Monday, July 27, 2009

how about balsamic wild mushroom ragu' with polenta?

i have written many times about my love of recreating recipes...i adore eating a delicious meal in a restaurant and then trying to make the dish at home. now i never actually request the recipe from the chef...where's the fun in that?...rather i imagine the tastes...textures...flavors and then "make it up". if it turns out excellent...i serve it to family & friends...and then blog about it, of course giving the inspiration credit to the restaurant's chef.
today i want to tell you a bit about bottega, chef michael chiarello's restaurant in yountville here in the napa valley of california. bottega opened last winter but, for unknown reasons, i did not go until a couple of months ago...not sure why except i seem to be spending much more time entertaining at home where i can cook...instead of going out to restaurants. maybe it is because i spent so many years traveling for business. let me tell you something...traveling gets old...especially travelling on business... even very cool hotels and fantastic restaurants can't make up for the fact that you are not least that became my experience. anyway, bottega opened to terrific reviews. i loved michael's first restaurant, tra vigne, when he was chef/owner there....and i am a big fan of his style of italian i just had to try his newest restaurant...
first of all, the experience was perfect and the food was amazing. i am not a restaurant critic and rarely write about restaurants...but this was such a perfect evening that i almost decided to write this entire post about bottega. notice i said "almost". here's the deal.... we went to dinner with a couple of good friends. one of them used to work for chef chiarello years ago. he is also a life long napan...knows going out with him is always an experience. our friend knew everyone at bottega...the entire wait staff...all the busboys...the name it...he knew them. so, of course, the service was fantastic... people stopped by our table all night...constantly checking in to ensure we had everything we needed. the food was flawless. now...maybe this is true for everyone...and the restaurant is just that good. but before i actually recommend it to all of you, i think the fair thing to do is go back...with just my husband...and compare the two experiences....if the second time measures up to the first, we really have a winner here...
but...until then....there was one dish that was so amazingly good, i had to try and recreate it at home. it is listed as an appetizer at the restaurant and called "polenta under glass, caramelized wild mushrooms, balsamic game sauce". we ordered a number of dishes to share...this was one of them...and it was love at first sight. dramatic i know, but the dish comes served in a mason jar...and, if you know anything about my company, mason jars are one of my favorite things....i package many of my products in mason jars, so i loved the whole was really unexpected. then, the taste....creamy polenta, mushrooms, balsamic....this stuff won rave reviews from all of us....definitely on my list of dishes to recreate...

a couple of weeks later i saw dried porcini mushrooms at a produce stand...and polenta style cornmeal. i always have many types of best quality extra virgin olive oil and aged balsamic vinegar on goes!

the dish at bottega was really rich...i wanted to lighten it up just a touch....and eliminating the "game" in game sauce seemed like a good place to start. i love mushroom i thought ragu with balsamic...and creamy polenta with e.v.o.o. and parmesan...could be really good. you know what? i made it and it was delicious!...made a big platter of my version...which i named balsamic wild mushroom ragu with polenta...served it with grilled steak and a big salad....invited some friends over and they proclaimed it...bloggable!! (the highest compliment you can pay me these days.) so, here it is....please let me know what you think...

balsamic wild mushroom ragu with polenta
8 oz fresh baby bella mushrooms, sliced
3/4 oz pack dried porcini mushrooms
best quality extra virgin olive oil
1/2 onion, diced
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 small carrot, finely chopped
1 cup dry red wine
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar di modena
1 tbsp fresh rosemary, chopped
1 tsp dried lavender flowers
grey salt
freshly cracked black pepper
best quality extra virgin olive oil, for drizzling
best quality aged (min 19 yrs) balsamic vinegar di modena for drizzling (if you can't splurge on this type of balsamic vinegar, no worries...use our recipe for balsamic reduction)
2 small sprigs fresh rosemary
parmigiano reggiano, freshly grated
soft polenta (recipe follows)

place dried mushrooms in a small bowl. cover with 1 cup very hot water and allow to soak for 10 minutes. pour softened mushrooms through cheesecloth lined fine mesh strainer placed over a small bowl, reserving mushroom liquid. rinse mushrooms and rough chop. set aside mushroom liquid for use later in recipe.

add 2 tbsp olive oil to large skillet over med high heat. add the fresh and dried mushrooms and season with salt and pepper. cook, stirring frequently, until mushrooms are very tender and begin to caramelize...15-20 minutes. add onion and carrot, cook an additional 5 minutes. add garlic, stir well, cook another 5 minutes....mushrooms should be very not let garlic burn. add wine and cook until skillet is almost dry. add balsamic vinegar, reserved mushroom liquid, rosemary and lavender. cook until liquid is thick and reduced by half. taste and add salt and pepper to taste.

to serve: place prepared soft polenta in rimmed serving dish. top with mushroom ragu. generously drizzle with the aged balsamic (or balsamic reduction)...about 1/2 cup total. drizzle with a small amount of extra virgin olive oil, sprinkle with a handful of the parmigiano-reggiano. top with the sprigs of rosemary and serve immediately.

