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Cookbooks by John Ash

“American Game Cooking” by John Ash and Sid Goldstein (1991): It concentrates on farm-raised game birds and meats likely found in grocery stores — wild boar, buffalo, duck, goose, quail and venison, with generic wine pairings. Running Press published a second edition in 1993.

“From the Earth to the Table” by John Ash and Sid Goldstein (1995): This cookbook summarized Ash’s philosophy and the cooking style inspired by his long-time association with the now-defunct Fetzer Vineyard’s Valley Oaks Food and Wine Center. It won 1996 IACP awards for Best American Cookbook and Julia Child Cookbook of the Year. First Chronicle Books published a revised edition in 2007.

“John Ash Cooking One-on-One” by John Ash with Amy Mintzer (2004): Ash reduced his cooking instruction to some simple principals — flavor-boosters, basic cooking techniques and main ingredients. It won a 2005 James Beard Award.

“Culinary Birds” by John Ash with James O. Fraioli (2013): This book features more than 170 ways to enjoy poultry. It won a 2014 James Beard Award.

“Cooking Wild” by John Ash and James O. Fraioli (2016, Running Press): This cookbook circles back to Ash’s first tome while enlarging the scope of wild foods to include vegetables and fruits, grains and seafood.

Info: chefjohnash.com

John Ash of Santa Rosa, known as the “Father of Wine Country Cuisine” and one of the region’s most renowned chefs, has always been a visionary, capturing the zeitgeist of his time while gazing presciently into the future.

When he first opened his namesake restaurant, John Ash & Company, in Montgomery Village in 1980, it was one of the first in Northern California to focus on local, seasonal ingredients and to create dishes that complemented the wines being made in the region. Now, more than 35 years later, nearly all restaurant chefs worth their salt aspire to meet that high standard.

As an international cooking teacher, Ash also educated a new generation of home cooks eager to eat more simply and more ethically, closer to the fresh flavors of the gardens and farms in their own back yards.

Now the award-winning cookbook author has released his fifth tome, “Cooking Wild” (Running Press, $35), which feeds into several hot food trends, from Heritage breeds and the Paleo diet to the wildly popular foraging fad, best exemplified by Danish superstar chef René Redzepi of Noma restaurant in Copenhagen.

It joins an impressive collection of previous books, all promoting the lessons of locavore eating to an even wider audience: “American Game Cooking” in 1991; “From the Earth to the Table” in 1995 (updated in 2007); “John Ash Cooking One-on-One” in 2004; and “Culinary Birds” in 2013.

For Ash, who grew up with his grandparents on an isolated mountain ranch in Colorado, foraging was not a fashionable pastime but a lifelong skill he developed out of necessity. In his new book, he elevates it into a lofty ambition that could help feed the world in the future.

“My grandmother taught me how to forage wild plants such as lamb’s-quarter, wild asparagus, purslane and huckleberries, and to catch trout with my hands,” Ash writes in the introduction to “Cooking Wild.” “It’s important today to identify and preserve wild foods, for they represent a biodiversity that can help us maintain our food supply and feed our rapidly growing population.”

Like his award-winning “Culinary Birds,” the new book was written in conjunction with James O. Fraioli and features Instagram-worthy photographs of raw ingredients and finished dishes. The cookbook covers spring treasures like fiddlehead ferns and ramps as well as the earthy bounty of porcini and black trumpet mushrooms in fall and winter.

All 150 inventive and seasonal recipes are made from uncultivated foods — many found as close as your local supermarket — and range from Grilled Asparagus with Pecorino and Prosciutto to Rockfish Cakes with Homemade Tartar Sauce.

“Seafood is the last of the truly wild organisms on earth,” said Ash, who has worked closely with Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch initiative to help consumers make environmentally sound, sustainable choices. “Already, 50 percent of our seafood is farmed. In a generation or two, truly wild seafood may be a luxury food.”

Many Wine Country back yards contain stinging nettles, whose prickly leaves harbor painful formic acid. Once cooked, they thankfully lose their sting and provide an array of nutrients, from iron and potassium to vitamins A and C.

“Choose young plants (less than a knee high) when foraging, and be sure to protect yourself by wearing gloves, pants and long sleeves,” Ash advises. “Pick just the top four leaves.”

Wild Arugula, a relative of commercially grown arugula, has a more peppery kick than its cultivated cousin and is native to Italy, where it has been foraged for centuries.

“To really appreciate its zingy flavor, I think it’s best eaten raw,” Ash said. “Toss it in a salad with salty prosciutto and sweet watermelon, or scatter it on top of pizza.”

Like many wild plants, the sweet, dainty stalks of wild asparagus can be found along small streams or irrigation ditches in the cool climate of early spring. Ash’s book includes a couple of recipes for the spring spears, including a salad and a soup.

Wild rhubarb, also known as pieplant, is easily spotted because it either has bright red stalks and deep green leaves, or green stalks that don’t turn red at all (the cultivated kind has pink or light red stalks).

“Wild rhubarb is one of the first plants of spring, and like spring greens, it is considered a blood thiner in folk wisdom,” Ash said. “The large triangular leaves of the rhubarb plant are toxic, so cut them off and discard them.”

