A feast for Oktoberfest in Wine Country

It’s Oktoberfest time in Wine Country, and we share some recipes from local chefs who are celebrating the German festival with food and beer.|

For three weeks every fall, the German city of Munich throws a gigantic beer, food and music festival that rivals the massive celebrations of carnaval in Brazil and Burning Man in Nevada.

Originating as a royal wedding held in a meadow outside Munich in 1810, the folk festival known as Oktoberfest has continued to grow in popularity through the years, with entertainment add-ons ranging from horse races and parades to rides and brass bands.

Dressed in leather shorts and dirndl skirts, the Bavarians sing folk songs and drink special Oktoberfest brews out of 1-liter mugs while sharing their love of suds and schnitzel with visitors from all over Germany and the world.

“It’s all about eating and drinking,” said Gesine Kicherer, co-owner of Franchetti’s Wood Fire Kitchen in Santa Rosa, who grew up in Stuttgart, Germany. “It’s held outdoors with hundreds of tents set up, and each tent is hosted by a beer company … and there’s live music in every tent, with all the traditional bands and German country music.”

Along with other German immigrants across the U.S., Kicherer and her husband, chef John Franchetti, will be serving traditional German foods this month at their restaurant as a warm up to their own Oktoberfest Grand Finale Buffet this Sunday featuring a whole roasted pig along with generous sides of German potato salad and roasted spaetzle, dumplings and red cabbage.

“This is our third year, but it’s the first year we’re going to elevate the Oktoberfest with music and dancing,” Kicherer said. “We will have an emcee … I want people to have a good time like they could if they were in Germany.”

With the price of a trip to Germany for Oktoberfest soaring to around $5,000 for an American (according to WalletHub, a personal-finance website), it pays to celebrate Oktoberfest closer to home in order to have more dough to spend on those tasty bread dumplings and hefeweizen wheat beers.

At all three HopMonk Taverns in the North Bay - Sonoma, Sebastopol and Novato - owner Dean Biersch is also serving traditional German dishes this month as the opening act for his second annual Funkendank Oktoberfest, a gala beer and music party set for Oct. 21 at SOMO Village in Rohnert Park. The big brew-haha includes live music on two stages and a beer garden serving traditional, unfiltered German beers from wooden kegs (the funky sours in Funkendank) as well as an array of hoppy beers (the dank in Funkendank) from local breweries such as Fogbelt, Sonoma Springs and Bear Republic.

“What’s interesting is those very unique flavor profiles pair well together,” Biersch said. “We basically have built the festival around those two styles.”

Here’s a look at some of the traditional German foods you may want to try out this month in your kitchen for your own Oktoberfest celebration, with recipes supplied by both Franchetti’s and HopMonks:

Starting in late September, Franchetti’s started rolling out a few German specialties every week that range from the salty German pretzels and crunchy Schnitzel with Fries to a more exotic fare like German Gulasch and Dumplings.

“You find schnitzel everywhere in Germany, both at home and at restaurants,” Kicherer said. “It’s the pork tenderloin, but it has some fat in it. That’s what you need - you can’t make it with lean meat.”

To make the schnitzel, you need to pound the cutlet and coat it with an egg slurry, flour and bread crumbs, then fry it up to crispy perfection. Done right, it’s tender and juicy inside, and irresistibly crunchy outside.

“People always ask, ‘Why don’t you put German food on the menu?” Kicherer said. “My dream is to do a schnitzel factory one day.”?Perfect for cooler weather and heartier appetites, Franchetti’s makes its German Gulasch with braised beef and sweet paprika and tomato laced gravy.

“The tomato sauce has to be made with tomato paste - that’s what gives it the flavor,” she said. “We use lots of paprika, lots of onions and the tomato paste.”

Franchetti’s has also come up with a simple farmers breakfast of roasted potatoes and apples studded with chunks of blood sausage custom made by the Sonoma County Meat Co. of Santa Rosa. The dish can also serve as a simple supper as well.

