Okay, I’ll admit it. As much as I advocate shopping locally and seasonally there are times when I crave ingredients that are simply not in season. That said, I’m not going to purchase hothouse tomatoes or Peruvian asparagus in the dead of winter (or anytime of the year, for that matter). And though I’ve canned my own tomatoes for nearly a decade, I don’t have time—much as I’d like to—to preserve much more than that, as my books on the subject continue to grow.

Here’s where my advocacy for a well-stocked larder kicks in again (as it did previously with St. Helena Olive Oil Co.’s Butternut Squash and Organic Spicy Heirloom pasta sauces). As our grandparents knew, having a good supply of preserved foods on hand makes life a lot more interesting, as well easier, while we await spring’s bounty.

Although artichokes are available in California in both spring and early fall, the latter season is shorter as well as typically less predictable when it comes to quality. As part of its commitment to offering the finest ingredients, St. Helena Olive Oil Co. stocks excellent jarred roasted artichoke hearts from Italy’s San Giuliano. These are terrific straight out of the jar as part of an antipasti platter, sliced into a salad, or chopped and incorporated into an omelette. They are also terrific in risotto.

Roasted Artichoke Risotto
Many people are intimidated by risotto, but once you’ve mastered the basics it’s really very simple, highly satisfying, and open to all sorts of ingredient variations. Also, forget those cookbooks that tell you that need to stir and stir and stir. The most important thing is steady cooking and liquid replacement, so the rice has enough to absorb as it creates a creamy, slightly soupy coating.

1 cup Arborio or Carnaroli rice
2 tablespoons Twin Sisters Extra Virgin Olive Oil Blade Press
1 small yellow onion, chopped (you want about a quarter cup)
1 clove garlic, minced
1 teaspoon fresh chopped thyme leaves
2 cups chicken broth (preferably homemade)
Splash of white wine or vermouth (approximately ¼ cup)
Pinch of Organic Grey Sea Salt
6 – 8 Roasted Artichokes, coarsely chopped
1 tablespoon butter
Parmesan cheese
A handful of fresh mint or parsley leaves, chopped
Freshly ground black pepper

Using a small pot, heat the chicken broth to a healthy simmer (but not a rolling boil).

Warm the olive oil over medium heat in a Dutch oven or other large size pot. Add the onion, garlic, and thyme, and cook until just beginning to soften (2-3 minutes).

Raise the heat a notch and add the rice, stirring to coat with the vegetables and oil.

After 3 – 4 minutes, the rice will start becoming semi-translucent, and you should hear a low-level snap, crackle, and pop.

Add the wine or vermouth, turn the heat to high, and cook until the wine has evaporated.

Return the heat to normal, add a ladleful of hot chicken broth, stir once, and add a pinch of grey sea salt.

Continue to add broth as needed, which means just before the previous ladleful is completely absorbed (usually a few minutes between doses).

Cook for approximately 10 – 12 more minutes. Don’t worry if you run out of broth before the rice has finished cooking, you can always add a bit of water instead.

A few minutes before the rice is ready—you’ll know by the look and texture, which, like pasta, should be al dente, soft but toothsome—fold in the chopped artichokes and give the mixture a healthy stir (ideally this would be right before you add the final ladle of stock).

Once the rice has finished cooking, stir in the butter, remove from the heat, and let the risotto rest for a few minutes, covered.

Spoon into bowls, grate fresh Parmesan over the top (to your liking), sprinkle with the mint or parsley, and grind a little black over the top.

~ serves 4 to 6 as a first course, 2 as a stand-alone dish

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Pan Seared Scallops

by admin on December 29, 2010

The holidays are over—bummer, or a godsend, depending on your point of view—and life is slowly returning to normal. Time to slow down, but also time to eat simply, if very well after the Thanksgiving-to-New Year’s feast-a-thon.

Shellfish is especially good this time of year, when the waters run cold and there is no risk from the “red tide” algae that can be toxic to humans (though, frankly, that risk is minimal pretty much any time of the year given today’s mostly aquaculture-sourced shellfish).

The following dish can either be used as the starter to a multi-course meal or enjoyed individually.

Very simple and very satisfying, this recipe takes just minutes to make and features Lemon Extra Virgin Olive Oil and our Pink Himalayan Salt.

