I think many girls will tell you that they don’t care about Valentine’s Day, me included. Although, I think most girls really do care about Valentine’s Day just a little bit, me included. I blame my grandfather. Every year, grandpa would mozey down to the corner drug store and buy each of us grandkids one of those large, red, heart-shaped boxes filled with – what we thought back then – were the most heavenly, gooey, filled chocolates. I can’t tell you how excited we were, throwing our little arms around his thick neck, repeatedly kissing his chubby cheeks, before running off to inspect our precious gift. My sister would tear into hers, devouring most of it within hours, tummy queasy, but ridiculously happy. I would peer into my box for days, gently replacing the thin sheet of heart-shaped tissue on top, allowing myself only a couple each day, saving the coconut-filled beauties for last. When he passed away, Valentine’s Day, sadly, sort of went with him. Readers, I wish you all a very happy Valentine’s Day filled with cheesy heart-shaped boxes of happiness…and lots of love.
Speaking of love, here are a few yummy things that I am loving lately.
While strolling through the Oxbow Marketplace in Napa on a recent chilly afternoon, I stopped, as I often do, at the Whole Spice shop to ogle the colorful rows of spices perched on the shelves there. I sometimes like to randomly unscrew a few jars to sniff a bright orange curry or spicy pale pink peppercorns. That day, I opened a jar that had the mysterious label, “Vadouvan.” The scent was unbelievable! It was a magical, very faraway sort of scent. I stuck my nose deep into the jar and smelled lemon leaf and wild fennel maybe, and there was definitely white pepper and a bit of toasted sesame seed. I immediately began planning the dishes that I could scatter this upon. Scrambled eggs and piles of roasted cauliflower, roast lamb, and braised chicken. Rice dishes studded with dried fruit and chickpeas, or even hearty salads of winter greens. Toasted in a few glugs of olive oil, I could endlessly dip grilled bread, or if stirred into thick yogurt I would have an addictive condiment for all of the above! I am now utterly addicted to the stuff and can’t wait to get back and discover what other exotic spices I didn’t know existed.
You know I love El Molino Central, but did you know how much I love my El Molino Central yearly calendar? The charming, and outrageously delicious, Springs’ eatery prints a big stack of paper calendars each year, a New Year’s treat for their adoring customers. This year’s version sports bright colors and a cheeky, bellowing burro. The calendar hangs on the door of my fridge where it makes me smile every time I look at it.
I whipped up a little gnudi the other day. Yup, gnudi! Until that afternoon, I had never cooked the pasta-less, fresh ricotta-filled dumplings before, and they turned out beautifully. One of my resolutions for the coming year was to explore new cookbooks, learning new techniques, adding each successful new dish to my list of favorites. In recent months, I have mastered orange marmalade and an interesting south Indian vegetable stew. I have cooked with a smoky Harissa pepper oil and scrambled up some fatty duck eggs. I have perfected the matzo ball, even if my version isn’t exactly orthodox, and my repeated attempts at the most basic thing, homemade chicken stock, is now officially flawless. Keeping it creative has really renewed my love for cooking.
Wine is fine, but I do so love a before dinner apertif. In the warm summer months it is often a floral, chilled white Lillet or even a bitter, but completely refreshing Campari and soda. During these chilly months I tend to want something a bit warmer, spicier. Sherry is always yummy, especially when sipped from my thick, vintage French apertif glasses. Although, what I am finding myself truly enjoying this month is the sweet Italian vermouth named Carpano Antica Formula. The amber colored drink is best served on ice with a generous zest of orange. It tastes of bitter orange and astringent herbs. It has just the right amount of sweetness, with a caramel-y finish. On a cold winter night, a squat glass of Carpano and a fire is pure love.
On the Menu
The Olive Season is in full swing here in Sonoma and there are plenty of events to experience the best of our town’s delicious ‘second season!’
The “Olive Odyssey” at Jacuzzi Family Vineyards and the Olive Press takes place both Saturday, February 16 and Sunday, February 17 from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Olive-curing expert Don Landis will be on hand, along with olive-curing hobbyists from all over California, to share recipes and their unique techniques. Take a tour thru the Olive Press, sample gourmet olive oils, get growing tips from olive tree experts, and enjoy olive-themed art. Olive-filled cuisine will be prepared by Costeaux French Bakery and Olive and Vine, paired with Jacuzzi wines of course. Admission is free. Call 940.4024 for more information.
Also on Saturday, February 16 and Sunday, February 17 from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. head to the “Olive Season Finale” at Cline Cellars where attendees have the opportunity to taste olive oils from historic Mission olives, or visit the California Mission Museum. They may sample unique olive-inspired pairings with Cline wines and even take home an olive tree from Greenstring Farm to plant in their own garden. Admission is free. Call 940.4024 for more information.
The Olive Season’s grand finale is the “VinOlivo Grand Tasting,” at the Lodge of Sonoma, presented by the Sonoma Valley Vintner’s and Growers Alliance on February 15, beginning at 7 p.m. The evening is filled with Sonoma Valley’s best wines and bites from more than twenty-five of Sonoma’s finest restaurants caterers, and artisans. There will also be DJ music and the VinOlivo online auction with unique Sonoma Valley winery and vacation experiences, as well as the most outstanding wines of Sonoma Valley! For more information or to purchase tickets call 935.0803 or visit sonomavalleywine.com.
Mix ricotta, egg, egg yolk, pepper, 1/2 cup Parmesan, and 1/2 teaspoons salt in a large bowl until well combined. Add 1/2 cup flour; stir just until combined and mixture forms a ball (mixture will be soft and moist with some bits of ricotta remaining; add more flour by the tablespoonful if it feels wet). Dust a rimmed baking sheet generously with flour. Using 2 large soup spoons, shape heaping tablespoonfuls of dough into football shapes; place on baking sheet and dust with more flour (you should have apx. 24). Cook gnudi in a large pot of boiling salted water, stirring occasionally, until cooked through and tender, 5-6 minutes (gnudi will quickly float to surface; continue cooking or gnudi will be gummy in the center). Using a slotted spoon, divide gnudi among bowls. Top with Pomodoro Sauce and more Parmesan.
Pulse tomatoes with juices in a blender to form a coarse purée. Heat oil in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Add garlic and cook, stirring often, until beginning to brown, about 2 minutes. Add tomato purée and sugar and season with salt. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer gently until sauce is slightly thickened, 10-15 minutes. DO AHEAD: Sauce can be made 3 days ahead. Cover and chill, or freeze for up to 3 months.
Kristin Jorgensen is one of Sonoma’s most passionate, food obsessed residents. In this weekly column, she covers all the delicious happenings, foodie events and restaurants in Sonoma, the rest of Wine Country and beyond. Email her with comments, questions, or your food related events at [email protected]