“The truth is in the details.” That’s both a statement and an admonishment that was often delivered to me by a beloved art history professor. And it came back into my mind, as I watched Chef Carl Dahl and Sommelier Peter Kline team up to prepare an especially delicious dinner at Tuesday night’s Go Cooking session.
Chef Carl, as you probably are aware, is the executive chef at Julia’s and Ritorno, two incredibly popular restaurants in Oakville. Julia’s, downtown, on Lakeshore Road, has a sort of Latin flavour to the menu; Ritorno, in north Oakville, near Dundas Street, is devoted to Italian food — deceptively simple dishes — the sort of food that has made dining out in Italy a dependable source of well-being for so many, many years. Our sommelier, Peter Kline, has his own company Bacchus Sommelier Services. From the tone of the on-going repartée, I believe that Dahl and Kline had worked together many times, and from the meal that ensued, the combination proved unbeatable.
The menu for our Go Cooking session was contrived from Ritorno’s Italian heritage: There was an appetizer called Caprese Calzonetti, Gnudi with Bolognese sauce as an entrée and for dessert, Chocolate Budino — a pudding(really a mousse) — with whipped cream and Amarena cherries.
The advent of the appetizer and the accompanying wine assured us that we were in good hands for the evening. “Calzonetti” is a playful word (invented by the chef) to refer to the larger and more serious Italian “calzone” — usually a sandwich-sized turnover, often deep fried, and stuffed with pizza fixings such as tomato sauce, onions, sometimes even pepperoni. Dahl re-invented the dish using empanada dough, stuffing each small pocket with a grape tomato and a dab of buffalo mozzarella and baking until light brown and crispy. These bite size “amuses bouches” were served hot with a vinaigrette that included garlic and lemon juice.
Now lemon and herbs and mozzarella and tomato are a combination of ingredients that would send me into a state of extreme puzzlement when it came to a wine. But Peter rose to the occasion with great aplomb, serving a 2012 Michele Chiarlo Le Marne wine called Gavi. The white wine was crisp and fresh and, to me, had a soft yet citrusy, lemony flavour that was so perfect with the vinaigrette that I am, the moment I finish this blog, about to get myself to the LCBO and try to buy a few bottles. (LCBO #228528). (Since I like to serve seafood salad or shrimp appetizers, I think this would be a superb accompaniment.)
Anyway, the sprightliness of the appetizer was followed by the more filling and substantial entrée, the gnudi, light ricotta dumplings which were given substance with a rich and savoury Bolognese sauce and roasted mushrooms. The dish was paired with a chianti, a 2008 Rocca delle Macie Chianti Classico Riserva (LCBO 930966) which had a fruity richness that underlined the earthiness of the roasted mushrooms.
The climax of the evening was the dessert which allied chocolate, whipping cream and cherries with a wine called Marenco Brachetto d’Aqui (LCBO 320002) which tasted like strawberries, to me. Now, I’m sure that you all know that traditionally, Italians rarely eat rich, sweet desserts — serving fresh fruit is the common practice. But this combination of ingredients and the chance to try the Amarena cherries was well worth the price of inauthenticity.
It was a wonderful evening of eating and drinking. But, along the way, we also learned so many little things: for instance
When chopping garlic, put Kosher salt on your cutting board, so that the garlic smell doesn’t permeate the board.
Callebaut Belgian chocolate can be bought in large bars, melts beautifully and makes a wonderful sauce.
When whipping cream you can start out slowly and then, when everything else is ready, turn the beater up to fast and finish it in a few seconds.
Whipped cream always tastes better if you add a bit of vanilla.
Amarena cherries are truly Italian and hard to come by (Maybe try Longo’s or Denninger’s around Christmas?). Once you eat them you will never, ever, be able to stomach maraschino cherries again.
Buy some half bottles of wine with screw tops. Clean them out when finished drinking and use to store any leftover wine you may have. (Apparently it’s the amount of air that the wine is exposed to that causes it to deteriorate more quickly.)
Anyway, here’s a recipe for Dahl’s Calzonetti. And I’m going to get to the liquor store before all of that white wine is sold out.
from Chef Carl Dahl, Julia’s and Ritorno
2 cups all purpose flour
1/4 cup unsalted butter, melted
2 egg yolks, slightly beaten
1.5 tsp Kosher salt
1/4 cup hot water
1 250 gram ball fresh buffalo mozzarella
1 pint cherry tomatoes
1 bunch fresh basil
2 tsp Kosher salt
1/4 tsp ground black pepper
1) Sift flour into a large mixing bowl. Make a well in the middle and place melted butter and egg yolks into the well. Add 1 cup hot water and salt and mix thoroughly.
2) Form dough into a ball and roll out on to a lightly floured work surface to a thickness of about 1/4 inch. Cut into circles.
3) Place a small amount of the basil, a couple of slices of cherry tomato and a piece of the buffalo mozzarella in the centre of the dough, sprinkle with salt and then fold over in a half moon shape. Seal together with the tines of a fork. Bake or deep-fry the calzonetti until the shell is lightly browned an crispy. Serve hot with the herb vinaigrette.
2 cloves garlic
1/2 tsp Kosher salt
1/4 cup parsley leaves
1 tsp oregano leaves
1 tsp basil leaves
1l2 tsp chili flakes
1 tsp lemon zest
2 tsp lemon juice
3/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
Place the salt on a cutting board and crush the garlic cloves into the salt. Roughly chop the garlic, then add the herbs and, finally, the lemon juice and zest. Transfer to a blender. Add the olive oil and blend on high for 5 seconds. Refrigerate until needed.