Thursday, October 6, 2011

Welcome the Harvest Season with Parsnips, Cream and Bacon… Cheers to Vintage 2011

After reading this insightful post from Wind Up Bird Communications about the importance of being oneself, I was truly inspired. I realized that amongst other things, I am still a writer and fancy myself something of a raconteur, and these elements culminate in my blog, and to that I must remain true. So, what better way to revive this sleepy web log, which has been resting for nearly a year, than with an infusion of the 2011 harvest season?

Backstory: I got my foothold in the Oregon wine industry door working for Ponzi Vineyards as their Marketing Communications Manager many moons ago. I can remember the first harvest season I went through while employed there… it was soooo romantic. Heck, for me, just being on the grounds of a working winery was like a storybook story. Daily, I’d watch from my office window, as the timid deer, turkey vultures and quail made their welcomed appearances, wandering by with reckless abandon. With my front row seat, I could literally watch the grapes ripening on the vines as I wrote engaging newsletter copy and designed ads.

When “Crush” began, it was like a whole nother animal. The fruit arrived and the structured frenzy that ensued was like a magnificently choreographed dance. Everyone knew their part and everyone performed like the spotlight was on them… and for all intents and purposes, it was. The forklift driver was under tremendous pressure to lift and deliver tons of grapes to the people on the sorting line, who waited with baited breath like gold-panners ready to sift through the next drop. Everyone worked tangentially, in unison, to get the succulent fruit from the vineyard to the totes and into fermentation bins or the presses as quickly as they could, and this rarely happened in favorable weather conditions. On my way to the fax machine, I'd pass through the main winery building where the harvest crew would be punching down the grapes that were going through their period of cold soak… the fruit still so fresh and sticky sweet as the air became thick with the drone of the fruit flies. I'd make my way passed the cool barrel room, heavy with aromas of oak and age that would stop me in my tracks and force me to inhale their thick and dusky scent, practically making me forget the whole reason I was there in the first place. Oh yeah, the fax.

Trying to get my work done during harvest typically included dodging fruit totes, hoses, fermenter bins, people, trucks, forklifts, muddy boots and vicious yellow jackets… not that I'm complaining. It also included leisurely and satisfying harvest lunches prepared by professional chefs served with world-class wine at a table surrounded by international and interesting people all passionate about the same the thing… it was my first experience to truly live and breathe "Harvest".

In addition to the winery, the Ponzi family owns a restaurant in the heart of Oregon’s wine country called The Dundee Bistro. Back in the day (though I’m not sure if they do this anymore), they used to have the sous chef from their restaurant come up and cook for the hungry (understatement) harvest crew. They generously allowed the regular staff (me) to join in on the elaborate lunches, and since I’m one admittedly and easily wooed by fine food and wine, you know I was smitten. One day, Chef Eddie made us a Parsnip Soup with Bacon Crumbles, which he selected a gorgeous Ponzi Pinot Blanc to pair with. I’d honestly never really met a parsnip I liked prior to that, in fact for years, I'd been picking them out of my mom's homemade chicken soups.Yet here Eddie had fashioned them into a soup which immediately became tops on of my list of favorites. And with the wine, it was sheer perfection; the acidity cut right through both the cream of the soup and salt of the bacon while the tart and floral components in the wine were effortlessly balanced by the sweet and savory qualities of the parsnips. I might have even swooned or drooled… or both.

Eddie somehow pulled off a disappearing act during lunch before I had a chance to pin him down for the recipe, he must have been onto me. When I called him at the restaurant the next day in an effort to obtain cooking instructions for the most fabulous and surprisingly delicious soup I’d ever tasted, I believe he told me he didn’t really have an actual recipe for it, and might have even said that he’d just pulled it out of his ass. Well, it certainly didn’t taste like it came out of his ass, but he clearly wasn't going to be any help. Over the next several months, I experimented with many versions, until I came upon this one from Emeril Lagasse and the Food Network, which seemed to be as close to Eddie’s as I could really recall, though I've added nutmeg to his recipe for added intrigue. The addition of the potato crisps indeed requires a bit more effort, and though not required, truly is worth the trouble. Alternatively, you could serve it with a loaf of bread, make your own boule like my industrious blogger friend Todd at the Portland Charcuterie Project for a seriously yummy treat.

Each year, as the days grow noticeably shorter, the skies begin to darken and the weather starts to turn chilly and less forgiving, I turn to this hearty dinner to warm up with and celebrate the arrival of the fall season. Last weekend, at the Lake Oswego Farmers Market, after I found these prized parnsips and dry-cured Maialino bacon, I realized what time of year it was already and immediately knew what was destined be on my menu in the coming week. So tonight, in honor of  Crush 2011, I’ll be serving up this heart-warming and tummy-satisfying soup (inspired by Chef Eddie and the Ponzis), alongside an excpetional 2010 Willakenzie Pinot Blanc I’ve set aside especially for the occasion. Though I do wish you could join me at my table, you can recreate this meal on your own, with your own bottle of Oregon Pinot Blanc. You could also try it with Oregon Pinot Gris for another delightful pairing, either way I'm certain it will become a favorite of yours as well. I raise my glass of refreshing Pinot Blanc to the entire Oregon wine industry and send wishes of safety, fun and success for Vintage 2011… cheers!

Cream of Parsnip Soup with Potato Crisps and Bacon
By Emeril Lagasse

3 tablespoons butter
2 cups chopped onions
1 cup chopped celery
Freshly ground black pepper
1 bay leaf
1 teaspoon chopped garlic
1 teaspoon of freshly grated nutmeg

10 cups chicken stock
3 pounds parsnips, peeled and diced
1/4 to 1/2 cup heavy cream
6 ounces raw bacon, chopped
1/2 pound new potatoes, thinly sliced and soaking in cold water
1 tablespoon chopped chives

1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.
2. Melt the butter in a 6-quart stock pot over medium-high heat. Add the onions and celery. Season with salt and pepper. Saute until the vegetables are soft, about 4 minutes. Add the bay leaf, garlic and nutmeg and stir another minute until the spices release their aromatics.
3. Add the stock and parsnips and bring the mixture to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium and simmer, uncovered, until the parsnips are very soft, about 1 hour.
4. Remove soup from heat and allow to cool a little. Discard bay leaf.
5. Using a hand-held blender, carefully puree soup until smooth. Stir in cream. Season with salt and pepper.
6. In a small saute pan, over medium heat, render bacon until crispy. Remove the bacon, drain on paper towels and reserve bacon fat.
7. Pour bacon fat onto cookie sheet and add the potato slices in one layer (because what isn't better cooked in bacon grease?). Put into the preheated oven and cook until potatoes are crispy and brown, about 5 minutes. Transfer potatoes to paper towel lined plate when done. Season with salt.
8. To serve, ladle the soup into serving bowls. Garnish with the crispy potatoes, bacon and chives.


Nubian said...

I will be trying this recipe this weekend. Question... why do I need to preheat the oven to 400F?

Sip with Me! said...

Nubian, Welcome and thanks for reading! Great question, I meant to fix that when I copied the recipe over from the food network pages. I actually poured the bacon fat onto a cookie sheet and added the potato slices in one layer which I then cooked in the preheated oven (a bit longer than the 3-4 minutes suggested though). I'll go back and edit the recipe, thanks for bringing it to my attention. Let me know what you think after you make it! Enjoy!!

Wes Cook said...

Great story and that looks like a great recipe...welcome back and best wishes for crush 2011 all around. Cheers!