Cooking With Myra: Use pizza stone for almost wood-fired pizza
By Myra Starkey
May 7, 2013 at 12:07 a.m.
The last night on any vacation holds a certain amount of both excitement and regret. The latter is often felt because of thinking that one might not have taken full advantage of some aspect of a trip. Did we do it all? The final thrill of the trip for me is often that I have saved the best restaurant for last.
When I was a kid, we vacationed in Florida every summer. My father's cousin, Spencer Mitchem, and his wife, Mary Ann, lived in Pensacola, so summer vacation was a time of family mixed with sand, water and sun.
We rented a house on the beach on the front line - so close that we could hear the waves crashing if the doors or windows were open. It was an enticing noise that would pull us like an irresistible, magnetic force to the surf.
At night, the rhythmic cadence would lull us into restful sleep. On the last night of the trip, we would go out to eat, kids' choice, which was usually pizza. My mom did not like pizza but suffered through about 18 years of this tradition before we realized it. But again, it was kids' choice.
The last night, when my sisters and I were as brown as Coppertone models and our lemon juice-infused hair had turned golden, we all put on nice clothes and went out for dinner/pizza. I still have a thing about going out for the big meal at the end of a trip; however, pizza is not the required fare.
Jerry, Kim, Mary Ann, Robert, Taylor and I had spent the last three days in California's Napa Valley together eating out, shopping in quaint villages and touring wineries with other connoisseurs of the ancient libation. They had tasted multiple wines but only a small amount of each.Anything more might have incapacitated them - so many different wines and so little time. I remained as their on-call designated driver because I am not a great fan of wine. Although I tasted a few communion-sized sips of several, and they weren't half bad.
On the last day, we visited the mountaintop Kuleto Estate winery (everyone's favorite), and the guide extraordinaire, Steve, filled our heads with so much wine trivia that even I felt like I could get through a "Jeopardy!" episode on the subject.
We tasted about seven different wines and sampled several cheeses while sitting under a vine-covered arbor with the cool wind breezing past. The wine must have been exceptional because everyone placed an order to have some shipped home. Steve had revealed that they had just "discovered" a few cases of a 2003 vintage cabernet in the warehouse, thinking it had all been sold long ago.
A 10-year-old wine is considered special because it has had time to mature and mellow in the bottle - unless it has a defective cork, which will allow it to oxidize and be ruined. Taylor was flattering me with the old quote that women are like wine in that they get better with age. He was obviously trying to score points with me because he was planning on purchasing some of the warehouse stash. Many restaurants in the wine county allow you to bring your own bottles to the establishment and pay a small fee. It was good to know that the locals did this because the wines on the menu were usually close to double what they would cost at the store or winery.
Since we learned this very valuable knowledge from Steve, the tour guide, Taylor seized the opportunity and brought a bottle of the 2003 to drink that evening for dinner.
Tra Vigne Restaurant in St. Helena was the special place for our final night, and we were fortunate to get a 7:30 p.m. reservation. Mary Ann had purchased a Tra Vigne cookbook earlier in the trip. and I had poured over the pages trying to decide what I would order.
Tra Vigne Restaurant is surrounded by vine-covered patios, and the venue is beautiful. A large, ornate, walnut, late-1800s bar sits on one side of the expansive main dining room, and the remaining space is filled with tables, delectable aromas and noisy, smiling patrons enjoying their food and wine.
The walls have French-style doors that are left open to allow the cool Napa air to drift in. The weather was so nice that there were lots of folks sitting outside under the awnings and trees. Our table was located in a corner next to these wide open doors.
The weather was perfect, and the temperature was about 70 degrees. Our wine steward opened the prized bottle and poured it for everyone in the group. We toasted to good friends, good food and the joy of all getting away together. The waiter arrived with menus and suggestions and gave us time to decide. I ordered a kale salad with cranberries, farro and goat cheese to start and a wood-fired oven pizza with pancetta, besciamella sauce and white truffle oil.
Taylor ordered a grilled bavette steak with garlic potatoes, Brussels sprouts with bacon and onions and green peppercorn sauce. Our conversation was filled with laughter and stories until the food was brought and immediately silence followed.
We dove in like six hungry explorers who had nothing to eat for days.
The dishes were excellent. Since we had eaten excessively for several days, our stomachs were stretched accordingly, so I knew we would ultimately want dessert.
When our waiter delivered the menu I spotted a house specialty - butterscotch panna cotta. It was so good that I asked the chef for the recipe, and he kindly refused. He smiled and told me he would have more there waiting for me at my next trip to Napa,
I have created my own version of the butterscotch panna cotta and the wood-fired pizza. A pizza stone allows your regular oven to turn out an almost perfect version. Enjoy.
Myra Starkey lives in Victoria. Write her in care of the Advocate, P.O. Box 1518, Victoria, TX 77901, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.