Friday, April 25, 2008

Fun Playing with Extra Virgin Olive Oil

Yes, I know, Passover isn't over yet. However, when Chef Paul Minillo mentioned at the Burgess Wine Dinner that the next special dinner at the Baricelli Inn would be April 24, and would feature the Olive Oil and Wines of Villa Calcinaia, I knew I could not miss this. It is the best Olive Oil I have ever tasted, and so I knew I had to taste their wines, as well as whatever wonderful food Chef Paul would pair with it. So, we took a "temporary break" from Passover last night, to enjoy this incredible meal.

Click this link for more info on the Olive Oil

We didn't fool around in "breaking" Passover - as bread was served with the first wine pour. While I might otherwise have simply passed on it (sorry) - the little bottle of olive oil on the table beckoned, and I could not resist its siren song.

After the first slice of a rather plain bread (which was an ideal foil for the olive oil), the bread service for the evening switched to this amazing Olive Bread. All of the breads served at Baricelli are sourced from Mediterra Bakehouse in Pittsburgh, PA.

After Chef Paul described the menu (and those pictures apparently didn't click, because I can't find them!), our host, Count Sebastiano Capponi, owner of a 500 year old estate in Greve, Tuscany, described his wines and that fabulous olive oil.

As we sipped on the Villa Calcinaia Comitale 2006, a crisp white, the first course was served:

Sauteed Halibut with Mixed Heirloom Tomatoes, Basil & Fennel, Calcinaia EVOO

Halibut is now in season, and this was a perfect example of it. The fish was pristinely fresh, light and flaky, with a little bite in the crust, and accompanied by greenhouse tomatoes that tasted of mid-summer. The whole dish was resplendent atop a mound of this exquisite olive oil.

The next wine, Villa Calcinaia Chianti Classico 2004, was then poured.

Papperdelle Puttanesco

The pasta was perfectly cooked, and the sauce had a little bite to it, which played beautifully off of the slightly tannic wine. As per usual at Baricelli, the pasta was topped with just the right amount of sauce.

We had barely touched our plates when Chef Paul came around, bearing cheese! Saying "I'm not supposed to do this" - he proceeded to sprinkle some cheese over our plates.

I had wondered why there was no cheese in the first place - then Chef explained that because he had used Anchovy in the sauce, he had initially followed the Italian tradition of not adding cheese to the dish. Then, he changed his mind! The anchovy provided that lovely bite I mentioned, but it wasn't at all overpowering (which I often find to be the case with anchovy). And I love cheese with anything- especially Baricelli Cheese Company cheese! As with the Halibut course - I cleaned my plate (and I was not the only person at our table guilty of sopping up every bit of goodness with the Olive Bread).

Our third wine was then poured - Villa Calcinaia Chianti Classico Reserva 2004. This wine was amazingly smooth, and proved a perfect pair with the next course.

Paul's Heirloom Pork Sausage with Swiss Chard & Ramps

I think it is fair to say that, after enjoying this course, Passover was pretty much (you should pardon the expression), toast. I think we broke every rule in the book with one dish - toothsome sausage laced with pepper that played beautifully off of the wine, served over cheesy polenta that had its own peppery flavor, and accented with the chard and ramps - a fabulous dish.

Our last savory wine was the Villa Calcinaia Casarsa 2004.

Sauteed Duck Leg with Cannellini Beans & Spring Veggies

This was bone-licking good - the meat was tender and not the least bit greasy and the skin was perfectly crispy and succulent. And again, the wine pairing was spot-on.

For dessert, we were first treated to an amazing sweet wine, the Villa Calcinaia Vin Santo. This wine was complex, nutty, fruity and warming all at the same time.

V/C EVOO Ice Cream with Basil & Chocolate Truffle

Not only was there EVOO in the ice cream - the dessert was plated over a lovely pool of EVOO and it all went together perfectly.

The truffle, also made in-house, was divinely chocolatey. It brought the wine and ice cream together in a luxurious harmony.

So today, it's back to Matzo. I'm not sure why; I guess it's just in my DNA. But oh, what a feast we enjoyed last night! Thank you to the wonderful staff and kitchen at the Baricelli Inn for this unique and tasty experience.

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