soft polenta
6 cups water
1 1/2 cups polenta type cornmeal
2 tbsp best quality extra virgin olive oil
1/4 cup parmigiano reggiano, freshly grated
grey salt

bring water to a soft boil in medium saucepan. add 1 tsp. salt. reduce heat to medium and gradually add polenta to pot, about 1/2 cup at a time, stirring constantly until totally incorporated into the water. continue stirring until mixture thickens, about 10 minutes. stir in olive oil and parmigiano reggiano. taste and add additional salt if needed... serve immediately

do you recreate dishes? tell me about your successes...and non-successes in the comments section of this post....and please tell us about any of your new favorite restaurants....

diane padoven
napa farmhouse 1885(tm)
"live a green life of style(tm)

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Sunday, July 12, 2009

can "just a salad" really be dinner?

for me, the answer is yes and...especially in summer...this is a frequent solution to the "what's for dinner when it is hot?" question. last night we had a big taco salad...greens, red onions, extra sharp cheddar cheese, organic kidney beans, chopped peppers, sliced black kalamata olives and corn tortilla chips tossed with a balsamic/chipotle vinaigrette. extra tortilla chips, salsa, guacamole...and, of course, freshly juiced lime margaritas completed the meal. easy, delicious, satisfying...perfect for a lazy saturday.

i was thinking this morning about how often salads have been my go-to option when entertaining...and decided to tell you about my new favorite series of salad recipes.

two weeks ago my friend caitlin phoned to discuss our friend richard's birthday which was later that week. richard had told her that...instead of a big "to-do"...he wanted to celebrate with "family". i believe that, if you are very lucky, you will have friends that you care so much about you consider them part of your family...that is the case here so we quickly organized a birthday bash at the farmhouse.... now it was one of those weeks where i literally had something planned each day and night leading up to the birthday dinner...i had no time to plan...barely time to shop...and needed something easy, but still special enough to qualify as a birthday celebration meal. the answer was inspired by the grilled chicken summer salad from the july issue of gourmet magazine. really, this is a bunch of small salads that, served together on a platter, create the most amazing meal...looks beautiful and tastes fantastic. the recipes include a radish-cucumber salad, a chickpea (garbanzo bean) salad, a green bean salad, a tomato salad, a lettuce salad...and grilled chicken & mushrooms tossed in good does that sound?

the brilliant touch is that all the salads, with the exception of the chicken, use the same vinaigrette so that the tastes all kind of meld together in a really fantastic way and the individual salads are separated just enough so that you can take what you like...and skip what you don't.
now, regular readers know that it is impossible for me to follow recipes as written...i just have to edit and tweak...but in this case i did stay pretty true to the original...i added another bean salad using cannellini beans and diced marinated peppers for a bit more protein for the vegetarians, roasted the almonds for the green beans in e.v.o.o. and aglio olio peperoncino (organic italian seasoning) to add a bit of spice...actually, i made a big batch of these roasted almonds and served some as part of the appetizers....and i threw in some feta with the tomato salad just because you can never go wrong with cheese!

dinner was really good...i grilled big slabs of bread...rubbed them with garlic and some of the pesto, drizzled with really good e.v.o.o. and served with the salads... for appetizers we had the aforementioned almonds, pecorino cheese, our cocktail biscuits and prosecco. we continued with more prosecco and some wine with dinner. caitlin brought a delicious birthday cake from abc bakery for dessert...perfect with more wine...and then we, of course!, ended with shots of limoncello....what a memorable meal. richard and caitlin were leaving the next morning for a weekend camping i packed up the leftovers (trust me, this recipe makes a ton of food) they would not need to think about cooking. they said the food was even better the next day....

last week for the 4th of july, we invited our friends mary and terry for dinner and fireworks watching. they are both vegans so i decided the same meal with a few revisions would be perfect. i eliminated the chicken and the green bean salad and substituted roasted asparagus, roasted/marinated red peppers, tweaked the garbanzo bean salad by adding organic cherry tomatoes, chopped green onions, basil, lavender & chives....and i used my balsamic vinaigrette instead of gourmet's version. i served the feta on the side for the non-vegans and eliminated the pesto from the grilled equally delicious meal...and i love the flexibility!

our garbanzo bean salad

2 15 oz cans garbanzo beans (organic if possible)
1 pint organic cherry tomatoes cut in half
1 bunch green onions, chopped with white and green parts separated
1 bunch chives, chopped
1 tbsp fresh basil, chopped chiffonade style
1 tbsp fresh mint, chopped
1 tsp organic lavender flowers (optional)

add garbanzo beans, tomatoes and white part of green onions to medium bowl...add 1/4 cup vinaigrette and gently stir together all ingredients. allow to marinate a minimum of 1 hour in refrigerator (can be made up to 24 hours in advance). when ready to serve, add all herbs, the green part of the onions and remaining 1/4 cup vinaigrette...stir again and enjoy!

i plan to make versions of this salad all summer...of course tweaking the recipes all the about serving grilled steak salad or barbecued shrimp in place of the chicken...maybe adding a watermelon, spinach and feta salad? or a vinaigrette based potato salad? i will let you know what works...and what does not. in the interim...what are your favorite salads as meals?....let me know in the comments section of this post....and happy summer everyone!

diane padoven
napa farmhouse 1885(tm)
"live a green life of style"(tm)

to learn about our company...and receive special offers only available to our private list...sign up to receive our emails....located on the sidebar of this blog