Have you ever had a meal that you enjoyed so much that you it makes you smile just thinking about it or have you dreamed about experiencing it again? Well, that perfect meal was the inspiration for a celebratory dinner I made for my anniversary in October.
Last October (2012) I spent a week in Napa for my birthday. As part of that trip, I ate one of the best meals of my life at Bottega Napa Valley, a Michael Chiarello restaurant. I highly recommend a visit if you find yourself in the Napa area. Michael Chiarello has always been one of my foodie crushes. I own all of his cookbooks, but I had never taken the time to do anything with them, other than drool over the beautiful photos and recipes. My Bottega meal is still in the ranks as one of the best, not only because of the amazing beautiful and delicious food, but also because of the amazing service, attention to deal, Chiarello Vineyards wine (Giana Zinfandel) and my opportunity to meet Mr. Chiarello himself! As you can see from my picture below, I was quite thrilled by that little surprise! Also, check out the collage (below) of photos from that meal.
That leads me to my own culinary adventure in trying to recreate part of the amazing meal from Bottega as well as adding a few things to round out the meal…
- First Course: Warm Peach and Prosciutto Salad
- Second Course: Potato Gnocchi Ravioli with Egg Yolk and Sage Brown Butter
- Third Course: Salted Caramel Lava Cake
- Wine Pairing: Rutherford Ranch Sauvignon Blanc (2011)
The Warm Peach and Prosciutto salad recipe can be found in Michael Chiarello’s Casual Cooking cookbook. You can purchase the cookbook on Amazon. You can also find a version of the recipe on the Food Network website. Please note that the recipe posted on Food Network has a couple of differences (spinach vs. arugula and the addition of lemon juice to the peaches), so feel free to adjust the recipe as you see fit. I followed the recipe directly from the cookbook. See below for pictures on each major step of the recipe.
Begin by slicing the prosciutto slices in half and arranging them on the salad plates (upper right hand corner photo). I put the plate in the fridge to keep it fresh while I completed the rest of the salad. Next, put the peeled and sliced peaches in a bowl and season with salt and pepper. NOTE: I feel like the salad was a little too salty for me. Keep in mind that you are serving it with salty meat. Heat the butter in a saute pan until it browns, then add the seasoning, balsamic vinegar (be careful for splattering when you add this) and the peaches. Don’t forget to remove the bay leaf. You don’t want someone crunching down on that…sort of ruins the palate. Remove the pan from the heat and toss the arugula with tongs. Divide this mixture among the plates with prosciutto and serve immediately. The recipe is supposed to make 4 servings. I used half the listed prosciutto, but all of the other ingredients so there would be more peach mixture on each plate. You can see the finished product in the photo collage below. It really is an easy, eye-catching first course to make. I will definitely make this again, probably for a dinner party.
On to the second course, the Potato Gnocchi Ravioli with Egg Yolk and Sage Brown Butter. This is one of the things I savored at my Bottega dining experience last October and I have wanted to try make this for quite some time. What is so great about this dish? The recipe takes potato gnocchi dough makes it into ravioli, stuffs it will a creamy mixture of ricotta, spinach and a beautiful egg yolk that stays soft after it is cooked. As if that isn’t enough, it gets topped with sage brown butter and Parmesan cheese. This is so decadent and creamy. You will only be able to eat one, so make sure you have 5 other people on hand to eat the other ones (and to marvel in your awesomeness for pulling this off!).
Michael Chiarello calls this recipe a “labor-of-love,” and he is right. It is a time-consuming recipe, so plan ahead and make it for a special occasion. Start to finish it took me about 2.5 – 3 hours (I was prepping the other courses as well, so I am not 100% sure how much time this recipe itself took to make). You can find the recipe in Chiarello’s Bottega cookbook which can also be purchased on Amazon. In addition, if you prefer the web, you can find the recipe on the Flavor Napa Valley newsletter from the Fall harvest. I suggest reading through the recipe several times before you get started just to make sure you have everything you need (ingredients, time, and cooking tools). See the photo collage below for pictures of the most important steps of this recipe.
