Dining out at elegant restaurants is always a wonderful experience, but cooking at home for close friends is a more special and memorable treat. Bringing friends together to enjoy good food and wine in an intimate and relaxed home setting is the best way to spend an evening. On this particular night, friends from all walks of life and different parts of the world came together for a special meal that my talented chef friend Haru and I prepared.
We commenced the evening with our first bottle of champagne, Louis Roederer Brut Vintage 2003, to enjoy with fresh farmers market strawberries dipped in sugar and freshly ground black pepper. The black pepper actually draws out and intensifies the juicy sweetness of the strawberries, and creates a sensational play of spicy and sweet flavors to complement the bubblies.
For appetizers, we served sea trout prepared 2 ways. Haru cured a whole filet of sea trout overnight with sea salt, sugar, orange peel and lime peel. The incredibly moist and tender filet was thinly sliced and garnished with kumquat confit, pea sprouts, chives, chive flowers and caviar. It was a dazzling plate of vibrant spring colors and complex layers of sweet and salty flavors!
We also had a magnificent dish of sea trout sashimi with ponzu and olive oil, garnished with chives, chive flowers, caviar and lemon basil. The sea trout belly was beautifully fatty and melted in my mouth like sweet toffee. The fresh lemon basil added a refined and subtle citrus lift to the dish. This gorgeous dish was a glowing feast for the eyes and the stomach.
As we broke into my favorite bottle of champagne, a Billecart-Salmon Brut Rosé, my friend Giuseppe helped plate the prosciutto with mizuna, organic heirloom tomatoes and burrata. The heirlooms were delightfully juicy and sweet, the prosciutto slightly smokey, and the burrata creamy. All of the plates were quickly devoured as we contemplated which bottle to open next.
The next course was a fresh spring green salad with 15 year aged balsamic vinegar, Jerez sherry vinegar, Nogalera walnut oil, olive oil, sesame oil and shaved pecorino cheese. The Nogalera walnut oil added an amazing nutty aroma to the salad, which was enjoyed with a bottle of Moet Chandon White Star.
For the main course, we served a special trio of meats- roasted Sonoma lamb saddle, pork chops, and beef bone-in tenderloin. A whole lamb saddle was skillfully deboned and prepared with Moroccan Raz el Hanout and rosemary seasoning. Raz el Hanout means ‘head of the shop’ in Arabic, and refers to a house blend of roasted and ground spices. Raz el Hanout typically contains cardamom, cloves, cinnamon, nutmeg, turmeric, coriander, black pepper, and cumin among other numerous spices.
A delicious lamb jus was made with the lamb bones, rosemary, leeks, carrots and onions. Meanwhile, the pork and beef were slowly roasting away in the oven as we opened a beautiful bottle of a rich and dry 1997 Chateau Pichon Longueville that served as the perfect pairing.
The meats were served with roasted potatoes and a beautiful and colorful pot of farmers market vegetables with lemon basil. The kitchen came alive with the splashes of vibrant reds, greens, yellows and oranges. You can really taste the natural sweetness of every vegetable in this pot- carrots, radishes, asparagus, peas, baby squash, and turnips.
The meats were garnished with parsley oil, spring garlic purée, marsala onion compote and lemon onion compote. It was an intriguing and fun experience to try different combinations of the meats with the garnishes. Every bite was a new discovery and explosion of flavors. By this time we were knee deep in heartfelt conversation, laughter, and 2 excellent dry red wines- 2004 Clos Rougeard Saumur Champigny and 2007 Côtes du Rhône La Lagesse.
With smiles on our faces and our bellies full, we gathered around our musician friends who serenaded us with their intoxicating voices and guitar strumming. Music, laughter, food, wine and a little bit of dancing… It’s wonderful to be alive and to be able to share such a valuable and memorable experience with precious friends. We all wished that the night would last forever, as we dug into homemade tiramisu and a 2005 Firestone late harvest riesling from Santa Ynez Valley. I made the tiramisu with imported Italian mascarpone cheese, sweet marsala wine, Illy espresso and Valrhona cocoa powder.
Cooking with friends, and for friends.
Life is beautiful!
Random trivia: Did you know that some older versions of Raz el Hanout included ground beetle, which is said to be an aphrodisiac?