Earlier this week, we did a nine-course vegetarian tasting menu for a couple's 25th wedding anniversary. In some respects, the timing was good, this being the last week for local asparagus and sugar snaps, and being the first week for English peas. In other respects, doing vegetarian menus before the onset of the summer vegetables such as squashes, peppers, tomatoes, and eggplants poses its challenges.
This menu is truly a menu of the season and was inspired in large part by what we found at the farmers market and what our growers brought to us: green garlic, garlic scapes, sugar snaps, English peas, fava beans, fennel, asparagus, dandelions, mulberries, morels, and shiitake mushrooms.
Sopa de Ajo. Creamy Soup of Local Green Garlic; Roasted Garlic Scape; Garlic Scape Pesto. This was inspired by the abundance of green garlic and garlic scapes that we have from thinning our garlic and keeping them from blooming so that they will focus on making garlic bulbs. Wine Pairing: Feffiñanes Albariño Rias Baixas 2008.
Fennel. Salad of Fennel Confit, Fennel Latke, and Fennel Slaw; Pernod Cream. We have so much fennel on hand now that we are looking for creative ways to use it. Fennel confit was marinated in herbs, garlic and olive oil then grilled and then poached in olive oil for 10 hours. The greens you see are red-stemmed dandelions. Wine Pairing: White Hall Vineyards Viognier Virginia 2008.
Spring. Sauté of Morels, Peas, Sugar Snaps, Favas, and Garlic Scapes; Achiote Pasta. This was conceived as an open-faced raviolo showing off all the spring vegetables on hand. The morels and veg were cooked in the Tuscan style called trifolati, in the style of truffles, with butter, garlic, and lots of fresh parsley. There's no better spring sauté in the world! Wine Pairing: La Slina Gavi di Gavi 2008.
Napoleon of Local Shiitake Mushrooms. Roasted Shiitakes; Crispy Goat Cheese; Crispy Shiitake Bits; Balsamic Gel. I love shiitakes and goat cheese together (anybody remember my shiitake polenta with herbed goat cheese mousse?) so the napoleon flowed naturally from the disk shape of the mushrooms and the cheese. We wanted some bacon for this dish; the crispy shiitake bits do a great job standing in for the bacon. Balsamic vinegar works really well with shiitakes too. I wanted to use the balsamic as a plate garnish but didn't want to reduce it and get that muddy caramelized balsamic flavor, so I gelled it. Wine Pairing: Swedenburg Pinot Noir Virginia 2008.
Vegetarian Yiouvetsi. Baked Orzo with Tomatoes, Artichokes, Preserved Lemons & Local Goat’s Milk Feta. My Greek friends know that I'm a fairly deft hand with a traditional yiouvetsi, baked orzo with lamb and tomatoes, redolent with olive oil, lemon, and fresh oregano, topped with feta cheese. I had heard of Michael Psilakis doing a vegetarian one, but I never knew what he put in it. That idea has been in the back of my brain for a long time and I am happy to have had the chance to bring it to a menu. This one contains tomatoes, onions, artichokes, house-cured preserved lemons, and garlic scapes. It may not look like much in the photo, but the flavors are intensely amazing. Thanks to Alan at Spriggs Delight Farm for the feta. Wine Pairing: Dupeuble Beaujolais 2008.
Panisse. Fried Chickpea Cake; Smoky Chickpea Salad; Roasted Red Pepper Hummus. For red wine vegetarian courses when tomatoes are not in season, I look to paprika and last year's roasted red peppers. And I love chickpeas. I eat them every day; they are my primary source of protein. This then is a loving homage to the many forms of chickpeas. Note to anyone listening: we tried to make the smoky chickpea salad with fried chickpeas, thinking we could get them crunchy. Instead, they just got leathery and no bueno. Wine Pairing: Borgia Campo de Borja 2008.
Stuffed Piquillo. Sweet Red Piquillo Pepper Stuffed with Israeli Couscous in the Style of Paella. You may have seen me make this couscous on WVPT. It is a customer and staff favorite because the flavors are so amazing. The couscous is flavored with sweet yellow and red peppers, artichoke hearts, yellow onions, green onions, tomatoes, saffron, garlic, and pimentón. And piquillos are the best tasting red pepper in the world. All in all, a terrific dish. Wine Pairing: Finca Sobreño Toro 2005.
Cheese Plate. Artisanal Cheeses; Mulberries; Caerphilly-Pecorino Crackers. I don't eat sweets after a meal; they just don't appeal to me. But I love to finish dinner with cheese and a glass of wine so when the customer told me he'd like to finish dinner with cheese, he was talking my language. I foraged some mulberries and made some crackers to accompany the three artisanal cheeses, one each from New York, Wisconsin, and Virginia. Wine Pairing: Linden Claret Virginia 2006.
Gorgonzola Cheesecake. Candied Walnuts; Port Reduction. Another riff on the cheese theme to end dinner is my subtle gorgonzola cheesecake made with Gorgonzola Dolce. This is my kind of way to finish a meal: all the classic port accompaniments reworked into a dessert. Wine Pairing: Warre’s Otima 10-year old Tawny Port.