6 sea scallops
2 tablespoons  our Lemon Extra Virgin Olive Oil
12 fresh sage leaves
Pink Himalayan Salt
Lemon zest, in 1-inch strips

Bring the scallops to room temperature and pat dry. Heat a 12-inch cast iron skillet over medium-high heat and just coat the surface of the pan with our Lemon Extra Virgin Olive Oil.

When the oil is sizzling but not smoking place the scallops in the pan, but do not crowd them (if making more than six scallops it is best to cook them in batches). Cook for approximately 3 – 4 minutes, until the underside is caramelized a deep golden brown. Using a thin metal spatula, carefully dislodge and turn over the scallops, add the sage leaves to the pan, drizzle the sage and scallops with Lemon Extra Virgin Olive Oil, and sprinkle over the Pink Himalayan Salt.

When the scallops are done plate with a few of the fried sage leaves, toss on a few slivers of lemon zest, and add an extra dash of the oil or salt to suit your taste.

— serves two as an appetizer

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Recession-era Truffle Solution

by admin on November 26, 2010

Good—really good—truffles are one of the great joys of the winter table. Only problem is, they cost a small fortune. Even “truffle shavings” can command nearly $100 per jar. So unless you’re among the lucky few not affected by our ongoing recession, enjoying these funky looking, ultra-fragrant tubers may be a forgotten luxury this year.

But there is an affordable solution. And while we’re not claiming that our imported Italian Truffle Salt from Rome’s Sabatino & Co. will make you swoon quite as dramatically as a whole specimen will, a small sprinkle of this highly aromatic mixture of sea salt and small chunks of black truffle can really perk up a dish, and add at least a hint of near illicit decadence to a meal.

This satisfying cold-weather recipe for mushroom sauce with Truffle Salt can used as pasta sauce, and also served over rice or polenta.

In the meantime, consider sprinkling a dash of Truffle Salt on tonight’s grilled ribeye steak, tomorrow morning’s scrambled eggs, or over popcorn next time you sit down with a favorite movie—say, Big Night or Julie & Julia?

Mushroom Sauce with Truffle Salt
½ pound mixed wild mushrooms (such as pioppini, chanterelle, yellow foot, or hedgehog), cleaned and roughly chopped
1 ounce dried porcini mushrooms, soaked, dried, and roughly chopped
1 small yellow onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
3 sprigs thyme, leaves removed and chopped
6 canned plum tomatoes, roughly chopped
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
¼ cup white wine

Soak the dried porcinis in lukewarm water for 30 minutes. Drain, rinse, and pat dry with paper towels. Warm the butter and olive oil in a skillet over medium heat, add the onions, garlic, and thyme and cook for about five minutes, or until the onions and garlic become translucent. Add the mushrooms and wine and cook for another five minutes. Add the tomatoes, lower the heat, and simmer for approximately 20 minutes.

In the meantime, cook your pasta, rice or polenta, fold in the sauce, and finish with a sprinkle of Truffle salt to taste.

— serves 4

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Riffing on Organic Spicy Heirloom Pasta Sauce

by W. Garcia on November 20, 2010

Fight it as much as we might, this year’s tomato season is kaput. To be sure, supermarkets and even local farmers’ markets still have tomatoes to sell, but even the best examples from mid-November pale in aroma and flavor compared to those from the peak of the season.

If you canned your own it’s time to start using them—and popping open a jar will bring back Proustian blasts of a summer barely past. But even if you are a home-canner, there may be times when turning those preserved Early Girls or San Marzanos into a sauce is simply more than we can deal with after a long day.

I’ve already written about the joys of a well-stocked larder, and St. Helena Olive Oil Company’s Organic Spicy Heirloom Pasta Sauce is another great item to add to your arsenal of options. The addition of garlic, chiles, and spices give it an extra nice kick.

For the ultimate in simplicity and time management, you may simply fold it into cooked pasta, grate some Parmesan over the top, and plop in front of a favorite movie with a nice glass of red wine—a young Barbera, say? Although the following recipes require a bit, but not too much more time, the rewards are well worth it.

Clams, bacon & rapini
This simple one-pot dish offers layers of flavors and textures, and can be made in about the same time it takes to boil a pot of pasta water.

