Dish of the Week
Bacon Wrapped Pork with Wild Ramps
Ramps were the first food I ever ate that was foraged. I was 17, and under circumstances best left to the ‘can you believe we did that’ file, found myself at some godforsaken campsite in the wilds of Mendocino with my two best friends, hungry, hungover and broke. If memory serves we had some stale French bread and a cheap bottle of red we’d stolen from the buffet table at a Peace and Freedom party two nights before, along with a few mangy carrots and a handful of old potatoes we’d caged from a grocery store on the coast. They wandered off to find some wild sage to flavor the soup ~ for some reason I was entrusted with making a fire ~ returning with a handful of sorry looking things that resembled tiny mutant leeks.
They were, in fact, a form of wild leek, but sorry they were not, packing incredible flavor that gave our simple repast a woody depth redolent of garlic. The rest of the night ended up being memorable for a number of reasons I’d just as soon forget ~ but damn if it wasn’t the best soup ever.
Ramps belong to the Allium family that also includes garlic, leeks, scallions and onions. They are also known as ramsons, wild garlic, and what the French elegantly call ail des bois for their propensity to grow in shaded wooded glades. They generally have a more intense garlic odor than taste, though towards the end of their extremely short growing season (delayed this year by the rain) the bulbs can pack a nice garlicky heat. Chef pays as much attention to the flat scallion-like green tops as he does the dainty tuber shaped bottoms. In this week’s Dish of the Week he used entirely different prep techniques for each.
The tops ended up on the bottom of the dish, after they had been sautéed in VOO, chopped and then formed in a ring mold to make a soft round green bed for the pork. The bulbs and purple striated stalks, lightly pickled in mustard seed, fennel, sugar and champagne vinegar, ended up on top, finishing the dish with bright crunchy little bites.
Gleason Ranch is producing superb animals these days; pork that is full of flavor, bursting with juice. By wrapping the tenderloin in strips of bacon ~ which crisp during the cooking process ~ Ryan extended the long grassy flavors of the meat, adding a salty crunch without losing one bit of wonderful porky flavor. Top to bottom this was a subtle dish of relationships ~ ramps on ramps, pork in pork ~ which, for all its final elegance and finesse, had real down-home ~ dare we say campfire ~ appeal.
When our bartenders presented some potential summer cocktails for me this week, I wasn't surprised to find all three hadn't started life behind the bar, but in the garden and the kitchen. These guys focus a lot of their considerable energy taking classic spirit combinations and putting original spins on them. I half expect to find them chanting under a full moon before long, because in truth alchemy is what they're after. This week I tasted and gave an enthusiastic thumbs up to 2 new rum cocktails, one of them a Kumquat concoction as pretty as it was potent, and a kick ass blended whiskey hi-ball. Two Barndiva classics will also return to the early summer list by popular demand: Dragonfly, Vodka based, and Weapon of Choice, which takes a Sherlock Holmes approach to Pimms Cup.
Sam is our jam guy, forever adapting his Mum’s gold star recipes with a view toward extending their flavor profiles for cocktails. The kumquat marmalade he made for Start Your Engines is wonderful, a perfect balance of citrus sharp fruit to honeyed sweetness. It flavors the drink with an instant limey thump ~ what Geoff calls “shuddery” ~ that's quickly followed by residual sweetness hiding in the pulp, which softens the bite. Using marmalade in drinks is tricky ~ the last thing you want is gunk at the bottom of the glass ~ but while the drink has a bit of pressed kumquat rind in it (which you want, trust me) the cocktail, which uses both Matusalem Platino with Agua Libre “fresh squeezed” California Raw Sugar Cane Rum with Dimmi and small batch pineapple gum spirit, has flavors that are anything but muddled. A great starter drink for an evening you hope will go the distance.
Rum, this time infused with whole vanilla bean, is also the core spirit of Thizzy, though the star of this gorgeous drink is a housemade strawberry consommé, filtered into an old fashioned coupe with the rum, then topped with Moscato d'Asti. I always forget how much I love this Italian dessert wine ~ try serving a bottle of it sometime at the end of a dinner party with chocolate covered biscotti for dipping. In this drink, the strawberries and effervescent wine play off each other in much the same way peaches work to make a Bellini memorable, though more is happening here. The rum stays well back on the palate allowing the scent of fresh chocolate-orange mint from the garden to predominate before the first sip full of fruit, spice, rum and sparkling wine takes over. The lively aroma of this drink does what a great cocktail must: open the senses to everything that follows.
You don’t have to be Irish to feel the power of the muse after you finish Why Be Mad, the third new cocktail on the list. A complex blend of three whiskeys brought together in a Stephan Ravalli inspired brown-butter wash, it’s a sexy and wild potion that derives its liquid poetry from the combined flavors of smoky peat (from the Irish Whiskey), spice (from the Rye), and smooth oak (courtesy of American bourbon), enlivened with Bundaberg Ginger Beer. If the poetic spirit does come a' calling after drinking one or two of these, perhaps riding on the scent of freshly ground cinnamon or hiding in the heat of the candied ginger that garnishes the drink, fear not: it’s more likely you will start channeling the joyous mayhem of E.E. Cummings rather than the angry rage of James Joyce. Fact is, you can’t be mad at anything after drinking this Hi-ball, hence the name. If you are, I suspect you have some problems no drink can fix.
FYI: In the run up to the Pisco competition Barndiva has been invited to compete at the upcoming Sandra Jordan/Peruvian Embassy sponsored Macchu Pisco throwdown at Sandra’s Red Barn July 5th, Dealer’s Choice for the next few weeks will no doubt feature the national drink of Peru. There's a round trip ticket to Cusco at stake, not to mention a bit of glory, so come in and put the boys through their paces. If the cocktail they create for you wins, drinks on the house (and a postcard from the Andes).
All text Jil Hales. All photos, Jil Hales and Dawid Jaworski (unless otherwise noted).