Friday, August 27, 2010

The Goats of Rossotti Ranch

I really like goat, so a few weeks ago when I noted at the Sunday farmers market in San Rafael a new stand -- Rossotti Ranch -- featuring goat meat, I stopped by to say hello. Rossotti Ranch is just west of Petaluma and is owned and operated by Tony and Julie Rossotti who come from different two families which both have roots in agriculture and livestock raising in Marin - between them a total of nine generations.

I have had goat in a number of different forms over the years -- primarily in Mexican places (e.g. as birria or barbacoa), but also a memorable goat and lamb meatball dish (Polpettine di Capra e Agnello in Verde) we enjoyed at a dinner at La Ciccia featuring the cuisine of Abruzzo.

I had also begun to notice more articles in the food press about goat with some intriguing recipes, including:

~ NY Times: “How I Learned to Love Goat Meat
~ SF Chron: “Goat Breaks into Bay Area Menus

However, I had never tried to prepare goat myself, so I was interested to see what Rossotti Ranch had to offer.

Rossotti Ranch has a very good website with some tasty-looking recipes (in particular, their North African Barbecued Goat Shanks caught my eye). The site also includes some interesting information about the healthy qualities of goat compared to other meats:

One of the first things I learned while talking with Tony and Julie was that they would be participating in an upcoming cooking class sponsored by Marin Organic at Cavallo Point - an event featuring both goat from Rossotti Ranch, and vegetables from Dennis and Sandy Dierks’ Paradise Valley farm in Bolinas. Having had such good experiences on previous events at Cavallo Point, I went right home and signed up.

The class was last Tuesday night. Our good friends, Sandy and Connie Calhoun, who are good sports when it comes to exploring different cuisines, joined me.

Jayne Reichert, the Director of the Cooking School, opened the doors to the classroom for us at 6:00, and after a glass of prosecco and a chance to look over the ingredients and meet the Rossotti’s and the Dierks, we took our seats and the program got started.

The following was our menu for the evening:

~ Roasted Beet Salad with Creamy Garlic Chive Dressing
~ Goat Meatballs with Potato Gnocchi, Green Beans and Parsley Pesto
~ Goat Shoulder braised with Allspice and Oranges and served with Oven Roasted Kohlrabi, Sautéed Lacinato Kale and Over Roasted Tomatoes with Basil
~ Nectarine Tart with Cornmeal Crust

and here are a set of photos of the final dishes:

We prepared everything during the class, with the exception of the braised goat shoulder which Jayne had started earlier in the day given the time required to cook it.

Everything was great, although the dish that I thought was best and that I plan to try in the near future was the meatballs. Here is the recipe for that dish:

A similar recipe appeared in the New York Times article cited above.

Given that goat is so lean, both recipes recommend the addition of pork to provide a bit more fat content. The meatballs were formed using as delicate a touch as possible, then lightly browned in a skillet, and finally placed in a chicken stock in which a large Parmigiano-Reggiano rind had been simmering. The meatballs were then further simmered in the stock and served with it.

The meatballs were served with potato gnocchi (incidentally, for aspiring gnocchi makers, here is an excellent how-to video featuring Paola Bagnatori of the Museo ItaloAmericano) and green beans which was a very nice counterpoint. However, if I was to make the dish, I think I would substitute some Cannellini beans for the gnocchi (perhaps the excellent Tuscan White Beans with Sage and Garlic (Fagioli alla Salvia ed Aglio) dish we made at Cavallo Point with Judy Witts Francini) or just serve the meatballs with pasta - perhaps with a light tomato sauce or pesto Genovese.

