It is hard not to be a foodie when you live in the Napa Valley. We are surrounded by hearty vegetable gardens, wild mushrooms, fresh spices, citrus, fruit bushes and trees, grape vines, free range farm animals for cheeses and meats, with fresh seafood nearby.
A simple meal here, even if it really is a simple meal, often has a certain flair. A salad becomes arugula with fresh figs and prosciutto; spaghetti becomes linguini with heirloom tomato marinara; a sandwich becomes a fresh basil, mozzarella and roasted red pepper panini.
We also happen to be surrounded by some of the most gifted chefs in the world. Given our reputation as a grand culinary region, this writer decided to get inspired by some of our famous local chefs and see what they are cooking or what they recommend for Thanksgiving this year. Our chefs also tell us which Napa Valley wines they would pair with their meals.
Pawlcyn owns three of Napa Valley’s most beloved restaurants — Mustard’s Grill, Go Fish and Cindy’s Backstreet Kitchen. Pawlcyn is cooking turkey for Thanksgiving, and depending on the weather, it will be done either outside on a Green Egg-brand barbecue or inside in a wood burning oven.
A recent, personal favorite of Pawlcyn’s is Kabocha squash gratin. The Kabocha squash, she explains, is firm, dense and not too sweet. (It can be substituted with butternut squash). The best part of this dish is that it can be baked a day ahead — a stress reducer for anyone cooking the big meal. You bake the squash, mash it and add in goat or grated Gruyere cheese. Beat in 1-2 eggs, a little milk or cream and season with salt, pepper and nutmeg. Place this in a gratin or casserole dish, top with bread crumbs and extra cheese and bake for 20-25 minutes in a 350-degree oven. A Lang & Reed Cabernet Franc or the School House Pinot Noir is her wine choice for the meal.
Hoffman, chef at Michelin-starred étoile Restaurant in Yountville has cooking in his blood. His grandparents were the original owners of the French Laundry and Hoffman was an active part of the kitchen from an early age. At étoile, one of the main dishes being served on Thanksgiving Day is John Dory fish, which he explains as super light and flaky. To accompany the fish, Hoffman recommends brown butter spatzle, which would also work well with turkey. Hoffman notes that the batter is very simple to make, using every day ingredients such as flour, water, butter, eggs and salt which are mixed to a sticky consistency. Using something as simple as a perforated pan, the spatzle batter is then slid back and forth in the pan over boiling water so that small amounts of batter fall and cook in the water. The cooked spatzle is then strained off of the water and sautéed in butter until golden brown.
Hoffman pairs the Domaine Chandon Carneros Chardonnay 2006 with this dish. If you take a look at the full Thanksgiving menu at étoile, you may not end up cooking at all — you may head straight to the restaurant for the holiday.
Lappetito has been the executive chef at The Wine Spectator Greystone Restaurant at The Culinary Institute of America in St. Helena for more than a decade. The restaurant is offering this special soup for the fall: a roasted butternut squash soup with toasted pumpkin seeds.
Halve a butternut squash and roast it in the oven for about 50 minutes. In a separate pan, onions are sautéed in olive oil; 5 cups of chicken or vegetable stock, spices and then the squash are added. The restaurant infuses the spices into the cooking pot by creating a sachet that gets dipped into the stock. Puree the mixture and add a half cup of heavy cream, salt and pepper and a garnish of toasted pumpkin seeds. The full recipe can be seen in “Seasons in the Wine Country: Recipes from The Culinary Institute of America at Greystone” by Cate Conniff-Dobrich (Chronicle Books). A perfect holiday gift for food and wine lovers (it gives wine pairings too). Traci Dutton, the CIA’s Sommelier and Beverage manager, recommends a Riesling with a touch of sweetness to pair with this dish.
Sharp is executive chef of the Michelin-starred Solbar Restaurant in Calistoga. He is preparing turkey for Thanksgiving but will brine and roast the breast while deep frying the leg. This, he says, turns the different parts of the turkey into the best versions of themselves. Accompanying the turkey is one of his personal favorites — sour cream and chive whipped potatoes. At Solbar, Brandon concentrates on making the best possible version of traditional dishes. For the dish, Yukon potatoes are boiled then dried. Add hot sour cream and slowly add in chunks of cold butter (not melted). Sharp explains that using cold butter will result in creamier potatoes, while also letting you use more butter without making the dish too greasy. Whip potatoes and add in desired amount of chopped chives. Brandon recommends Fisher Vineyards “Unity” Rosé of Cabernet Sauvignon; Lang & Reed’s “Two Fourteen” Cabernet Franc or Chateau Montelena’s “The Montelena Estate” Zinfandel with dinner.
Whether cooking the Thanksgiving meal or not, we should all take a moment to look around us and be thankful for what we have here in the Napa Valley.
Catherine Seda, a Register wine columnist, works for Balzac Communications & Marketing in Napa, holds a diploma in wine and spirits from the WSET, and has become a foodie since living in the Napa Valley.