Sunday, July 18, 2010

The Great July Supper Club Antipasto Challenge!

Back in 2000, Food and Wine magazine sponsored an Antipasto Challenge between none other than famous chefs Mario Batali and Michael Chiarello.  The magazine declared the competition a draw – you can read the article here.

Our amazing supper clubbers decided we would attempt to reproduce the challenge and see if we could determine a definitive winner.  We made a few substitutions due to dietary issues, and prepared 8 dishes total – 4 Batali and 4 Chiarello.  For pairing, we served the 2005 Milliaire Winery Primitivo Jeunesse, a very food friendly Zin from Amador County, and the 2007 Robert Sinskey Vin Gris of Pinot Noir, an equally lovely food wine.  This is a chronicle of our noteworthy (if I do say so myself) efforts!

Batali presents first!

We enjoyed Batali’s Grilled-Fig Salad with Prosciutto, and as you can see, Rose’s presentation was gorgeous!   Figs and prosciutto are a classic combination, and this dish was rich and earthy and paired nicely with the Sinskey, though the Primitivo worked as well.  Rose felt the dish could actually have been improved by a bit less arugula so that the flavors of the fig and prosciutto were truly at the forefront.

Also in the line-up was Batali’s Roasted Squash with Red Onion, Oregano and Mint, prepared by yours truly.  This dish was easy to make, well received, and one I know I will make again and again.  If I had an improvement to suggest, I think I might slice the squash thinner than called for (which will likely reduce the cooking time), to create smaller servings.  I actually liked this dish with both the wines.

Our next Batali dish was a substitution – Black Kale with Ricotta, prepared and modified a bit by Bon Vivant.  I loved the freshness and simplicity of this dish, and it was a hit as well!  I liked it with the Primitivo; it was very nice with the Sinskey too.

Last up for Batali, and my personal favorite dish of the day, was the Goat Cheese Truffles with Peperonata.  We had fun discussing which of the three truffle flavors we liked best – I favored the fennel pollen, but many preferred the sweet paprika – all three were killer!  I loved this dish with the Sinskey, but the Primitivo paired nicely with it as well.  Richards thought she would make the truffles a bit smaller next time (again, it was a large serving), and several of us thought that while the peperonata was delicious, the truffles were the main event and could easily stand on their own with the arugula (again, less of it) to garnish them.

On to the Chiarello dishes!

We loved the Marinated Vegetables – one half was prepared largely as written but with tuna substituted for the anchovies, and the other half omitted the tuna.  Both versions were great – I liked the one with the tuna best.  My opinion was that, perhaps due to the vinegar, neither wine paired especially well with it.  Also, BV reported it was quite time consuming to prepare – but well worth the effort I say - delicious!

Then we had the fabulous Italian Tuna Mousse!  This dish had a perfect texture, light, airy and delicious, and I thought the Mousse with the Sinskey was the most perfect pairing of the evening!

The Wild Mushroom and Tomato Panzanella is a most unusual and interesting version of the classic Italian bread salad (and a recipe I have actually prepared numerous times, though I didn't prepare it this time).  It was beautiful and tasty, and paired particularly well with the Primitivo.

And our last Chiarello dish – and the favorite of many in the group (the dish we all had seconds of!) – was Zucchini Saltimbocca.  Each bite was a treat, with an intriguing balance of flavors, and I loved it with the Sinskey although it certainly stood up well with the Primitivo as well.

Because Supper Club isn’t Supper Club without dessert, although not a part of the official challenge we had a melt-in-your-mouth delicious Berry Pie with Vanilla Bean Ice Cream – it doesn’t get better than that! 

So what were the votes?  Well, we had three votes for Chiarello and four for Batali, but all agreed that it was very close, and that every dish was interesting and delicious.  In fact, we wondered whether, if our club had 8 rather than 7 members, we wouldn’t have come up with a tie as well! 

My own vote (for Batali) had nothing to do with the relative quality of the two sets of dishes, because both were superb, with beautiful presentations and an intricate balance of flavors.  For me it simply came down to food preferences.  Winter squash, figs, goat cheese and kale are simply among my favorite foods on earth to eat.

Regardless of the votes, we had a splendid time enjoying amazing antipasti dishes and lovely wines out on the patio on a gorgeous Napa summer day!


Bon Vivant said...

The ricotta and kale tasted great the next day tossed with hot pasta.

The marinated veggies tasted much better the following week. The directions say that you can make it up to two weeks in advance and I think that's the way to go.

Daphne said...

BV, thanks for these updates! I can see how giving the flavors in the marinated veggies a chance to "marry" could improve the dish even more - I'll have to give it a try!