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Sunday, August 15, 2010

A Dinner with the Queen

On Friday night, Alex, Cass and I had been scheduled to attend a class at Rosetta Costantino’s “Cooking with Rosetta” cooking school in Emeryville. The class was entitled "The Queen of Vegetables: Eggplant from Appetizer to Dessert” (a reference to the eggplant’s important role in Calabrian cuisine where it is referred to as "la regina delle vedure") and was to have featured the following dishes:

~ Polpette di Melanzane (Eggplant meatballs)

~ Pasta al Forno Con Melanzane (Baked pasta layered with eggplant, tomato sauce and fresh mozzarella)

~ Melanzane Ripiene (Eggplant stuffed with ground pork, bread crumbs, pecorino cheese and baked with a simple tomato sauce)

~ Melanzane Arrostiti (Grilled marinated eggplant with olive oil, garlic and fresh mint)

~ Melanzane al Cioccolato (Eggplants layered and filled with ricotta and chocolate)

Unfortunately, there were an insufficient number of signups for the class and Rosetta reluctantly had to cancel it.

When we told Rosetta how disappointed we were, she kindly referred us to her wonderful Calabria From Scratch blog and the posts she had made there following the same class last year. Those posts provided both an overview of the class as well as recipes and photos some of the dishes prepared during the class. After taking a look at them, we decided that we would take advantage of our open Friday night to try to make the following two dishes at our place based on the recipes on Rosetta's blog:

~ Involtini di Melanzane Ripieni di Pasta (Eggplant rolls filled with pasta, mozzarella and tomato sauce); and

~ Melanzane Ripiene (Eggplant stuffed with ground pork, bread crumbs, pecorino cheese and baked with a simple tomato sauce)

So on Friday, Nancy both did some shopping and prepared a tomato sauce for us, and Alex, Cassie and I made the dishes.

Involtini di Melanzane Ripieni di Pasta

Cassie (with some help from Alex) took charge of this dish. She had the interesting idea of substituting long, thin strips of zucchini for the spaghetti called for in Rosetta’s recipe and that worked out very well. After cutting the strips, she sautéed them for a couple of minutes before incorporating them into the rolls. There was a enough of a difference in both flavor and texture between the zucchini and eggplant and the substitution worked out very well. Here are pictures of the dish before and after cooking (interestingly the ricotta salata cheese Cassie used for the topping did not melt during the cooking).

Melanzane Ripiene

I got to prepare the stuffed eggplant dish. I followed Rosetta’s recipe closely, although I used our Cuisinart to chop the eggplant pulp (incidentally, a melon baller makes removal of the pulp a lot easier!). The filling was very tasty, although it was quite smooth and I would have preferred a bit more texture. Next time I may add a bit of chopped pork (or even small cubes of pancetta) to the ground pork. Or I have seen other stuffed eggplant recipes call for adding chopped onions which would also have provided a bit of texture. Here are pictures of the dish before and after baking.

Both dishes turned out well and we enjoyed them with one of my favorite southern Italian red wines - a Taurasi from Terredora DiPaolo in Campania.

The two dishes went well together, although if you were planning a menu you would presumably serve one or the other. The dishes were fairly easy to prepare and both could be prepared in advance of cooking.

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Monday, August 9, 2010

BBQ in Sonoma - Lolis Eric Elie and Smokestack Lightning

One of the most enjoyable events during our recent family vacation in Sonoma this past May was a wine and cheese tasting arranged for us by our friend, Sheana Davis of Epicurean Connection. Sheana went far out of her way to organize a fantastic evening which all of us will long remember.

We knew that Sheana spent a good deal of time in New Orleans in addition to Sonoma, and when we saw her in May we discussed the new HBO series, “Tremé,” named after the Faubourg Tremé neighborhood in New Orleans. The series had kicked off in April and I had quickly become an avid fan.

During our discussion Sheana mentioned that she had a friend in New Orleans named Lolis Eric Elie, a former reporter for the New Orleans Times-Picayune who had been working as one of the writers for the series. Lolis had earlier directed a movie named "Faubourg Tremé: The Untold Story of Black New Orleans” about the long and rich history of the area, one of America’s oldest black neighborhoods. Needless to say, he sounded like a very interesting guy.

