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Port and Savories : With its Ports and unassuming appetizers, the savories party is light and simple

March 09, 1989|BETSY BALSLEY | Times Food Editor

Every fan of English historical novels or Regency romances is familiar with the fact that at least once in each story the ladies retire from the dining room after dinner, leaving the gentlemen to their Port and cigars. It was a classic example of the sort of sexism that would raise hackles today, whether one likes Port and cigars or not.

Fortunately, today's Ports--and the savories that accompany them--are enjoyed by both sexes, usually together. And there are other changes in the way this pleasant after-dinner wine is served. No longer are the savories necessarily cheese or cheese-based. They too have taken on modern overtones.

In place of serving Port and savories after a multicourse dinner, a 20th-Century Port party often stands on its own. Guests are invited specifically for a Port and savories tasting. But, because the wines are heavier than the white wines so popular at the cocktail hour or the red wines generally served with dinner, a Port party can take a bit of managing.

The most successful Port parties tend to start later than a dinner party. Guests should be urged to dine lightly well in advance of the evening's festivities, as the savories served usually are light and relatively simple. Often hosts invite friends to a Port party to take place after an evening at the theater, a good movie or a concert. Because Ports definitely are not quaffing wines, a glass or two shared over a sampling of nonsweet savories makes a delightful finale for a pleasant evening out.

Port is not an easy wine to match with food. It has an authoritative and, as wines go, generally sweet flavor. It's a heavy wine, one that calls for snacks with real flavor character. Stiltons, Gorgonzolas and other blue cheeses complement Port nicely. So do salty walnuts and pecans . . . and apples and pears. Fortunately for the person hosting a Port party, an extensive array of foods isn't necessary. A wedge of one of the better blue cheeses, a basket of fruit, a bowl of nuts and a single special savory will be more than enough.

To give you an idea of the types of foods that go well with Port, The Times food staff matched a group of simple recipes with a variety of Ports. The recipes that follow will go well with most Ports, whether they are of the heavy, sweet type or lighter and more Claret-like in flavor.

CURRANT-CHEESE SPREAD

1/2 pound triple cream cheese

1 tablespoon reserved currant marinade

1 cup Marinated Currants

Unflavored crackers or thinly sliced French baguette

Beat cream cheese until light and blend in reserved currant marinade. Add currants and blend until well mixed. Chill until about 1 hour before serving. Serve cool or at room temperature. Serve with unflavored crackers or French bread slices. Makes about 1 1/2 cups spread.

Marinated Currants

1 cup currants

1/2 cup ruby Port

Combine currants and Port, stir to mix and let stand at room temperature 6 to 8 hours or overnight. Drain, reserving marinade for use in cheese spread and potted cheese recipes. Makes 1 cups currants.

POTTED CHEESE

1 (8-ounce) package cream cheese, softened

1 pound shredded Cheddar cheese

1/4 cup reserved currant marinade (see previous recipe)

Unflavored crackers or thinly sliced French baguette

Beat cream cheese until light and fluffy. Beat in Cheddar cheese and currant marinade until well blended. Pack into several smaller molds or 1 3-cup mold. Chill until 1 hour before serving time. Serve at room temperature with unflavored crackers or French bread. Makes about 3 cups.

CHEESE PUFFS

1 (1-pound, 1 1/4-ounce) frozen package puff pastry sheets

Saga blue cheese

Unfold pastry sheets and flatten slightly on wax paper. Using 2-inch cookie cutter, cut rounds from pastry. Place cut-outs on baking sheet in single layer and bake at 400 degrees about 10 minutes or until golden.

Split hot baked pastry rounds in half horizontally and spoon about 1 1/2 teaspoons cheese onto bottom halves. Replace tops. Return to oven and bake 1 to 2 minutes longer or just until cheese melts. Serve hot or cold (better hot). Makes 36 appetizers.

APPLE-CHEESE TART

Pastry for single-crust, 10-inch tart

3/4 cup crumbled Gorgonzola cheese

4 to 5 apples, peeled and sliced

1/2 cup sugar

Juice of 1 lemon

Topping

Roll pie crust to fit 10-inch tart pan. Place in pan, pressing up sides. Pierce bottom of pastry crust in 10 or 12 places with tines of fork. Line pastry shell with foil and fill with beans or pie weights. Bake at 400 degrees about 10 minutes or until shell is lightly set. Remove foil and weights and bake 5 minutes longer. Remove from oven and let cool thoroughly.

Sprinkle cheese evenly over bottom of cooled crust. Toss apples and sugar together with lemon juice. Arrange apples, spoke-fashion, overlapping slightly, on top of cheese in shell. Sprinkle Topping evenly over apples and bake at 400 degrees about 30 minutes or until apples are tender. Remove from oven and slide under broiler just long enough to brown Topping, about 1 to 2 minutes. Serve warm or cold. Makes 8 to 10 servings.

Topping

1/2 cup flour

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