I just invented tacos!

Ironically, given that I spent all afternoon cooking, there wasn’t much to eat, since it’s all destined for Christine’s birthday on Monday. But I found more chicken thighs, and cooked them in a faux mole of ramp pesto, onion, and tomato paste, plus some water, tequila, and the usual seasonings, covered until all tender. Then I pulled the meat apart and cooked some more while I made a quick salsa of grape tomatoes and jalapeño with lemon and olive oil. Toasted up some flour tortillas and thus were born some pretty damn good soft tacos; the sauce was thick and deep from the chicken bones and various yummy pastes, and the salsa was nice and bright on top. Together with a 2005 Domaine Gour de Chaule Gigondas rosé (it’s officially rosé season now) it spanned winter comfort food and spring optimism.

Barolo tasting

Tonight Pasanella & Son had their inaugural tasting dinner in the new back room featuring the wines of Franco Martinetti. Dinner was a decent buffet, but as usual the focus was on the wine:

Flight 1:
2004 Sine Cura (Barbera/Cab Sauvignon) light, pleasant, well made- a good picnic wine
2004 Barbera “Bric Dei Banditi” nice toasty almond nose, fresh

Flight 2:
Montruc Barbera:
1998 well made, a bit austere, but elegant
2003 beautiful nose, much riper and rounder- almost southern Rhône with roses and truffles

Flight 3:
Sul Bric Barbera/Cab Sauvignon
1996 wet earth nose, bell pepper, then sour cherries with chocolate and coffee
1998 peaking- floral and herbal nose, then truffles and cherries- the 2 grapes fused nicely
2003 riper, fruit and flowers, black cherries, sweeter

Flight 4:
Barolo “Marasco”
1998 licorice, coconut, violets and black cherries with velvety soft tannins
1999 leather and licorice- classic and mighty, yet elegant. Very complex.
2001 young and tannic, but strawberries and cherries emerge. Needs time

These guys are making Barolo which straddles the old and new styles, getting structure and character from the old but with some of the color and power from the new. Everything they do is well-made, and the better wines are something special.

Cucino per il cugino

My cousin David was in town so we had him over and threw some lovely organic ribeyes on the grill, after giving them the customary espresso rub, along with some ramp bulbs on skewers. Meanwhile, I steamed parsnips and puréed them with truffle salt, olive oil, chives from the deck, and yogurt, and made ramp pesto with the ramp greens plus truffle oil, salt, pepper and then cooked it briefly in melted butter since the raw pesto was wickedly strong and hot. So sliced steak went on parsnips, with grilled ramps finished in wine and the pesto on the side plus steamed kale tossed in oil and balsamic.

We began with a Pleiades XIV and ended with another super 1992 Beringer Private Reserve; this strong-flavored plate could have handled a huge Aussie Cab or Shiraz but went just fine with these two.

All up in my grill

Smothered chicken thighs in yogurt/pesto marinade and let sit while fennel and sweet potato, sliced, got soaked in garlic-parsley infused olive oil. All went on the grill, along with a sliced lemon, and the remaining yogurt went into a pan full of ramps (surprise!) and white wine and reduced to a sauce. Garnished with a lemon slice and fennel frond, it tasted pretty damn good with yet another Siduri 2003 Pinot Noir. Not as deep or elegant as their single vineyards, and a long way from Burgundy, but an excellent barbecue wine which also handles the tang of yogurt and lemon with equal aplomb.

Ramping up some fish

The first ramps of the season have arrived at the coop, so I bought a ton of them and yet went easy with them tonight; we started with Nobu-style sashimi of yellowfin tuna in a sesame-olive oil and ponzu sauce, then followed it with monkfish dusted with chardonnay smoked salt, pepper, and sesame seeds crusted up in a pan then finished in some leftover red wine with the lid on to steam through (monkfish is really meaty in its slow cooking time.) Then I threw chopped ramps in the pan, then a pat of butter, then more wine to finish and deglaze. Poured over the fish, and then onion and grape tomatoes, then the brown rice from the other day, and onto the plate, and last a bunch of watercress with lemon and garlic cleaned the pan back to gleaming and rounded it all out.

All this went swimmingly with another Pleiades XIV from Sean Thackrey- especially the sashimi. The rich olive oil and deep sesame oil and tangy, earthy ponzu hit every damn bass note in this wine and let the fruit sing above it all. Even though the XIV has darker, rounder fruit than its two predecessors, it’s the grace and funk of the pinot which still defines it for me.