First thing to do is to put the ricotta cheese in a strainer lined with cheesecloth (to remove some of the liquid). This should sit for at least 30 minutes; I left mine for an hour. Second, get the russet potatoes (it only took me 2 potatoes) in the oven (375 degrees for about 70 minutes). Once these are in, start work on the ravioli filling. While the recipe calls for swiss chard, I unfortunately couldn’t find any in my stores, so I opted for spinach instead. The main downside to this is that each and every little stem needs to be removed from the spinach before cooking it. Create an ice bath (large bowl with water and ice cubes) so that you can blanch the spinach. Cook the spinach in salted, boiling water for 3 minutes and immediately transfer the drained spinach to the ice bath. After draining the spinach and squeezing out as much water as possible (I did this by pressing paper towels into the spinach), I transferred it to my ninja blender (put you could also use a food processor). Add the drained and sieved (pushed through a fine mesh strainer with a spoon or spatula, see the second photo in the collage below) to the food processor. Pulse a few times and then add the seasoning and two egg yolks. Pulse again until smooth. Transfer this filling mixture to some sort of pastry bag. I used a Wilton frosting bag, but you can just as easily use a gallon-sized ziploc bag and snip one corner off when ready to use. Put this mixture in the fridge so that it doesn’t get runny.
For the dough (and definitely the hardest part to get right), take the slightly cooled, cooked potatoes and scoop the insides out. The recipe called for a food mill, but I used a ricer instead, as you can see in the first picture in the third row in the photo collage below. I floured my work surface and added the mound of “riced” potatoes. After creating a well in the mound of potatoes, add 3 egg yolks and the parmesan cheese and mix with hands until it is smooth. NOTE: This will be very sticky, so have your flour measured out in a bowl next to your work station. I then added the flour and kneaded until the dough becomes cohesive; This took about 3-5 minutes. Now, I found the dough VERY sticky and definitely had to add more flour. Basically, you should be able to take a small piece of the dough and roll it into a rope that holds together. Let the dough rest, covered on the floured surface for 30 minutes. After exactly 30 minutes, I went to roll out the dough and it was SUPER sticky and I had to use a ton of flour to roll it out. Adjust your work surface as necessary. I was having a heck of a time rolling the whole thing out, so I separated it into two portions and rolled into a 1/4″ thick oval. Since I don’t have a 5-inch round cutter, I used a small pyrex bowl as my “cutter.” I put the 12 cut rounds on a baking sheet covered in flour.
Now, the fun part…pip a rind of the ricotta/spinach filling on to the gnocchi round. Make sure to leave about a 1/2″ on the side and a well in the middle where you will gently place the egg yolk. In the grand scheme of things, I used barely any of the filling (probably only about 25-30%), so I may consider making less the next time. I ended up going back and piping a second ring of filling on top of the first one, but still around the egg (see my pics below). After this, I used an egg wash (one beaten egg with 2 T. of water) to seal the edges. Make sure they are fully sealed, but be gentle so as not to break the yoke. Refrigerate the completed raviolis for at least 30 minutes. The recipe says you can refrigerate up to two hours. I do wonder if they can be refrigerated more than two hours, I mean, how does the restaurant make them to order given the time-intensive recipe. Once in the fridge, I heated the butter (in a saucepan) until browned and then added the sage. I shredded the sage, however, as you can see in the pics above, the restaurant served the sage whole, so I will probably keep it whole or coarsely chopped on the next go around.
