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World Chefs: Cakebread cookbook celebrates the harvest

Sep 20, 2011, 2:02 a.m.

By Dorene Internicola

NEW YORK (Reuters) - For 25 years, Cakebread Cellars in the Napa Valley of California has hosted a kind of late-summer camp for chefs.

Each September, the winery invites five of them to a weekend of crash courses in grape-picking, winemaking and artisan food production called the American Harvest Workshop.

In return the chefs concoct multi-course dinners out of ingredients from the winery's favorite, mainly local, purveyors.

To mark the 25th anniversary of the workshop, the winery has collected 100 recipes and paired them with wine in "The Cakebread Cellars American Harvest Cookbook."

Brian Streeter, culinary director of Cakebread Cellars, spoke to Reuters about food and wine, farmers and chefs and his role as camp leader to talented experts on working vacations.

Q: How did this cookbook come about?

A: "The cookbook is a way to tell the story of the American Harvest Workshop program. Twenty-five years ago there was no platform for (bringing together) American wine, chefs and food products, although the Europeans were very good at it."

Q: Is the workshop more of a wine event, or more of a food event?

A: "No one element is emphasized over another. It's the chefs, it's the winery, it's the purveyors. It's what all three bring to the table."

Q: What is your role in the book, the workshop, and the winery?

A: "I put the book together with (winemaker) Jack (Cakebread) and (writer) Janet (Fletcher) and tested all the recipes to make sure they work. At the workshop I'm like a camp leader. My role at the winery is to showcase the wines. That's first and foremost."

Q: Did the recipes in the book come out of the workshop?

A: "Some are from the actual workshop, some are recipes that the chefs sent us. There's a selection of recipes from the winery as well."

Q: Your book recommends wine for each dish. What is the key to a successful pairing?

A: "Ultimately, wine and food pairing is an individual thing. But you are looking for balance, so intense foods probably need intense wines. If they're lighter in style then probably a wine that's lighter is where you want to go."

Ricotta Gnocchi with Spring Herb Pesto

Chef Walter Pisano, the owner of the Tulio restaurant in Seattle, makes his aromatic pesto without basil and garlic. He uses fresh spring herbs, parsley, chives and mint, instead of basil which doesn't mature until summer.

Gnocchi:

1 pound whole-milk ricotta

1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese

Pinch freshly grated nutmeg

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt and freshly ground white pepper

1/2 cup sifted all-purpose flour, or as needed

Pesto:

1 cup flat-leaf parsley leaves

1/4 cup sliced fresh chives

2 tablespoons coarsely chopped fresh mint

3 tablespoons lightly toasted pine nuts

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

1/4 cup plus 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

Freshly ground black pepper

For the gnocchi: In a large bowl, combine the ricotta, Parmesan, nutmeg, salt, and several grinds of pepper. Stir with a wooden spoon until smooth. Add just enough flour to make a soft dough that will not stick to your floured hands, about 1/2 cup. Divide the dough into four equal pieces. On a lightly floured board, with floured hands, roll each piece into a 3/4-inch-thick rope, then cut each rope into 1-inch pieces. You should get 14 to 15 pieces from each rope. Place the gnocchi on a lightly floured tray and refrigerate for two hours to allow the flour to hydrate and the gluten to relax.

For the pesto: In a food processor, combine the parsley, chives, mint, pine nuts and salt and process to a paste. With the motor running, add the olive oil gradually through the feed tube, processing until nearly smooth. Transfer to a bowl and add pepper to taste.

Bring a large pot of unsalted water to a boil over high heat. Add the gnocchi and lower the heat to maintain a bare simmer. Cook until the gnocchi float to the top, about one minute, then cook for one minute longer.

Whisk a little of the hot pasta water into the pesto to thin it to a sauce consistency. Lift the gnocchi out of the pot with a skimmer or strainer and transfer to a warmed serving bowl. Add the pesto and toss to coat evenly. Serve immediately.

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