Archive for May, 2011

TJI: The morels are here


Morels usually arrive in March, but due to a late spring, a ginormous snow pack, and a scarce number of forest fires they’ve been a no-show until now.  But when it comes to morels we can all agree, better late than never.

These are from the Shasta area and will be on the menu starting tonight and for the next few days:

Salad of morels and spring vegetables, ancho cress, sherry vinaigrette

Red winter wheat radiatore with roasted morels, asparagus and madeira crema

Slow roasted local king salmon, celeriac, ramps and morels

We should be getting morels for at least the next few weeks, and we expect to see local porcini soon.

Jonah & Fred team up for Outstanding In The Field

Baia Niche2

On Sunday, June 26th, Chef Jonah will join Fred Hempel at his farm in Sunol, CA to take part in the 2011 Outstanding in the Field tour.

This should be a blast for the obvious reasons: awesome food, breathtaking location, and great company.  But it will also be a unique presentation of a close and truly collaborative relationship between a chef and a farmer.

Jonah’s allegiance to Fred’s produce was made immediately clear when he arrived at Oliveto in November 2010 and soon after flooded the restaurant with Fred’s spectacular winter squashes.  Over the last six months Fred has become an invaluable resource to both Oliveto and Community Grains.  His passion and extensive plant biology knowledge has made seed selection and plant breeding an exciting adventure, and only deepened our knowledge of the food we serve.

With both Chef Jonah Rhodehamel and Fred Hempel on hand, this event will be a great way to kick off the beginning of summer.  See you there!

Scallop-stuffed squash blossoms with summer
squash purée and basil

Toasted Durum Wheat Pasta

If it’s true that some of the best Italian food is the food of the poor, then toasted wheat pasta has to be a supreme cucina povera dish.

The predominant explanation for toasted pasta from Puglia, is that after the wheat fields are harvested and burned to remove the chaff and weeds, gleaners would come and pick through the ashes for the remaining charred kernels of wheat, which they would then mill and make into pasta. Chef Jonah found a reference on the internet for burnt Puglian pasta, and started an experiment.  It is hard to imagine a more labor intensive food, but as it turns out the effort is well worth it, as the results are truly delicious.

For me, this is particularly exciting because it is the first dividend from the Oliveto Grain Project (now Community Grains) begun 4 years ago.  Initially, we hoped that by creating associations with grain farmers, millers, bakers and chefs we could create innovations similar to the ones that have come from associations with all our great meat ranchers and vegetable farmers.  It worked.

We have toasted whole grain Hard Amber Durum pasta on the menu now, and for at least the next couple of months.

Lemon Verbena Tisane


In the Oliveto Cafe.  Jenny Raven’s Lemon Verbena Tisane.

THIS JUST IN: Sheep from Magruder Ranch


Magruder Ranch sheep

Six months ago, we received an 180 pound wether (castrated male sheep) from Mac Magruder.  Eighteen months at the time of slaughter this was a rather large animal, and yet the meat was some of the best we’ve ever tasted.  So when Mac told us recently that he had two more wether available Chef Rhodehamel jumped at the chance.  Two sheep animals arrived today: a Suffolk and the other, a cross breed.

As we begin the last leg of our Puglia Dinners tomorrow, we’ve decided to feature this incredible Magruder Ranch sheep instead of goat as originally planned.  For those who can’t make it in this weekend, the second animal will be aged shortly and on the menu some time next week.

Chef Jonah: Six Months In


Executive Chef Jonah Rhodehamel has been at the helm of the Oliveto kitchen since November 2010.  It is amazing to us how much has changed at Oliveto over  these last six months.  First off, Chef Rhodehamel (and all of his crew) has been working like crazy.  Basically, the level of energy and focus has been turned up to eleven.

But most important, we are extremely proud of the food we are serving.  Our salumi has never been better.  Same goes for our pizza.  The whole-animal program is expanding into new relationships with ranchers raising goat and sheep.  We’ve been introduced to farmers Jonah has relationships with, including our new BFF Fred Hempel who is growing some amazing things on his farm in Sunol, CA.

There is a seriousness, and a precision that Chef Jonah brings to Oliveto but there is also a sly sense of humor, a wry wit, and the skills of a true leader.  Anyway, that’s a long way of saying we’re happy to see that all of this was apparent to Michael Bauer on his most recent visit.  It was so very nice for our kitchen to be acknowledge for all the hard work that they do.

TJI: Wild Fennel Ice Cream


Right now, wild fennel plants are about knee-high with tender shoots, feathery tips, & lots of natural sugar. Found all over northern California, this fennel is believed to be a direct descendant of the fennel Italian immigrants first brought here for their own gardens.

Our Pastry Chef Jenny Raven has forgaged fennel from undisclosed urban locations for a Wild Fennel ice cream with strawberry jam and custard torta della nonna that will be on the dessert menu starting tonight.

The fennel shoots will be steeped like tea, strained, and the sweet liquid will be added to the ice cream.   The first Seascape strawberries from Lucero Organic Farm will be used for the jam.

Jenny goes back to the same spots year after year where she also forages rosemary, plum blossoms, and jasmine. She considers herself a steward to these wild plants by pruning them back & encouraging future growth.

Wild fennel ice cream with strawberry jam and custard torta della nonna will be on the menu starting tomorrow, May 10th and hopefully through the week.

What is spicy, affordable & goes well with hot weather? Puglian Wine!


Featured glass wine for our Puglia Dinners will range from $9 – $11

A consistently hot and dry region, the grapes of Puglia are most often very ripe and high in alcohol.  And while Puglia is not one of the prized wine-producing regions of Italy, like much of southern Italy viticulture, it has more recently begun to evolve in interesting ways.

For Puglia, the grape of the moment is Primitivo, genetically related to American Zinfandel.  Primitivo is juicy and soft, with low acid and tannin and lots of spice.  We will be pouring 2008 Primitivo di Manduria produced by Vita during the Martina Franca and Il Frantoio dinners.  Also gaining popularity in the region is Salice Salentino, a blend of Negroamaro and Malvasia nera.  We will pour 2006 Salice Salentino Riserva made by Leone de Castris, the oldest Puglian winery in operation.  Personally, I prefer Uva di Troia, a grape native to the region that is a bit lighter and more aromatic.  Uva di Troia is grown further north where it is not quite as hot.  We will pour Torre Quarto’s Uva di Troia, 2008 during the Polignano a Mare and Martina Franca dinners.  Generally, in Puglia, wine is meant to highlight the flavors of the food on the table.  Uva di Troia compliments Puglian food,  possessing moderate acid, medium body, slight tannin, with some nice fruit and spice.

Continue reading ‘What is spicy, affordable & goes well with hot weather? Puglian Wine!’

Market Report #5: Lucero Seascape Strawberries


They’ve arrived.

Yesterday, we saw the first wave of the Lucero Organic Farm’s amaaazing long stem Seascape strawberries at the Derby St. market in Berkeley.  Karen Lucero showed up at 2 p.m. when the market opened, and was sold out within three hours.

Ben Lucero has been growing this same variety of strawberry for years, even after he moved his farm inland from the coast to Lodi.  Ben believes that great strawberries are the product of close attention and judicious watering, not a certain variety, location, or climate.  As a result, Lucero strawberries are a concentration of bright, vibrant flavor.  And a favorite of the Oliveto kitchen.

Fortunately, we were able to snap up a few flats & Chef Jonah has them on the menu already:

Crudo of fluke with basil, strawberry, and almonds; lemon agrumato