, add 3 ounces of butter and cook to the desired temperature. Remove and allow to rest for 5 minutes.

Plating: Place the wild mushroom fondue on the side of the plate, the potato and pepper hash to the side. Put the steak on the fondue and then the bone marrow on the side, with the arugula underneath. Finish with fleur de sel or sea salt.

Staff writer Diane Peterson can be reached at 707-521-5287 or diane.peterson@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @dianepete56.

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