Not long after we saw her in Sonoma in May, we heard from Sheana that she was helping to organize a dinner in Sonoma to celebrate a visit by Lolis. We initially assumed it had something to do with Tremé, but learned that the dinner would instead feature the showing of a movie based on a book about barbecue written by Lolis with Frank Stewart entitled “Smokestack Lightning: Adventures in the Heart of Barbecue Country” (a reference to the Howlin’ Wolf blues song). Nancy, Alex, Cass and I decided to attend, and this past Sunday evening drove up to Sonoma to the event site of Wild Thyme Catering which was hosting the event.

Happily it was a bit warmer and sunnier in Sonoma than in Sausalito. Tables had been set up in the courtyard and we had a chance to meet and chat with Lolis and some of the other guests during the reception that preceded the dinner while we listened to the Sonoma-based blues band, The Hellhounds.

Here are a couple of pictures from the reception - the first of Lolis with Sheana and Keith Filipello (who, with his wife Joanne, owns Wild Thyme), followed by us with Lolis and with Sheana.

In addition to some light snacks, wine and beer was served during the reception. Happily the wines included a selection from Highway 12 winery, which has become one of our favorites since Sheana served some of their wines during our family event during May.

In addition, I had a chance to meet Alec Stefansky with Uncommon Brewers who had come up from Santa Cruz for the event with some of UB’s brews. In the spirit of the evening, Alec suggested I try one of their relatively new products, Bacon Brown Ale which is, in fact, made with bacon. It was probably something I would not have tried, but it had a beautiful color and a pleasant smoky flavor with an aftertaste that reminded me of “mugicha” - a Japanese barley tea drunk cold during the summer.

Before long it was time for dinner and we all formed a line in front of the incredible buffet spread that Sheana and the Wild Thyme folks had prepared for us.

In addition to the dishes prepared by Sheana and Wild Thyme, we were also fortunate to have Bob Cantor and his crew from Memphis Minnie’s in the Haight there with their Memphis-style pastrami. Although Smokestack Lightning focused on the South, Lolis mentions Bob in the book and has also reviewed Memphis Minnie’s favorably in the past, so it was a very appropriate local representative.

In addition to some of their own dishes, as you will see from the menu, Wild Thyme also prepared a number of dishes based on the recipes in Smokestack Lightning. Here is a shot of my plate after I managed to get it back to the table.

Of the dishes prepared from Smokestack Lightning, the Arkansas Trav’ler barbequed beans (very much like a cassoulet - see the recipe that follows) and Lolis’ mother’s potato salad were my favorites.

Memphis Minnie’s pastrami and Sheana’s pulled pork were also both excellent.

As dinner wound down and the sky darkened, The Hellhounds played their final number and Sheana moved to the stage to introduce Lolis. Lolis talked a bit about his book and the movie, and also told us about the Southern Foodways Alliance, an institute of the Center for the Study of Southern Culture at the University of Mississippi in Oxford. The SFA’s mission statement is as follows:

“The SFA documents, studies, and celebrates the diverse food cultures of the changing American South. We stage symposia on food culture, produce documentary films, publish compendiums of great writing, and—perhaps most importantly—preserve, promote, and chronicle the region’s culinary standard bearers.”

Before showing his own film, Lolis showed us two short barbecue-oriented documentaries produced by the SFA, both of which can be viewed on the SFA website. The first, the first “Cut/Chop/Cook” profiles Scott's Bar-B-Q in Hemingway, South Carolina, which was also the focus of a New York Times article. The second, “Capitol Q,” features the Skylight Inn in Ayden, North Carolina, which National Geographic recognized in 1988 as the “barbecue capital of the world.”

There is a wealth of information on the SFA website, including a site entitled “The Southern Barbecue Trail”. They also host an annual symposium each year in October in Oxford. Who knows - I may have to try to attend some year!

We thoroughly enjoyed the dinner, the company and all the films, and learned a great deal. It was an evening very well spent.

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