The cookbook also includes recipes for wild meats such as venison and wild boar, as well as sustainable fish and shellfish such as farmed Manila clams and Pacific rockfish, which has been returned to sustainable levels thanks to an emergency fishing closure on the West Coast.

“Rockfish are an excellent fish for eating,” Ash said. “If you’ve caught or bought a whole rockfish but prefer to fillet it before cooking, be sure to keep the head and bones. They make fantastic fish stock because they are lean and clean tasting.”


The following recipes are reprinted with permission from “Cooking Wild” by Chef John Ash and James O. Fraioli.

Grilled Asparagus with Lemon Olive Oil, Pecorino and Prosciutto

Serves 4

1 pound fresh asparagus, trimmed

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

Flaky sea salt (such as Maldon)

Freshly ground black pepper

3 tablespoons Italian or California

Lemon-infused extra-virgin olive oil

2 ounces pecorino or Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, thinly shaved with a vegetable peeler

8 very thin slices of prosciutto

3 tablespoons drained capers, patted dry and fried in olive oil until crisp

Lemon wedges, for serving

Prepare a charcoal grill for or preheat a gas grill to medium-high heat.

Brush the asparagus with the extra-virgin olive oil and season generously with salt and pepper to taste. Grill the asparagus, turning as needed, until lightly browned on all sides but still green and crisp.

Place on a plate and drizzle with the lemon olive oil. Scatter the cheese over the asparagus, arrange the prosciutto attractively on top, and sprinkle with the capers. Serve with the lemon wedges.


Salad of Wild Arugula, Baby Artichokes and Fennel

Serves 4

2 teaspoons finely chopped shallot or green onion (white part only)

1 teaspoon honey

5 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice, divided

1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil

Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

4 baby artichokes

1 small head fennel, trimmed

8 ounces wild arugula

½ cup shaved Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese

Edible flowers, such as borage or calendula, for garnish (optional)

In a medium bowl, combine the shallot, honey, and 3 tablespoons of the lemon juice. Gradually whisk in the olive oil to emulsify. Season the dressing with salt and pepper to taste and set aside.

Fill a medium bowl with water and add the remaining 2 tablespoons lemon juice. Using a sharp

knife, peel the artichokes down to the tender white core. Using a mandoline or sharp knife, cut the artichokes into very thin slices. Put them in the lemon water to keep them from turning brown. Cut the fennel into similarly thin slices in the same way.

Add the arugula to the bowl with the dressing and toss to coat.

Drain the artichokes and pat dry. Add the artichokes and fennel to the bowl and toss to coat. Divide the salad among four salad plates. Top with the cheese, garnish with the edible flowers, if using, and serve immediately.


Rockfish Cakes with Homemade Tartar Sauce

Serves 8 as an appetizer, or 4 as a main course

4 ounces fresh rockfish, finely diced

4 ounces fresh rockfish, very finely chopped

2 ounces fresh uncooked shrimp, finely diced

1 large egg white, beaten

2 tablespoons finely diced red or yellow bell pepper, or a combination

1 tablespoon finely chopped green onion (white and green parts)

2 teaspoons lemon zest

2 teaspoons mayonnaise, or more as needed

2 teaspoons drained and chopped capers

½ teaspoon seeded and finely chopped jalapeño pepper, or more to taste

Kosher or sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

1/3 cup to 1/2 cup panko, or other coarse dry breadcrumbs, plus more for dredging

Olive oil, for sautéing

1 recipe Homemade Tartar Sauce (below)

In a medium bowl, combine the rockfish, shrimp, egg white, bell peppers, green onion, lemon zest, mayonnaise, capers, and jalapeño. Season with salt and black pepper, and stir in the panko breadcrumbs. The mixture should just hold together and at the same time not be too dense and heavy. Add more breadcrumbs or mayonnaise if needed. Divide the mixture and pat to form into eight cakes no thicker than 1-inch. NOTE: The cakes may be prepared in advance to this point. Store uncovered in the refrigerator for up to 4 hours.

To finish, place more panko in a shallow dish and season with salt and black pepper, and dredge the cakes, patting gently to adhere panko. In a large sauté pan, heat 1/8 inch of oil over medium heat. Sauté the cakes, turning once, until golden brown, about 3 minutes per side. Serve immediately with a dollop of tartar sauce.


Homemade Tartar Sauce

Serves 8 to accompany an appetizer, or 4 with a main course

½ cup good-quality mayonnaise

1 small hard-cooked egg, roughly chopped

2 tablespoons finely chopped pickles or cornichons

1 tablespoon white wine vinegar

1 tablespoon drained capers

1 teaspoon grainy mustard

Pinch of kosher salt

Pinch of freshly ground black pepper

In a mini food processor or chopper, combine the mayonnaise, egg, pickles, vinegar, capers, mustard, salt, and pepper. Pulse several times until all the ingredients are well mixed but not puréed. Refrigerate until ready to use.

Staff writer Diane Peterson can be reached at 521-5287 or diane.peterson@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @dianepete56.

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