Saturday, September 13, 2008
Ritrovo Demo at Town & Country Market
As much as I attempt to limit my ingredient list geographically to the great PNW, I can’t get it all here. The great triumvirate of foodstuff that are not produced locally includes coffee, chocolate, and olive oil (I love bananas but I could do without them in the restaurant kitchen). Most of us in Seattle have no problem sourcing coffees from exotic sources that are benefiting from the roaster’s good conscience (i.e. Caffe Vita and Vivace). And lately, chocolate has been brought into the country by refiners who have met and approved of the methods and labors in a slew of worldly destinations. Look no further than Theo Chocolate for a gleaming example of a socially responsible international business.
But olive oil, a common cooking ingredient produced by many “first world” countries, has been coming to the US for over a century. Today, some very large producers produce huge quantities of varying qualities of olive oil. Although California has been able to produce small amounts of high quality oils, there rarely is enough of the good stuff to keep in the pantry on a regular basis.
Fortunately for the restaurant community in Seattle, and those foodies in the know, there is a great small company, Ritrovo. These committed educators painstakingly search the Italian countryside to find small, organic producers of highest quality oils, pastas, nuts, and grains. Founders Ron Post and Ilyse Rathet have brought their passion for the finest Italy has to the table for Seattle top restaurants. A conversation about the quality of the risotto (or chick peas, almonds, salts, or vinegars for that matter) they import versus the alternatives will have you convinced in no time, that the products with the Ritrovo endorsement are the ones you want to serve to your restaurant guests.
I’ve had the privilege of participating in cooking demonstrations for Ritrovo on a few occasions, and most recently, on Friday, I was on Bainbridge Island to create dishes for the customers of the Town & Country market near the ferry terminal. As an infrequent visitor to the islands, I was amazed that this small grocery chain invoked the spirit of a small town market where you know the clerks and other customers by name and greet them and ask “How have you been?” and actually care. While I was helping Ilyse and the store’s culinary coordinator, Sharen, to demo the Truffle and Salt and Fennel and Salt products, the grocery’s customers would stop by for a nibble and catch up on this week’s gossip.
I did manage to make a couple of tasting dishes that showed the salts versatility and range of applications. First, with a leg of Ellensburg lamb, I made a marinade of garlic, thyme, olive oil and Fennel and Salt. I then sliced a fennel bulb and sautéed it with chanterelle mushrooms and shallots, which then got a liberal season with black pepper and the Fennel and Salt. After grilling medallions of the lamb and placing it on the warm fennel slaw, I topped it with a fig and balsamic gastrique. For the second demo, I wanted to show how the simplest summer ingredients could benefit from the great flavor of the Truffle and Salt. I sliced some heirlooms tomatoes and a nice red Italian frying pepper and seasoned them with the salt and macerated them with olive oil and sherry vinegar. The fish guys gave me a nice rockfish filet that I seasoned with none other than the Truffle and Salt and I grilled small pieces. The fish was served atop the tomatoes and a drizzle of the tomato’s juices and a dash of the Truffle and Salt finished the tasting.