Six people, most retired; umpteen bottles of wine (two reviewed here); a rousing game of Encore (you think you know more songs, and more of their words, than you actually do!) . . . and a California-Italian rustic meal.
Chef Bob and wife Judy hosted Judy’s sister, Barbara and her husband, Don, who got to know Judy’s teaching partner Sharon and her husband, Craig. With long careers behind us, and with our career patterns having sometimes been just a tad unconventional . . . conversation was animated to say the least. (The two dogs were animated, too, in their way.)
If you don’t know the game, Encore, Google it. People may think they won’t like it, but it’s easy to get sucked in. It’s a team game, shrinking violets tolerated.
Craig showed up lugging two bottles of wine, Don offered one, and I had opened three.
I didn’t open Don’s Justin Vineyards 2004 Isosceles Paso Robles bordeaux blend (cabernet sauvignon, cabernet franc, and merlot, unfiltered). I’ll write about that one when I think of a good party meal to drink it with.
I did open Craig’s Cooper-Garrod 2004 Santa Cruz Mountains Francville Vineyard cabernet franc, which was super; I’ll write a bit about that some other time. When I spotted the offering of Edna Valley Vineyard 2008 Paragon chardonnay from San Luis Obispo County, I knew it would be perfect and that it’s a high-value wine that the buyer can’t go wrong in purchasing or presenting at a party.
I opened my own bottle of Matanzas Creek Winery 2005 Sonoma County syrah. From all that wealth, the two you’ll meet today are:
Edna Valley Vineyard 2008 San Luis Obispo County Paragon chardonnay, often found at around $15. The winery points to its peach and sweet spice character. I’d agree. Its acid mix is perfect, leaving a lovely mild-spice finish. It’s meant to accompany chicken and pork. Always a safe buy.
Matanzas Creek Winery 2005 Sonoma County syrah was a keeper, as I knew when I bought it a couple of years ago at the Bennett Valley winery. It’s inky dark with its edges fading to light, clear purple (meaning it’s still youthful!). All kinds of lush dark fruit surround dark, sweet cherry and a sensation I’d call Rutherford Dust if the wine were a Napa Valley cabernet sauvignon. This is no bordeaux experience, though — it’s pure Rhone, a benchmark syrah. It too matched a rustic California-Italian meal well: two very different wines with what I’d have to admit is a “different” meal.
So: the food. I’ll mention the steamed asparagus first, just to get the veggie covered. I usually serve this veggie “naked,” that is, no sauce, not even butter. I heard no complaints.
Saltimbocca: This is a signature Roman dish, whose name means “jump in the mouth” because it’s usually generously herbed, and textures and flavors definitely catch one’s attention. I went easy on the herbs, for company, but it certainly was not mild.
One of the guests eats little meat but chicken and turkey and occasionally some beef are okay. Saltimbocca combines at least three elements. Some Romans roll it up (roulade) but more serve it layered with generous pan drippings. That’s how I handle saltimbocca.
This was a combination of turkey and cheese; and, changing the Italian convention because the bottom layer was not firm, I built each serving atop those new, thin whole-grain sandwich rounds that are absolutely delicious — one 50-calorie half of the muffin pan-toasted.
Atop the bread, half a generous turkey-breast tender, pounded out to shape, dusted with Trader Joe’s Italian seasoning blend, garlic granules, and fresh-ground black pepper before lightly pan-braising.
Atop that, slow-fried turkey platter bacon and, to finish, a layer of cheese — two-thirds New Zealand sharp white cheddar, one-third Monterey jack. At serving time the saltimbocca went into our combination convection oven/microwave.
The carbohydrate belly-filler was potato gnocchi (I confess: Trader Joe’s sells the very best, at $2). It was dressed with olive oil, grated imported peccorino romano, and garlic granules. It comes out as toothy pillows robed in Pure Italy!
Our house is heated only by a wood-burning fireplace, so with that going full tilt, how could this evening have been anything other than a pleasant success? –Bob Cramer, The Fearless Taster.