Sunday, August 28, 2011

Foodbuzz 24x24: Wine Country Trattoria

Our first dinner experience in Wine Country was back in 2004.  It wasn't a Thomas Keller restaurant, it was the backyard of the Swiss-Italian family from whom we were renting our summer house.  Bottle after bottle of wine, platters of amazing but simple food sourced from the farmers' market and an evening with new friends that we wanted to last forever.  It made an impression that we have never forgotten and it was the inspiration for this dinner to end all dinners.

While I usually recoil at the idea of cooking for any major event, the brother of a friend decided to get married in Wine Country.  Having recently visited Cline Family Cellars in Sonoma, I had the perfect place in mind when my friend called asking for suggestions to get him and his fiance on the road to wedding planning. Though they ended up holding the wedding elsewhere due to scheduling issues, Cline also has a gorgeous villa on site to rent.  When I informed them that the kitchen was amazing, they decided it was the perfect place to stay for the weekend and for their rehearsal dinner.

"Maybe you could cook for it?" my friend suggested.

Wheels turning in my head and given complete creative license by the bride and groom, I began to visualize this perfect event. 

The bride's only request was that all the guests be at one long table.  Remembering that first wine country experience in 2004, I knew I wanted her, the groom and her guests to have that same unforgettable feeling.  We would do the main part of the dinner Trattoria style.  No fancy plating, simple food created from pristine, farm-sourced ingredients and served on platters for all the guests to pass.

Relying on what I could find this week at the local farms, I eventually created the menu which we paired with Cline's spectacular and affordable wines. 

Like most events, the planning and preparation was as fun as the event itself.  Spending an entire morning visiting farm after farm to buy (in some cases picking myself) fruits and veggies at their peak was as close as I will get right now to gathering until I have my own garden.

Erickson Ranch in Suisun was my first stop for their local grapes to make a Harvest sauce for the Sage and Proscuitto Wrapped Chicken (See recipe below).

But I also left with ten pounds of multi-colored potatoes,

giant red onions to accompany green beans, farro and Vella Dry Jack (a Sonoma cheese similar to parmesan),

and Gravenstein apples that were caramelized to be tossed in an arugula salad with shallots, Lavender almonds (now affectionately named "Crack Almonds" by those who were near enough to the kitchen to try them before they went into the salad and, incidentally, my new favorite way to make almonds. Email me for the recipe.) and topped with Wild Salmon I hot-smoked that afternoon.

The next stop not only garnered me ridiculous tomatoes, but a new farmer friend to boot. Brad at Wild Boar Farms not only shared his treasured Armenian cucumbers with me as a snack but taught me, as we walked up and down harvesting tomatoes in his fields, what a Green Zebra cherry tomato should look like when ripe (more amber on the ends than green should you be tomato harvesting any time soon).  I also learned that I would be serving the same tomatoes at my dinner that Alice Waters' and her team serve at the legendary Chez Panisse. Wow!  One taste of their perfectly ripe, sweet and perfectly acidic juiciness and I knew why.

Sadly the guests could not see the finished product on the platter since the main part of dinner was served by candlelight only.  However, most of them had walked by the kitchen at some point and took pictures of the tomatoes in their natural state with the urge to everyone else to "come look at these tomatoes...they're beautiful."  Even still, this simple platter of tomatoes drizzled with olive oil from a man in my town name Ennio and topped off with torn purple basil was the one dish that we were afraid was going to spark a fork fight at the otherwise civilized dinner.
The next stop was the aforementioned Brazelton Ranch for peaches that became part of "Peaches and Cream".
Homemade Bellweather Farms Creme Fraiche gelato to go alongside Rosemary Polenta Cake and on top of the no-need-for-sugar peaches.

Finally that afternoon, I went with my youngest son to our favorite little oasis just outside of our town, Gibson Canyon Farm.
This funky little farmstand staffed primarily by WWOOF volunteers is slowly growing into it's own and provided me with Lemon Cucumbers for Lime Cucumber Water (part of a flavored water selection) and long, red Carmine peppers which were graciously picked by Sue, the owner and a volunteer while I waited and my son pet the tiny bunnies.  These were pickled for our Rosemary White Bean Hummus crostini and roasted alongside the potatoes.

