We spent the long weekend in Vermont, and Sirkka and Nissa joined us for a couple of nights. Though the last two days were crystalline late-summer perfection, the beginning of our stay was gray and a little muggy- though it didn’t actually rain more than a few drops. So we let the kids do their thing, and between what we brought from home and what we picked up at the farmers’ market, we did all right for ourselves on the culinary front.
Friday night, we had pretty straight-up surf and turf: a couple of big lobsters (dispatched in the humane fashion; thanks to Linsey for the link) steamed with local corn and served inelegantly beside local grilled organic ribeyes. The steaks got a nice morel-wine-coffee-chicken broth reduction to play with and the lobsters got that little white pitcher full of melted butter. And there was rice and kale. I had made a quart of chicken broth before we came, and bringing it along- plus all the gardeny goodness- gave us one of those little extras that make deliberate home cooking so good.
For wine, Sirkka brought us a 2005 David Bruce petite sirah, so I went down to the cellar and pulled out a 2000 Carver Sutro petite to compare. Initially, the C-S seemed bigger and richer, but by the end of the meal the Bruce had developed some wonderful lean leather that brought it back into the lead. We’ll call it a tie, but only because we ran out of both and couldn’t see how they evolved further.
We came back from the farmers’ market laden with mostly meat and cheese- since we have gardens- including some local ground beef because I got it into my head that spaghetti and meatballs would be just the ticket for a cloudy afternoon. So upon return home, I took the container of our own roasted tomatoes we brought and puréed them with garlic, herbs, chicken broth, and wine to make what was easily one of the top three tomato sauces any of us had ever eaten. To do justice to the sauce, I mixed the meat with garlic, wine, minced morels left from the steak sauce, and basil, parsley, and fennel fronds. Browned in oil, then simmered in sauce, they had real depth and richness, and since there was no egg involved they weren’t too heavy. The combination was one for the ages; it hit all the classic comfort food notes, but also had a freshness and subtle complexity that made it sublime and contemporary.
It also, remarkably, wasn’t the coma-inducing gut bomb lunch we expected it to be. Did I mention we had wine as well? A 2003 Patricia Green pinot noir. But we did control the portion size, and limited ourselves to one glass of wine.
That night, I took all the lobster shells and corn cobs from the night before and made broth, which in time lent its gorgeous flavor to a fennel risotto. When I do things like this, I like to cook the vegetable a few different ways to accentuate the flavor and offer different takes on taste and texture possibilities. Sliced bulbs went in the soffrito at the beginning of the process, and minced fronds went in to finish (along with Mimi’s washed-rind gouda that we picked up from Taylor farm) and since I cooked a duck breast to go with the rice, I crisped up a bunch of chopped fennel stalks in the fat for a garnish. To complete, another wonderful brought-from-home ingredient: the second jar of honeydew pickles, this one in kimchi juice with a small amount of olive brine added for color and variety. The extra few days in the brine really added something; they were insane, and as good a companion as seared duck ever shared a plate with.
We did another New World wine comparison; the rest of the Patty Green pinot from lunch up against a 2003 Beaux Frères pinot. Now this wasn’t a fair fight; it wasn’t one of her single-vineyard wines, and thus only cost about a third of the B.F. But it was still interesting to try two Oregon pinots from adjacent years and see how different they could be. Having said that, for all the ecstatic (female- note to self) eye-rolling over the Beaux Frères, it went straight to that cherry-and-licorice place that is so common among better New World pinots- which is not a bad place, but is not even a tiny little bit like the place that pinot goes to in better (or even lesser) Burgundies.
And last, after they left, I took a pound of lamb stew meat we brought and made it into a hearty stew that bridged the seasons admirably; it was hot and beautiful during the day, so we walked and swam, but the nights cooled to the point where a lamb stew seemed appropriate. with sweet potatoes, zucchini, onion, garlic, chard, herbs, cumin, cinnamon, a bottle of local porter, and ample time for the meat to relax and the flavors to meld together, we had ourselves a refined bowl of pleasant peasant goodness. I drank another bottle of the porter with the stew.