“We eat this all the time for dinner,” Kicherer said. “Typically, we eat it with three kinds of sausage: beef liver, blood sausage and pork sausage.”

Finally, Franchetti’s Oktoberfest menu gives a tip of its Tyrolean hat to Maultascehn, a giant ravioli stuffed with pork sausage and spinach and served up in a savory broth. This regional favorite hails from the Swabia region in southwest Germany, where Stuttgart hosts the second-largest beer festival in the world (after Munich’s Oktoberfest.)

“My whole family goes and I get to see the pictures,” Kicherer said. “The outfits are really fun.”

The German people are not shy about their baking prowess and are known for their pies and tarts. So Franchetti’s has been baking Apple Cakes and Fried Apple Rings along with the traditional Plum Cake, which will be served at the Grand Finale Buffet.

“The plum cake is a tart made with a yeast crust that is not sweet,” she said. “It has a crumble top made with butter, sugar and flour.”

Over at the HopMonk taverns, Chef Randi Dozhier has come up with some tasty appetizers to serve with all of the traditional Oktoberfest beers as well as the house beer - Kellerbier - an unfiltered pilsner that is custom brewed for HopMonk by Biersch’s one-time partner, Dan Gordon of Gordon Biersch Brewing Co. of San Jose.

The Rauchbiers and Marzens served at Oktoberfest for many years tend to be on the heavy side, with more malt flavor than hops, Biersch said.

“They are big, smooth, malty beers - very old school,” Biersch said. “Now the Helles Lager or Export style is more popular - it’s lighter, and you drink it in liter mugs.”

For Oktoberfest, Hopmonk is also serving a hybrid-style Festbier brewed by Gordon Biersch Brewing Co. that is rich and malty, like the old-school beers, but have a bit of a hoppy finish.

“You can buy it anywhere.” Biersch said. “It’s only 5.6 percent alcohol, which is moderate. It’s malty but very drinkable.”

One of the appetizers served by HopMonk provides a twist on the ubiquitous fried pork cutlets: Dozhier deep fries some pork meatballs, calls them Schnitzel Bites and serves them with a sour cream-dill dipping sauce.

“It’s easy and tasty and traditional,” Dozhier said. “The bites are made out of ground pork, and we use a Kellerbier batter instead of an egg wash … and dip them in a panko-Parmesan blend and fry them.”

Another flavorful small bite on the HopMonk menu through Oct. 22 is the Currywurst, a classic Berliner dish that features German bratwurst sliced and grilled, then served on a bed of warm sauerkraut topped with a mustard curry chutney sauce.

As a hearty entree, HopMonk is slow roasting a classic Sauerbraten, a German-style braised pot roast, and serving it with warm potato salad and sautéed root vegetables.

“It’s a national plate,” Biersch said of the dish. “It’s one of my personal favorites in the fall, when it’s turning cool and you want something hearty.”

The meat is marinated for up to 48 hours in vinegar or wine, vegetables and pickling spices, to infuse the roast with more flavor. Then it is braised in the marinade juices, which are strained off and sweetened with crushed gingersnaps, creating a nice balance between the sour and the sweet.

“The house beers go really well with it,” Dozhier said.

“It would be really hard to find a beer that doesn’t go with the Sauerbraten.”

Every fall, Biersch said he gets queries about why his restaurants do not offer German food on the menu all year long.

“I ask them, ‘How many times did you go out for German food last year,’” he said dryly. “It’s a small bite club … but I definitely think of German food in the fall and winter.”

The following four recipes are from John Franchetti of Franchetti’s Wood Fire Kitchen.

Pork Schnitzel

Makes 6 servings

6 boneless top pork loin chops (1/2 inch thick), trimmed

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/3 cup all-purpose flour

1/4 cup dried bread crumbs

1 egg

1/4 cup milk

3 tablespoons oil

4 lemons

Place chops between two sheets of waxed paper. With a meat mallet or rolling pin, pound to 1/8 inch thick. Sprinkle both sides with salt.

Measure flour and bread crumbs onto separate sheet sof waxed paper. Whisk together egg and milk in bowl.

