It’s a great thing to find a chef (or a wine seller) whose taste so perfectly matches your own that you know you’re going to like anything they give you. Classes with Casey Schanen of Nell Thorn restaurant and Tom Saunderson of Young’s Columbia are like that: Casey is a wonderful, very grounded cook and I tend to adore everything he makes, and Tom’s wine selections are always both tasty and interesting, and the pairings are consistently excellent (right, Tom?)
Last week the theme, insofar as there was one, was food for spring and summer, featuring freshly made pastas. As usual, Casey brought some starting nibbles with him: fresh crusty bread and arbequina olives that were marinated with herbs and oranges.
The first actual course was very simple, just a couple pans of roasted vegetables – the sort of thing we do at home all the time. But this was big fat spears of fresh asparagus nestled amid shreds of caramelised fennel, with plenty of olive oil and salt. So good. And asparagus is notoriously hard to pair with wine, but this went amazingly with the Bonterra organic Sauvignon Blanc that Tom brought, which was bright and clean but still flavorful. It’s been a long time since I had a sauv blanc that I was actually interested in drinking, but I loved this one.
Next Casey demonstrated how to make pasta. He had some egg dough already made up, and showed how to crank it through the machine, then cut out squares and rolled them (with the help of a gnocchi board) into little striated tubes called garganelli. The fresh pasta was then briefly cooked and simmered with prawns and asparagus. We served it with a sprinkling of parmesan and a few bits of chive flower. Elegant and surprisingly light, and went nicely with a Montepulciano d’Abruzzo. I used to make my own pasta, especially for ravioli, but it’s been a heck of a long time since I gave it a try. Maybe we should dig out the old pastamaker.
Gnocchi was next. There wasn’t time to demonstrate making the dumplings from scratch, but Casey had some premade ones that he re-boiled to freshen them, then mixed them with a deadly cream sauce with truffled pecorino in it. He also pan seared some lovely hanger steaks and served slices of them on the gnocchi, topped with calendula petals and parsley. The kind of food that really lets you know you’ve eaten something! The wine pairing here was an Italian wine that I had never seen before: Tormaresca Neprica from Puglia. It was a lovely big wine. We bought a bottle, so I hope to get a more detailed impression of it later.
At the end we passed around some little cornmeal cookies that went fantastically with any remaining wine in the glasses – rather like a polenta pound cake I used to make, but in sugar cookie form. Little flecks of rosemary were a nice touch.