It's no secret that Corner Table Restaurant is one of my favorite spots in town - I wouldn't have chosen to spend my birthday dinner there several weeks ago if it weren't. So when I received an invitation for a promotional cooking demonstration and dinner at Corner Table, for the Muir Glen Tomato Vine Dining Tour, I was happy to accept.
I suspect that local foods advocate and chef/owner Scott Pampuch was well aware that he'd raise a few eyebrows when he signed on for the tour. Even though Muir Glen - a division of General Mills - is locally owned, the tomatoes are grown in California.
For those of you who pay attention to where your food comes from, buy the highest quality food you can afford, shop farmers markets and local co-ops when you can, and happily eat canned organic California tomatoes in the middle of a Minnesota winter - I'm with you. I received a few cans of tomatoes as a parting gift after the dinner, but it's not like I don't have a cupboard full of - as it turns out - Muir Glen tomatoes anyhow.
I do not have, however, the Muir Glen Reserve tomatoes, a limited-edition variety available only online, which The Vine Dining Tour specifically promotes. Pampuch and four other national chefs toured the 3-acre field where the tomatoes are grown, picked at peak ripeness, and canned within hours.
Impressed with the operation as well as with the quality of the Reserve tomatoes, he returned to Minnesota, dug his can opener out of the basement, and developed recipes for Muir Glen to distribute with the tomatoes (one of which is the Fire-Roasted Tomato Burger with Aioli recipe I posted a few days ago at Dara & Co./Minnesota Monthly Magazine), as well as for the promotional dinner at Corner Table.
As the restaurant filled with guests, happy bread-eaters (of which I am no longer, sigh) dunked golden little grilled cheese sandwiches into cups of creamy tomato soup. I enjoyed watching everyone angle for seconds...and perhaps thirds?
The silky-rich Amatriciana sauce, however, was all mine. CT kindly served the sauce (recipe below) over fried polenta, while the gluten-eating majority enjoyed theirs over pillows of sofrito-stuffed fresh pasta. (Honestly, I've always preferred polenta over pasta anyhow, so major score for me.)
And so began the collective raving and sighing. Man, there are few things as truly fun as sharing a meal with a room full of food lovers. We all enjoyed the same courses, at the same time, in effect a big, cozy, dinner party. The wine flowed, the room grew loud, there was happiness.
Good food with friends new and old: Do that, as often as you can.
The main course lamb terrine - served alongside fried potato crisps, a smear of tomato gastrique (homemade ketchup!), a dash of pretty-in-pink tomato salt, and a crunchy, housemade pickle relish - came off as a fabulously deconstructed, sophisticated burger-n-fries. I briefly considered a wine-enhanced request for a wax-paper lined basket of the potatoes with a squeeze bottle of gastrique and a shaker of tomato salt...but I successfully resisted.
I had to skip the olive oil cake and fennel tuille cookie (both so pretty), but I dug the nod-to-summer tomato and strawberry-basil sorbets together, especially with the bacon granola - bacon granola! - that I was kindly offered in lieu of the cake.
Pre-dinner, Joy Summers from CityPages Hot Dish blog, James Norton and Katie Cannon from The Heavy Table, and I chatted with Pampuch (and snapped pics) while he talked about his decision to participate in the Vine Dining Tour and demonstrated the preparation of the sofrito and Amatriciana sauce featured in the first-course pasta. (Check out both of their posts for their takes on the dinner and to admire Katie Cannon's lovely photos.)
Pampuch kindly shared the recipes for the sofrito and Amatriciana sauce (the pasta pics up top and directly above are those I snapped at home after prepping the sauces).
Recipe by Scott Pampuch, Corner Table Restaurant
Makes 2 cups
2 medium carrots
1 medium onion
1 medium parsnip
1 1/2 c. olive oil
1 Tbsp. Muir Glen Fire Roasted organic tomatoes, slow simmered to a chunky paste consistency
2 cloves garlic, minced
Peel and grate the onions, carrots, and parsnips. In a large saucepan, heat oil over medium heat. Stir in grated vegetables, tomatoes, and garlic, and simmer gently for 45-60 minutes. Note: At first, olive oil will appear cloudy, the result of water evaporating from the vegetables. When the olive oil appears to be clear again (vegetables will be very tender) the sofrito is done. Be patient: "Good things come to those who wait."
Remove from heat and strain vegetables from oil. Stir tomatoes into vegetables. Reserve oil for garnish or to roast garlic.
Use a teaspoon or two of sofrito when making pasta dishes, as a base for a simple pan sauce with a steak or chop, in soup, or as a topping for bruschetta. Store covered in the refrigerator for up to a week.
Recipe by Scott Pampuch, Corner Table Restaurant
Note: Corner Table sells housemade pancetta - and bacon, lardo, pork rilletes - from their meatcase during regular restaurant hours. In addition, you can order fresh pork belly to make your own (do it!). Tel: 612.823.0011
1 lb. dry spaghetti
6 oz. thinly sliced pancetta (cut on bias so when rendered, the pieces will curl up; do not use smoked bacon)
1 clove garlic, sliced paper thin to melt
1 14.5-oz. can Muir Glen Meridian Ruby tomatoes
salt & pepper
dry-aged cheese for grating
2 oz. toasted, seasoned breadcrumbs (toasted in a dry pan, whirred in processor with fresh herbs and salt to taste)
Set a large pot of cold water on to boil. When the water boils, add enough salt for the water to taste salty. Add the pasta and cook over medium heat, stirring once or twice.
While the water boils and pasta cooks, puree tomatoes in a blender until smooth. Heat a saucepan over medium heat. Add the pancetta to the pan. Once a little bit of the fat has rendered from the pancetta, add the garlic. Stir in 1 teaspoon of the sofrito, then the pureed tomatoes. Simmer over low heat until sauce begins to coat the back of a spoon. Season with salt & pepper to taste.
When the pasta is done, drain and add to the sauce, gently stirring until coated.
Serve pasta with grated cheese and a small pinch of bread crumbs.