1.5 lbs. Manila clams
4 strips bacon
1 cup packed, rapini, chopped
1/2 cup (or more to suit your taste) ORGANIC SPICY HEIRLOOM PASTA SAUCE
1/4 cup water or chicken broth


Immerse the clams in a bowl of cold water, drain and repeat a few times to rid of any residual sand. Coat the bottom of a pot with the olive oil, cut the bacon into ribbons, and cook over medium heat until just brown. Remove the bacon and let rest on paper towels to absorb excess oil. Place the Spicy Heirloom Pasta Sauce in the pot and stir into the oil, cook for a few minutes over medium heat, then fold in the clams, the rapini, and the water or stock, raise the heat to high, and cover. Cook until all the clams have opened, discarding any that remain tight lipped. Gently toss the mixture together, and spoon into bowls, being sure to get plenty of the spicy broth. Drizzle with a swirl of the oil and a twist of fleur se sel.

— serves 2 as a main course, 4 as a starter

Roasted Winter Squash
This lovely vegetable dish accented with a kick of spicy sauce and Parmesan makes a
perfect accompaniment to pork and poultry.

1 Squash (butternut or another heirloom variety, about 1 to 1.5lbs
1 small yellow or red onion, chopped
1/2 cup (or more to suit your taste) ORGANIC SPICY HEIRLOOM PASTA SAUCE
2 tablespoons plus a drizzle of Arbequina Extra Virgin Olive OIl

1/4 cup grated Parmesan

Preheat oven to 325°
Cut the squash in half and remove the seeds. Slice the squash into wedges, leaving on the skin. Place the squash skin-side down on a roasting sheet. Drizzle with the oil and salt and roast until soft enough to pierce with a fork—about 30 to 45 minutes depending on the size of the squash. About ten minutes before the squash has finished roasting, warm the sauce over low-to-medium heat. Remove the sheet from the oven, spoon the sauce over the squash, and dust with Parmesan. Return to oven, and continue roasting for approximately 10 minutes more, until it all melds together. Remove from the oven, plate, and drizzle over a bit more olive oil and Parmesan.

— serves 4 to 6 as a side dish depending on the size of the squash

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Talking Turkey

by W. Garcia on November 14, 2010

With Thanksgiving practically here, and Christmas on the horizon, the season for turkey is about to rev into high gear. And we strongly recommend sourcing a fresh heritage breed over the typical supermarket variety.

The difference is not insignificant.

For the past 8 years or so I’ve been purchasing heritage breeds, or what I like to call “real turkeys.” This year, for example, my bird is coming from BN Ranch, a relatively new venture from Bill Nyman (formerly of Nyman Ranch) and his wife Nicolette. Bill and Nicolette personally drove to Kentucky to pick up their poults, which were bred naturally, not via artificial insemination. The next generation is birthed the old-fashioned way, from the eggs produced by the initial flock. The birds are raised at Nymans’ Bolinas, CA ranch, and are housed in spacious pens with indoor and outdoor access that provides ample room for exercise. Moreover, these birds are humanely raised on an all-vegetarian diet, with no beak cutting or wing clipping—they even fly.

The flavor difference is staggering. Turkeys like these are not only far tastier than the mass-produced variety—delivering authentic turkey flavor—but they are also more interesting of texture. The skin crisps properly, the breast meat is meaty and moist, and the drumsticks, ah, the drumsticks! My favorite part of the bird—especially from heritage birds that get to exercise those leg muscles—are rich, dark, slightly gamey, and very satisfying.

To Brine or Not to Brine
I think the case for heritage turkey speaks for itself. Things get somewhat trickier, however, when it comes to the question of whether or not to brine the bird. A good many prominent chefs, Chez Panisse’s Alice Waters among them, are strong advocates of brining. And there’s no doubt that brining meat in a salted water solution for a few days, before air-drying for another day or two, does result in moister meat. For a few years I cooked my birds this way, too, and with good results. But I was never quite convinced by the outcome, which always struck me as nice and moist, but also somewhat watery. For the last few years I’ve instead pre-salted the bird, and cooked them much as I do with the chicken recipe given in a previous post. For my taste, and even my mother’s, this, plus cooking at higher than normal temperatures, results in a more satisfying balance of crispy skin, and moist, evenly cooked meat. (To get a scientific take on the question of brining, and his argument against the practice, check out Harold McGee’s “Curious Cook” column from last year’s New York Times.