Another curry

Having made a roasted acorn squash-carrot-ginger soup yesterday for lunch, I soaked some chick peas and cooked them for a couple hours with onion, fenugreek, mustard, cumin, the remaining soup, and some water to thin it out. As the peas softened, I added cubes of sweet potato, and once it was soft some chopped broccolini. Some of this mixture was Milo’s dinner, and once I removed his portion I added hot vindaloo paste, black pepper, and hot curry powder. Christine had hers over rice, while I wrapped mine in a tortilla. The Leitz 2003 Spätlese Reisling is really sweet, and pretty one-dimensional, but with some hot-ass curry it worked pretty well. I really have to buy some beer for meals like this.

Earth Day Coturri Dinner

Slope Cellars, our local wine store, put on a “Black Market Bistro” in a neighbor’s house featuring Coturri wine. Tony Coturri was there, and introduced all the wines as well as explaining his big-picture approach to organic growing and producing. I agree completely with his position that local trumps organic in terms of supporting viable agriculture. His wines are funky, idiosyncratic, and have a unique combination of earthy and sweet.

The food and wine pairings were as follows:

Cheese course
2004 Albarello

Spiced tomato aspic with baby greens tossed in walnut oil and white balsamic
2004 Grenache

Marinated grilled squid with parsley and lemon confit
2004 Charbono

Pork butt with orange, cinnamon, and star anise served with caramelized fennel on fregula
2004 Carignane

Lemon cakes with basil
2003 Zinfandel Freiberg Vineyards

I thought the Carignane was particularly good, as was the pork, although I wished there was more fennel. The aspic had a nice summer-by-way-of-winter feel, with a nice deep tomato flavor presented in a preserved form. The lemon confit and parsley in the squid dish were strong and beat up a bit on the light charbono, and the zin had an interesting dry/sweet thing going on which went pretty well with the lemon and basil. The meal featured some nice use of citrus, and suited the rainy weather well.

Pasta con tutto

The family returned today, and I went to the coop this morning in anticipation, where I found lovely fresh fava beans. Shelled, and slow-cooked with shallot, garlic, lots of fresh oregano, grape tomatoes, diced celery root and a quarter lemon, after two hours they were like butter. Milo loved them. Then I cooked up a bag of penne, and once al dente tossed with the fava beans, plus green and black olives, parsley, more garlic, pepperoncino, leftover asparagus and carrot and leftover potatoes from rib night (all chopped) plus a big glug of the good olive oil, celtic salt, and pepper. Tossed together it went really well with a 2001 Kristial Châteauneuf-de-Pâpe which is nimble enough for the brighter flavors but has enough depth for the earthy beans.

Kind of a warm pasta salad, this dish is a variation on something I invented out of desperation during grad school; I called it “puttanesca bianca” and it was usually penne tossed with olives, capers, pepperoncino, parsley, dried tomatoes, soaked dried porcini and lots of salt and oil. A damn fine plate of pasta, and even better the next day- all without having to remember the can of tomatoes. Almost anything works, including most leftovers.

Solo act

With the family out of town, and not having eaten meat in days, I took some pork ribs and after browning them added carrot, celery root, onion, fingerling potatoes, wine, herbs, and a few kumquats. Turned down low and covered, it cooked for about an hour. Once the meat was done, I added some ume and balsamic vinegar, plus the alder smoked salt and parsley. Pulled the meat out and threw in a bit of broccoli and let the juice reduce.

Served with a shake of sesame seeds on top, with a 1997 Perrot-Minot Morey-St-Denis “En la rue de Vergy” which started off a bit sour but opened up over time; initially the celery root went well with the more metallic flavors, but eventually the citrus and fat kind of meshed with the deepened fruit of the wine. Not a perfect match, since the wine is a bit thin and the food a tad rich for it, but each revealed something about the other which is all one can ask from a simple dinner.

Debi’s birthday

Another epic meal upstate, this time all made by John: canapés of maki, roasted peppers on toast, and beets and goat cheese, then fried polenta with rosemary, burdock-porcini purée, greens, radicchio, and incredible seitan in mole. Lots of wine, too, including Thackrey’s 2003 Andromeda and 2002 Sirius, an amazing Magnum of 1993 Au Bon Climat pinot which honestly tasted like a Burgundy, then a couple of real Burgundies which I can’t remember the names of, both really good, and for dessert my pear tart, plus a vegan strawberry pie and 1990 Rust Ridge late-harvest riesling, a mag of Veuve Cliquot, and lastly a 2002 Iniskillin ice wine.

Breakfast the next morning, outside in the sun, was all the leftovers plus a salad and frittata. Perfect. Can’t wait to go back in two weeks for Christine’s birthday party.

Yours Truly

I'm a painter who happens to also spend a lot of time growing, making, and writing about food. I'm particularly interested in the intersection of frugal peasant cooking techniques and haute improvisation. And I have a really great personality.

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