To kick off this weeklong series of small plates with wine pairings. I have a decadent little appetizer, Prosciutto-Wrapped Truffle Fries. My brother Grant chose to match this small plate with Montaudon Brut Champagne NV.
The recipe comes from Michael Chiarello’s latest cookbook Bottega: Bold Italian Flavors from the Heart of California’s Wine Country.
I gotta admit, I am kind of a Michael Chiarello groupie. But this has nothing to do with his multiple appearances on Food Network nor would I ever consider buying any of the overly thematic ‘lifestyle’ merchandise he sells at his Napa Style stores and online.
Nope, I’m a fan from his days as the chef-owner of Napa Valley’s Tra Vigne, and most especially from his cookbook of the same name.
You see the 1990s were when I started developing an interest in cooking. And though I like to say I’m an untrained cook, that’s not entirely true. I started learning to cook from Michael Chiarello, and his first few cookbooks were my primary tools
Tra Vigne especially helped guide my journey in the kitchen and develop my palate for ‘bold tastes and refined techniques’. The recipes in that book were presented by seasons, giving me my first real lesson in the concept of eating seasonally and locally. Certainly Chiarello did not invent this style of eating. He grew up eating that way in a family of Italian food lovers in rural Northern California. But I have to give Chiarello the credit for introducing me to these ideas long before they were fashionable.
So all during Chiarello’s worldwide wonderings as a paid shill, I still held him and his cooking in high esteem. But with each passing year the luster of his glory days at Tra Vigne began to fade a bit in my mind. I still pulled out his cookbooks. His style of cooking and choice of ingredients made it easy for me to be inspired and to adapt some of his greatest creations on my own. As my culinary skills grew, my confidence to create food (inspired by his books and his style) grew as well. So I’ll always owe him something for guiding me along a path that has become a passion.
Naturally I was intrigued when I heard Chiarello had opened up a new Napa Valley restaurant in 2008 called Bottega. I put a visit on my ‘to do’ list. But for some reason I never made it to the restaurant to see if my hero worship was ready to be buffed up and brought back out on the plate. Maybe it was the economy, maybe it was my feeling that he wasn’t the chef he once was (as fair or unfair as that may be). But I never made the trip out there to see for myself.
I suspect my loss of interest in his new venture may have been more than just geography or economics. Because the simple fact is the restaurant business is not an easy life, even for a Food Network Star. Could he slip back into that grind? I honestly figured once he had left the stress and the long hours of day-to-day restaurant work behind him it would prove too difficult to return, because it seems to me the Food Network churns out primadonnas as much as anything else.
But here I am, ready to eat those words because if the restaurant is half as good as the new cookbook, then Bottega (the restaurant) needs to go right back on my ‘to-do’ list.
With this his 6th cookbook, Chiarello brings me back to the culinary creations that so inspired me more than a decade ago. As he does in his previous books and on the television Chiarello shares his cooking philosophy in a wide-open and personable manner. He even opens up the pantry at Bottega with a section of cooking staples even the home cook can master. There are also plenty of great antipasti like the bruschetta trio, green eggs and ham, or torn figs with burrata. There are also Italian standards– executed with so much flair you’ll wonder why you have not mastered them before. Take gnocchi. In this book he brings us both potato and ricotta versions; one following the other. Read these two recipes one after the other and you will finally understand the difference between the two. He includes plenty of tempting meat, as well as chicken and duck. But it is his pork recipes that will bring me back quite soon. Particularly the Crispy Pork Shanks with Red Wine Agrodolce.
Any of these could have easily been adapted to suit my menu of small plates. But I chose his Proscuitto-Wrapped Truffle Fries (pg. 46) because the bold ingredients and daring combination is perfect for sharing just a few bites among friends. It’s a plate of big flavors, with enough decadence to drop your jaw. So this recipe is a great way to set the stage for a luxurious evening spent dining fireside with friends in my own home.
My brother Grant has chosen a non-vintage Champagne– special enough to mark the occasion, but with enough casual elegance to comfortably sit alongside Chiarello’s simple yet romantic Prosciutto-Wrapped Truffle Fries serves 6 CLICK here for a printable recipe.
SERIOUS FUN FOOD