To get to the final product, gently add the ravioli (I only did 4 at a time) to a large pot of salted, boiling water. The recipe says to cook for three minutes or until they float to the surface. It took about 4 minutes to cook mine. Be super careful not to overcook, or you will hard-boil your egg yolk. Once floating, I removed with a large slotted spoon. Since I had so much of the filling left, I piped some onto the plate before placing the ravioli on the warmed plates. See the picture collage below. As you can see, from the pic in the lower right hand corner, I was super stressed out while waiting for the ravioli to cook. Was it cooked long enough?! Too much?! So many questions, but just trust your gut. Once out and plated, I topped with the sage brown butter and freshly shaved parmesan cheese.
While I will admit that the ravioli were not as good as the original, I have to say that I was quite impressed with myself. This was probably the most labor-intensive recipe that I have ever made and I would do it again! Isn’t that the test of a good recipe? See below for a side-by-side comparison of the ravioli from Bottega and the one I made a year later in my own kitchen. My version had a lot of the same qualities, smooth, rich, delicious and…filling! While I plated two for each of us, we could only eat one each, must be all those eggs!
And finally, my favorite part of the meal…the dessert course! I have a slight obsession with Pinterest which you will see when you follow me. I entertain frequently, so I am always looking to outdo my last culinary showing. This time around, I used a recipe from Vegetarianirvana for a Salted Caramel Lava Cake. As you can see from the pictures on Sandhya’s website, the pictures make you want to jump through your mobile device to take a bite! This was such an easy and delicious recipe that was very well received for my anniversary dinner. Thanks, Sandhya! You can view pictures of my process of making these cakes in the collage below.
Preheat the oven to 425 degrees (I went with 400 degrees in my gas oven). Butter the ramekins and set aside. Microwave 4 oz. of semi-sweet chocolate (I used semi-sweet chocolate chunks from Trader Joe’s) and 4 oz. of unsalted butter for about 60 seconds. The chocolate won’t look melted (see my pic below). NOTE: Do not overcook in microwave because the chocolate will be unusable. At this point I used my Kitchen Aid immersion blender whisk attachment to combine the chocolate and butter. Once smooth, add the 1/3 C. of white sugar and two eggs. Fold in the 1/3 C. of all purpose flour (I used unbleached). The batter should be smooth and slightly runny. Divide the mixture between four ramekins (I used 7 oz.). Feel free to lick the spoon or the bowl…I did. Yes, it’s that good!
At this point, I deviated a little bit from the original recipe (though the deviation is somewhat based on an update to the recipe). I added one square of dark chocolate & caramel with black sea salt (from Trader Joe’s) pushed into the middle of the batter. I think you could probably also use the Ghiaradelli Caramel squares as an alternative. On top of this chocolate square, I added a dollop of Fleur de Sel Caramel sauce (also from Trader Joe’s). After the caramel, I used a small spatula to pull the batter up over the carmel so that it is completely covered.
Bake 10-14 minutes (it took 14 in my gas oven). The cake is ready when it domes a bit in the center. The edges should still appear a bit moist. Remove from the oven and insert a knife around the edge of the cake. Serve by inverting the ramekin onto a plate. Garnish as desired (sea salt, caramel, cocoa powder, powdered sugar, etc.). I chose to just dust mine with powdered sugar.
Another great thing about this cake is that you can make the batter ahead of time and refrigerate it until ready to bake. I put the two extra in the fridge for 5 days before cooking them off and they still tasted just as good. For those of you who entertain, this is great, but you can make it days ahead of time.
Last, but not least, I can’t forget about the wine. I chose to serve a bottle of Rutherford Ranch Sauvignon Blanc (2011). This bottle was also a throwback to my 2012 Napa trip, as I brought it back from the winery and have had it tucked away in my wine fridge ever since. This is a very reasonable priced bottle (around $14), but packs a big punch of acidity and a lingering finish, which I find lacking in many Sauvignon Blancs. In addition to the crisp acidity, this wine boasts a beautiful combination of minerality and honey flavor.
Overall, this was a fantastic dinner and wine pairing. I hope that you find the time to try one (or more) of the recipes or wine discussed above.