The white bean crostini rounded out a trio of crostini which also included housemade fig and onion jam on top of Point Reyes blue cheese, and Preserved Meyer Lemon & Black Olive tapenade with Sonoma goat cheese. These were all part of the poolside Welcome Bar that greeted the guests upon their return from the rehearsal.

A beautiful dream setting that was merely a wine tasting adventure for my husband and I on a weekend away in April became a beautiful setting for someone else's Big Event weekend.

Though it was hard work, it was an amazing day for us as well.  Kyle was there yesterday not only because these were friends of his, too, but also as a support for me every step of the way.
Making sure candles were lit and glasses were full. 
(Okay, not in this photo because guests had wine glasses in hand at the Welcome Bar.)

By the end of the night, toasts were made both by the guests as we were finishing service
And by the staff for a job well done.  I couldn't have done it without them...some I knew before tonight and a couple not so much.  But by the end of the night there were promises of more dinners to come, this time side by side at our own tables and even a future salmon fishing expedition. (Another dream of mine.)
Thanks to Dena (on the left) for hobbling along on a cast up and down stairs to take 90% plus of the pictures that I wouldn't have had time to take.  To Heidi and Mike for coming after long days at other jobs to help us serve and clean up and to Foodbuzz for giving me incentive to include this dinner in the 24 x 24 event they sponsor each month.

So thanks for indulging me with this post.  I will return to making Everyday Meals from Seasonal Produce and What I Have on Hand tomorrow, but just for one day I got the privilege and pleasure of creating an Over-the-Top meal using my same cooking philosophy.

Sage and Proscuitto Wrapped Chicken with Harvest Sauce
1 lb boneless skinless chicken breasts, cut horizontally into two thin cutlets each
6-8 large sage leaves (enough for each cutlet)
3 slices proscuitto, cut in half lenghtwise on the diagonal
Salt & cracked black pepper
Olive oil for sauteing

Harvest Sauce
2 shallots, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 cup chicken stock, preferable homemade
1/2 cup dry white wine
1 lb local organic grapes, seedless or seeded (they will be strained out)
1 sprig fresh rosemary
2 sprigs fresh thyme

Heat oven to 325 degrees.

Pat chicken breasts dry.  Place a sage leaf in the middle of each chicken breast and wrap with a slice of proscuitto - starting with narrow end of triangle on the back then wrap around.  Sprinkle with salt and pepper.

Saute chicken proscuitto side down for 2-3 minutes or until brown.  Flip over a cook the other side until the surface is opaque.  Place chicken in a shallow pan and drizzle with 1/4 chicken stock.  Cover with foil and bake while making the stock.

Saute the shallots and garlic for a minute.  Add remaining stock and wine along with the remaining ingredients.  Cook on medium high until the grapes are soft enough to mash slightly and the sauce has reduced by half.  Mash the grapes and cook for another minute to reduce a bit more.  Strain into a bowl then pour the strained sauce back into the pan.  Reduce for another 3-4 minutes or until the sauce is slightly thickened. Taste and add salt and pepper as needed.  Remove chicken from oven and place on a platter.  Pour the sauce over the chicken and serve.

Copyright 2011 Christi Flaherty, TablaVie Cooking Classes


  1. Great day and event. Love your words and food!!!

  2. This post is wonderful. I couldn't stop reading! :)
    Such a lovely setting and all the food looks delicious! Well done!


  3. Hi shelley! Thanks so much. Do you have a blog? I looked up spiceblogger and found Twitter but no blog. I'd love to look at it! Sign up to be a follower so you can see my other recipes that I publish several times a week. I'm also on Facebook at Cook What You've Got by Christi Flaherty.


Welcome. I value your comments. If you think you would like to use my site for your personal advertising purposes, I would appreciate you emailing and asking me first. I've had a recent outbreak of SPAM, so I'm a little cautious. But legit conversations are always welcome.

Thanks, Christi

Copyright 2012 TablaVie Personal Chef Service

All photos and recipes may not be used without express permission from Christi Flaherty, owner and creator of Cook What You've Got Concept and blog.
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