Wed 3 Jun 2009
I mean Frank Stitt, the James Beard Award-winning chef and owner of Highlands Bar & Grill, Bottega Restaurant and Café and Chez Fonfon in Birmingham. The past two nights, we cooked from Stitt’s new book, Bottega Favorita: A Southern Chef’s Love Affair with Italian Food (Artisan, $40) and had terrific meals.
Monday night, I cooked the Penne with Spicy Tomato-Fennel Sauce, a dish that Stitt says he and his wife, Pardis, prepare at 11:30 after getting home from the restaurants. By 11:30, I’m usually wrapped in the arms of Morpheus, so LL and I ate the pasta several hours earlier than Stitt and his wife do. This is just a wolloping great dish. First come half a sweet onion, half a sliced fennel bulb and half a sliced leek, softened in olive oil; then garlic, fennel and cumin seeds and half of a jalapena pepper, sliced thin, all of this cooked a few more minutes. Then a can of whole tomatoes, which you crush with your hands or a wooden spoon, and the grated zest of half an orange. This all simmers and blends and melds while the pasta cooks. At the end, you toss the penne with the sauce, freshly grated Parmesan and leaves of fresh herbs like basil, marjoram and oregano. As LL and I ate dinner, we kept saying, “Man, this is wonderful” and other praiseful phrases of such import. Truly, you could taste the effect of the different elements separately yet working together too; the touch of orange zest is brilliant.
Stitt recommends a Dolcetto or Barbera from Bruno Giacoso or Aldo Conterno with the dish, but since I sadly didn’t happen to have a bottle of one of those generally excellent wines nestled in the ol’ wine rack (and wouldn’t mind if I had a few resting there), I chose the Vale do Bomfim 2008, from Portugal’s Douro Valley. A blend of the traditional Port grapes (from Port producer Dow’s) but made as a dry table wine — 40 percent touriga franca, 25 percent tinta roriz, 20 percent tinta barroca, 15 percent touriga nacional — this is a deeply flavored, richly spiced and boldly structured wine, almost inky black in color, bursting with fruit cake-infused black currants, black cherries and plums permeated by smoke, tobacco and lavender. It’s a robust wine, dense and chewy, intense and concentrated, the ripe black fruit flavors packed with potpourri and bitter chocolate and the essential elements of vibrant acidity and polished tannins. The wine, while delicious, was a bit too robust for the dish, but it certainly rates Very Good+. The alcohol level is a modest 13 percent, but even more modest is the price, about $12, making this a Freakin’ Great Bargain. Imported by Premium Port Wines Inc., San Francisco.
Last night, from the same book, LL prepared the Tuna with Ligurian Walnut Sauce. I had gotten some fresh ahi tuna from Costco, and she seared that briefly on each side in a hot, cast-iron skillet. The sauce consists of thinly sliced shallot that macerated in red wine vinegar, salt and pepper, into which you whisk a little olive oil and walnut oil, followed by chopped walnuts, pine nuts, capers, parsley and Niçoise olives. You heap a nice spoonful of that on the fish and top with chopped egg yolk. Another great dish! LL also cooked some broccoli rabe with gigante beans, and I made roasted fingerling potatoes. Many yums later, we were full and contented.
The recommendation is for a “simple, light, young white wine,” though I went for light and young but not too simple. This was the Mahoney “Las Brisas Vineyard” Vermentino 2008, from the Sonoma Carneros. Made completely in stainless steel, this charmer is delicate and winsome, offering notes of lemon and quince seasoned with jasmine, almond and almond blossom. It gains spice and a hint of dried herbs in the mouth, with generous dollops of roasted lemon and lime enlivened by brisk acidity and a dry, almost chalky limestone finish. A crisp and refreshing summertime sipper, as aperitif or with seafood. 850 cases. Very Good+ and another Great Bargain at about $13.
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