Now for the Turkey
For this recipe, rather than just salting the bird we’re going to employ St. Helena Olive Oil Co.’s Organic Poultry Rub, which in addition to sea salt, will further enhance the flavor of your turkey with garlic; herbs, such as rosemary, oregano, sage, and thyme; a dash of cane sugar; and spices, including chili and black pepper, cayenne, paprika, cinnamon, cumin, allspice, and coriander.

1 Heritage turkey (weight will vary, but estimate 1 to 1.5 lbs. weight for each guest)
SHOliveOilCo ORGANIC POULTRY RUB (a healthy handful)
6 sage leaves
2 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
4 pats unsalted butter

48 hours before roasting, take a nice fistful of Organic Poultry Rub and do just that—rub it into the skin as well as the cavity of the turkey. Don’t go too crazy, but don’t be too shy either. Place the bird (either uncovered or loosely wrapped in plastic) on a pan in your fridge. (This is definitely a challenge for larger birds, with which you may need to clear off an entire shelf just to fit the thing in there.)

Remove the bird from the fridge about an hour before roasting, and preheat the oven to 450°. Place a kitchen towel over the breastbone, and give it a good whack with a rolling pin. Remove the towel, and press down on the breast to flatten a bit (this helps ensure more even cooking of breast and legs). Gently lift the skin from the breastbone (see technique in the previous chicken recipe), and stuff sage and garlic under the skin. Rub the bird all over with the olive oil. Place on a rack in a roasting pan, and roast for approximately 2.5 hours for a 10-pound bird, adding 15 minutes for each additional pound. Please note that most ovens are not accurately calibrated, so these times are suggestions. Use your senses—especially the nose and eyes—to judge when your bird is finished. Let rest for 15-20 minutes, carve, and serve.

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Lemon Accented Roast Chicken

by W. Garcia on November 7, 2010

After well more than a decade’s worth of experimenting with every which way of roasting chicken, we’ve hit on a most consistently satisfying method. Need we add that the single most critical element for success is the chicken itself?

The horrors of mass-poultry production are well known and need not be repeated here. And yet it should be noted that phrases such as “free-range” and “organic,” are not enough to guarantee healthy, flavorful, and humanely raised birds. In his must-read Omnivore’s Dilemma, Michael Pollan pulled back the curtain on an even relatively decent large poultry producer, whose birds may technically be “natural” and “organic,” that is properly fed and free of hormones, but not especially “free-range.” According to Pollan, these birds spend most of their time indoors, with so many birds to a pen that they are essentially immobilized. What little time they spend outdoors is in similar confinement, and their slaughter and subsequent processing are what one might expect from a huge operation.

By contrast, true pasture-raised birds, such as those from the Bay Area’s Marin Sun Farms on the Point Reyes Peninsula, or Soul Food Farm in Vacaville, truly are “free-range,” as you can easily see when you drive past them frolicking around the land, eating bugs and other naturally found foodstuffs, as well as supplemental feed. And they taste it too, totally unlike any chickens we’ve had outside of the best in France and Italy—so meaty, succulent, and “chickeny.” Thankfully, this old-fashioned way of raising chickens—and everything else—is hardly restricted to a few Northern California farms, it’s turning into a nationwide movement.

I won’t describe the humane slaughtering process here, but for more on chickens and the above two farms you can check out my article in Edible San Francisco magazine.

Okay, off my soapbox and into the kitchen! While this recipe is for a lemon-accented roast chicken, the same basic method can be adapted into endless variations depending on the seasons and your mood.

