T is for Top Surgery

1, March 2014.jpg

(early march. number 47.)


      This dinner was a benefit for our friend Sammy Loper. Because Sammy was looking to organize an event which pretty much resembled Secret Restaurant Portland, I suggested that the benefit be March's SR event. 

     Sammy specifically enlisted myself and Kelsey Nelsen, a mutual friend with astoundingly good cooking chops, to design the menu and cook. So for this dinner, Kelsey and I did all the planning and generally took the lead. Lucas and Sofie expertly executed the dishes with us. 

    Another difference: we had wine pairings. Sammy's friend Charlotte Prager made what everyone agreed were exceptional choices based on descriptions of the dishes. 

    The food was Italian, Sammy's favored cuisine. We left out rosemary, Sammy's least favorite herb. The meal was put on affordably, so that a maximum of money could be raised (as opposed to SR Portland's usual mode of making negative dollars. Having Sammy and friends backing this meal, as opposed to Lucas, actually meant that that vast majority of ingredient costs were paid for with Food Stamps! Thanks, Government!). It was kept strictly vegetarian and strictly MARCH. March is known to many cooks, ourselves included, as the produce doldrums of the year. Stored roots are beginning to get exhausted holding it together, spring's magic hasn't quite made anything interesting sprout up. But lemons remain. Lemons fix up nearly everything. 

     We found the challenge of making Italian food with no tomatoes (not even canned) exciting and rewarding. We did our utmost to make parsnips and beets, vegetables that don't normally thrill the masses, the stars of the meal. An economic choice as well as a stimulating, old fashioned/practical move, we made an enormous batch of ricotta and treated it 3 separate ways in 3 separate dishes. 

            The cooking and eating and fundraising all proved successful!


Of note:

    Peter Schweitzer, our photographer, had to be in California that weekend. His wife and our dear friend/collaborator Kate (she is the mysterious lady who appears in most every collection of photographs; it is strange to not see her in any of these) filled the bill for their creative team. She took these photographs (except the first three, snapped by me during prep) with his camera, and he edited them afterwards. Kate deserves an extra special shout-out! She spent the evening as part of the kitchen crew, helping with decorations and lighting (as she often does) in addition to serving and bussing tables. 

    Since the dinner was a benefit where advanced tickets were sold, the kitchen crew did not have seats at the dinner table, which was a first for us. It felt more like we were putting on a production than usual: we'd make entrances to announce and deliver dishes, then duck backstage to hang out in the prep room, drinking the unserved wine from each course straight from the bottle. 


Italian Cheeses and Light Snacks

Italian cheeses selected by Elizabeth Ferguson, who knows her cheese; she works at the Woodsman Market, Roman Candle, and Ava Gene's. Alas, the little cards we had were lost in the cleanup, though you can catch a glimpse of some of them in one of the photos. 

Pickles courtesy of Kelsey's summer. Cucumber, plum, garlic, green beans…

Almonds roasted with coconut oil, honey, and Maldon sea salt. 


(( wine pairing ))

La Quercia, Abruzzo, Italy. 


Resin, lime, & green apple.



Cavolo Nero/Radicchio/Herb Salad

Kale and radicchio spent a long time in a lemon bath, becoming tender and reducing bitterness. They were dressed with a vegetarian friendly caesar style dressing, then tossed with a large quantity of fresh parsley and marjoram.


(( wine pairing ))

Collin, Crémant De Limoux,

"Tradition" Limoux, France

Chardonnay, Chenin Blanc, Pinot Noir

Chalk, Citrus, Bright & Rich



Parsnip/Mushroom/Walnut/Garlic Butter Soup 

The last of Kelsey's homegrown parsnips. We put the chopped pieces in roasting dishes with lots of butter, started baking at high heat, and as they started to caramelize around the edges, we basted them in mushroom broth (prepared the night before) and reduced the heat. As the parsnips continued cooking and absorbed the broth, we'd turn and baste them more. We reduced the heat a third time, until they were reduced to a meaty depth of flavor unheard of in everyone's least favorite winter vegetable. 

When they were done, Lucas arrived and combined them with the remaining mushroom broth, toasted up some walnuts, added them, and blitzed the whole deal in the Vitamix. He then got to work on Lucas soup-dressing-magic, making a crazy walnut garlic sage butter puree the same color as the soup to stir in. Then he made a bright, zingy green sauce from herbs and lemons. We scattered toasted walnut pieces and the sauce on top of each bowl, and garnished with tiny thyme sprigs.  It was rich and sumptuous. 



I made classic, plain risotto for dinner on Thursday, the night Sofie and I made the cheese. This was all in the plan, to then turn that dinner into these little miracles. 

Most of a bottle of pino grigio, an onion, some butter, a large knob of parmesan, a delicious veggie broth I made featuring the skins of the parsley root featured in dinner #46, and a lot of stirring. 

Rolled in egg/breadcrumbs, shallow fried. When debating whether to serve guests two or three arancini, we happened to glance at Sammy's printed invitation menus, where we noticed the subtle circles suggestive of the breasts to be removed.

All of us had the idea at the same moment, and thus commenced an absurd session where we broiled on extra parmesan to represent the areolas, then made a quick 'red sauce' of vague italian-ness with ketchup and balsamic vinegar and chili to represent the nipples. 

The explosion of laughter we heard as we walked away after dropping them off was priceless.


(( wine pairing ))

"Giogantinu" Sardinia, Italy.

Vermentino Di Gallura

Creamy Vanilla, Lemon, Smoke & Pine Nut



Beet, Lemon, and Ricotta Manicotti

Kelsey had made a beet ravioli for a beet-themed dinner party a month or two ago. When we first met to plan the menu, I had just recently eaten delightful manicotti at Nonna, the new Italian place from Dayna McEarlean. 

Keeping in mind our attempt to work with March vegetables, the idea of combining the two experiences into one super-dish came naturally. 

Sofie and I had made really successful ricotta for dinner #38, and we repeated the process here. Credit to these adorable ladies in Brooklyn for sparking this method of home ricotta making. 

We doused the baking dishes full of manicotti with lemon butter sauce periodically as they cooked. It had a brightness, a zing to it that we were very proud of. 


Grilled broccolini, fennel, celeriac salad with lemon & pepper formaggio

Broccolini blanched, dressed in white wine vinegar, olive oil, garlic, and black pepper, then grilled until smoky on one side. Cooled, and tossed with shaved fennel and matchstick celeriac, also dressed with lemon and olive oil. Topped with some of the ricotta that had cured for a day with raw garlic, loads of lemon zest, and gaboonds of black pepper.


(( wine pairing ))

Fattoria Villa Ligi

"Vernaculum" Pergola, Italy

Vernaccia Rossa Di Pergola

Candied cherry, violet, herbs & earth



Poached Pear in Red Wine with Gorganzola Crema, served with Anise Cookies

A thyme and black pepper simple syrup, mixed with a bottle of pinot noir, saturating and tenderizing delicious peeled comice pears. Served in a cup with the red wine juice in the bottom.

Crema made silky smooth in the Vitamix from a small batch of creme fraîche, a scoop of ricotta, and some gorgonzola. 

Anise/white wine cookies in a shell shape. 


(( wine pairing ))

La Collina, "Lunaris Secco"

Emilia, Italy


Tart, Honey, White Flowers