Get a taste of Sonoma during Wine Country Weekend
Many Sonoma County chefs find inspiration in the ancient cultures clustered around the Mediterranean, which share our mild winters and warm, dry summers. They're ideal for producing complex, slow-ripened fruits like wine grapes, healthy olive oils and vegetables.
Since things that grow together go together, the Mediterranean can be mined for all kinds of delicious dishes to complement the wide range of Sonoma-grown wines, from crisp chardonnays to fruity zins.
At the Taste of Sonoma this Saturday, local foodies can learn about some of these classics first-hand from a handful of Sonoma County top toques who will give cooking demos, then hand out tastes with a wine pairing.
“The Taste is a great event, and I'm the first one to give a demo,” said chef Mark Stark, who with his wife Terri, serves as the honorary culinary chair of this year's Sonoma Wine Country Weekend, held Friday through Sunday. “For locals, it's a great way to see all the winemakers and chefs you know.”
When locals need a break from tasting this Saturday, they can sit down and watch a cooking demonstration from one of five chefs, then taste a small bite of Middle Eastern bread salad or Tortilla Espanola, Greek dolmas or Italian meatballs.
Stark will be demonstrating a dish from his newest restaurant, The Bird & the Bottle in Santa Rosa, which combines Southern barbecue and Asian cuisine, with a few Jewish twists. His Tomato and Watermelon Fattoush Salad, made with pumpernickel-rye croutons, grew out of the new farm launched by two of his employees and funded by the Starks. The farm now supplies specialty vegetables to the couple's six restaurants.
“They both have worked for us for 10 years, and this is their dream,” Mark said. “We started planting on May 1 and are growing Padron peppers, Romano beans ... plus Early Girls and heirloom tomatoes.”
Fattoush is the Middle Eastern answer to the bread salad of Italy. It's easy to make and perfect for serving a crowd. Stocking up on the authentic spices is the hardest part: za'atar for the croutons, sumac for the lemony garnish.
Steve Rose of Rose Ranch, who owned the now-closed Vineyards Inn in Kenwood for 35 years, will demonstrate one of the signature dishes of the Iberian peninsula, the classic Tortilla Espanola, a Spanish twist on the Italian frittata.
“I was raised on them,” Rose said of the savory egg and potato dish. “There was always one sitting on the table. My grandparents emigrated from Spain to San Francisco in the late 1800s.”
Next up, Chef Jesse McQuarrie of Feast Catering in Santa Rosa will give a demo of his famous Mac'n'Cheese Lollipops, a savory appetizer that is deep-fried for extra crunch. The whimsical starter will also be served with greens, heirloom tomatoes and a lemon-truffle vinaigrette in the Bubble Lounge, where guests can start the day with a trio of sparkling wines from Gloria Ferrer.
Chef/owner Sofia Petridis-Lim of Taverna Sofia in Healdsburg will share her secrets for creating Greek dolmas, also known as stuffed grape leaves.
“I was taught by my grandma to roll them at about 7 years old,” she said. “It's like rolling a fine cigar. You have to be delicate but firm at the same time.”
The pickled grape leaves are filled with a mixture of rice, fresh herbs and lemon juice, then rolled up and dipped into tzatziki, a tangy yogurt sauce.
“In Greece, we eat them with everything,” she said. “It's mainly an appetizer, but you could make a meal out of it.”
Finally, Chef Adolfo Veronese of Aventine Glen Ellen will roll out a mini-version of his Aventino Meatball, a sweet and sour bite when served with a golden-raisin tomato sauce and basil pesto.
“Last year, we did 4,000 meatballs for the (Kendall-Jackson) tomato festival, and they got eaten in the first half,” he said. “For the Taste, we're making 6,000 to 7,000 meatballs ... I hope I don't run out.”
The following recipe is from Chef Mark Stark, who serves it at his newest restaurant, Bird & The Bottle in Santa Rosa. Za'atar and sumac are available at Savory Spice Shop and Penzeys in Santa Rosa.
Summer Tomato & Watermelon Fattoush Salad with Barrel Aged Feta, Armenian Cucumbers & Pumpernickel Croutons
Makes 4 to 6 servings
2-3 slices pumpernickel bread (may substitute other bread or even pita bread)
2 teaspoons za'atar
4 local tomatoes (Early Girl, Roma or medium size heirlooms)
1/2 small seedless watermelon
4 each Armenian cucumbers (or 2 English cucumbers), peeled
1/4 red onion
2 red radishes
4 ounces quality feta (preferably barrel aged)
2-3 heads of Little Gem lettuce
1/4 bunch basil
1/4 bunch flat parsley