Lemon Accented Roast Chicken

1 3 – 4 pound pasture-raised chicken
1 lemon, halved
6 leaves lemon verbena
1 clove garlic, thinly sliced
2 sprigs rosemary, 1 whole, 1 chopped
4 pats unsalted butter
1 pound Yukon Gold or other yellow potatoes, halved or quartered depending on size
1 teaspoon Grey Sea Salt
2 tablespoons St. Helena Extra Virgin Lemon Olive Oil
¼ cup white wine

First, because your bird isn’t from the supermarket it’s likely to be swimming in a bit of its own blood. Because this hastens decay it’s a good idea to remove the bird from its bag ASAP, remove the giblets (setting aside for your another use), and using paper towels pat the bird inside and out to remove traces of blood. You may or may not rinse the thing off, but don’t think that rinsing is going to get rid of bacteria. That occurs during the cooking process. If you’re lucky enough to have sourced an intact, head-to-feet complete chicken, leave these on. Experiments with feet- and head-less, feet-only, and chickens as God made them has convinced us that the juiciest, most flavorful birds are the ones that are roasted whole. Yes, they make a hellacious mess in the oven, but it’s well worth whatever more regular cleanup efforts are required.

This is also a good time to pre-salt the bird—an invaluable tip we learned from Judy Rodgers in her superb Zuni Café Cookbook. Using a healthy pinch of grey sea salt, sprinkle in the cavity as well as over the body, being sure to hit the meaty crevices where thighs and wings join the body. Place the bird in a fresh plastic or sealable bag until you’re ready to cook (anywhere from 12 to 48 hours after salting), and refrigerate.

An hour before cooking, remove the chicken from the fridge so that it reaches room temperature, and place in a roasting pan. Being careful not to tear the delicate membrane, and starting near the cavity opening, gently slide you fingers between the skin and the flesh and lift the entire top skin up to the neck. Gather four chunks of a high quality unsalted butter, four fresh lemon verbena leaves (tarragon makes a nice substitute), and the garlic slices. Even place these under the chicken’s skin.

Place the bird, breast side up, on a roasting rack inside the pan. Scatter the potato slices around and underneath the chicken, and sprinkle the potatoes with the chopped rosemary. Squeeze out most of the lemon juice, discarding pips, and drizzle the lemon juice over the top of the chicken. Place the remaining halves in the cavity along with the whole rosemary sprig.

Finally, drizzle St. Helena Olive Oil Co. Lemon Extra Virgin Olive Oil all over the top of the bird as well as the potatoes, then sprinkle with some Grey Sea Salt (the chicken was pre-salted so there’s no need for more); grind some black pepper over the entire concoction, and add a splash of white wine to the pan.

To roast: pre-heat your oven to 500°. Roast the bird for approximately 12 minutes until the skin is golden-brown and beginning to crisp. Lower the oven to 425° and continue to roast for an additional 10-minutes per pound of the bird’s weight (i.e., 35 minutes for a three-and-a-half pound bird). I also like to baste with the pan juices every ten to fifteen minutes. The chicken is cooked when the thighs easily pull from the body.

Remove from the oven, and let the chicken rest in the pan for ten minutes before carving. This helps retain the juices and results in more complex flavors.

— serves four

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Three Ideas for Butternut Squash Pasta Sauce

October 28, 2010

A larder rich with choices not only makes for more creative cooking, it also comforts us with the knowledge that, should we not have the time to shop, or are rushed to prepare dinner, a deliciously satisfying meal can still be created on the spot. In this spirit, St. Helena Olive Oil Co. has created […]

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Wild Salmon with Orange Extra Virgin Olive Oil

October 22, 2010

Our Orange Extra Virgin Olive Oil marries two of California’s most heavenly crops, Mission olives and Navel oranges, which are added to the press to create this bright, citrusy, and flavorful extra virgin oil. It’s great simply drizzled over fish, poultry, pasta, and other items, but gains complexity when used in conjunction with vinegar. These […]

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A Focus on Rare Balsamic Vinegar

October 6, 2010

Balsamic vinegar is one of those products that, while exotic, appealing, and sometimes very pricey, many of us aren’t quite sure exactly what to do with. Here are two lovely Mediterranean-style recipes we’ve selected to showcase our rare 19-year-old balsamic vinegar, which we’ve sourced from a tiny artisan producer in Modena, Italy for the past […]

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The Pursuit of Real Food

February 11, 2009

As we sat down to eat dinner on Monday night, the girls asked me what I did all day….I thought about my day, laughed and said, “Today I was in the pursuit of food!” Over the weekend we moved into a new apartment….a whole other series of stories….the apt we were in was 400 sq. […]

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