Lightly coat cutlets in flour, shaking off excess; dip in egg mixture, then into bread crumbs, pressing crumbs to coat.

Heat oil in a large, nonstick skillet, over medium high heat. Working in batches, add cutlets to skillet; cook, turning once, until golden brown, about 3 minutes per side.

Remove cutlines to warm platter. Serve immediately with lemon wedges.


Makes 4 servings

1 pound, 2 ounces sliced beef (chuck without bones)

3/4 pound yellow onions

1 small red pepper

1 small green pepper

3 tablespoons vegetable oil

- Salt

- Freshly ground pepper

- Sweet paprika

1 tablespoon tomato paste

1/2 cup water

1/2 cup dry red wine

1/3 cup creme fraiche

Rinse the beef under cold running water, pat dry and cut into cubes.

peel, halve and slice the onions. Cut the peppers in half and remove the stalks, seeds and white ribs on the inside. Wash and cut into fine strips.

Heat the oil in pan and brown the cubes of beef thoroughly, adding them to the pan in 2 batches. Season with salt, freshly ground pepper and paprika.

Add the vegetables to the pan and lightly braise. Add the tomato paste, water and red wine and simmer for 40 minutes, until tender. Season once again to taste with salt, pepper and paprika. Stir in the creme fraiche.

Serve a Bread Roll Dumpling with each bowl (recipe below.)

Bread Roll Dumplings

Makes 12 dumplings

2 ounces lean bacon

2 medium yellow onions

1 1/2 tablespoons butter

8 stale bread rolls

1 1/4 cup milk

1 ounce butter

4 eggs

2 tablespoons chopped parsley

- Salt

- Boiling salted water

Dice the bacon and peel and finely dice the onions. Melt butter and fry the bacon until crisp. Add the onion and saute until transparent. Cube the bread rolls and put in a bowl. Heat the milk and butter and pour over the cubed bread. Stir thoroughly. Work in the bacon and onion mixture along with the fat. Beat the eggs with the parsley and work into the cooled braed mixture. Season wiht salt.

With floured hands, form 12 dumplings. Place in boiling salted water, bring back to the boil, then simmer gently for about 4 minutes.

This cake can be served warm or at room temperature with or without a little softly whipped, barely sweetened heavy cream or a spoonful of ice cream.

Apple Rum Cake

Makes 1 8-inch cake

3/4 cup all-purpose flour

3/4 teaspoon baking powder

- Pinch of salt

4 large apples (choose 4 different kinds)

2 large eggs

3/4 cup sugar

3 tablespoons dark rum

1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted and cooled

Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Generously butter an 8-inch springform pan and put it on a baking sheet lined with a silicone baking mat or parchment paper and put the springform on it.

Whisk the flour, baking powder and salt together in a small bowl.

Peel the apples, cut them in half and remove the coires. Cut the apples into 1- to 2-inch chunks.

In a medium bowl, beat the eggs with a whisk until they’re foamy. Pour in the sugar and whisk for a minute or so to blend. Whisk in the rum and vanilla. Whisk in half the flour mixture and when it is incorporated, add half the melted butter, followed by the rest of the flour and the remaining butter, mixing gently after each addition so that you have a smooth rather thick batter. Scrape the mixture into the pan and poke with the spatula to make sure it is even.

Slice the pan into the oven and bake for 50 to 60 minutes, or until the top of the cake is golden brown and a knife inserted deep into the center comes out clean. The cake may pull away from the sides of the pan. Transfer to a cool rack and let rest for 5 minutes.

Carefully run a blunt knife around the edges of the cake and remove the sides of the springform pan (opening it slowly to make sure there aren’t any apples stuck to it.) Allow the cake to cool until it is just slightly warm or at room temperature.

To remove the cake from the bottom of the springform pan, wait until it is almost cooled, then run a long spatula between the cake and the pan.

Cover the top of the cake with a piece of parchment or wax paper and invert it onto a rack.

Carefully remove the bottom of the pan and turn the cake over onto a serving dish.

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

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