Like the seasons of the year, the harvest seasons has its own rhythm.
It usually starts off slowly, then picks up speed in terms of both the pace of the fruit coming into the winery and also the number of people who are here to work. At the peak, we’re as many as 18 or 20 around the dinner table, and several of those folks are working 14 or 16 hour days – it’s pretty intense on all fronts. After about 10 days of that pace, the grapes start to come in more slowly, and some of the people peel off and go back to their regular lives (the ones who were just volunteering to do cold, wet exhausting work over their vacation!). We miss those folks of course and the many laughs and the occasional burst of song (our favorite French drinking song is always accompanied by the strange headdress of napkin kitty ears – I can’t even remember how some of these crazy traditions get started!).
And that’s where we are right now. We’re down to around 10 people around the table – a leaner cellar crew and also usually two or three of the tasting room staff. Dinner becomes a little less rowdy, the conversations a little more thoughtful. (Last night over dinner we got into a lengthy discussion of the pros and cons of Greek life on college campuses – everyone has their opinions!)
With a smaller group, I can splurge a bit on the ingredients for dinner. The other night I decided to make one of our favorites – a classic Cioppino. Cioppino is a fish stew that originated in San Francisco. I think it must have been developed by the many Italians living in that city by the bay, as it certainly is reminiscent of other fish stews of Italian heritage. I do it with a bit of a Pacific Northwest spin – I often include Dungeness Crab and this time some Alaskan halibut that a friend gifted me after a recent fishing trip. You can use what you have. I usually choose one or two kinds of filet (salmon, halibut, cod) and one or two kinds of shellfish (shrimp, mussels, crab, clams).
I like to make Cioppino for family or casual entertaining. It comes together quickly, smells delicious and the flavors are rich and beautiful. Once, at 10 in the morning, I invited some out-of-towners for an impromptu Saturday lunch, ran to the store and had it on the table by noon. Serve it with crusty bread and then a green salad with a bright dressing. If you grab a couple of chunks of nice cheese while you’re at the store and pass them around with – or after – the salad, you’ve got yourself a beautiful, heartwarming meal.
We like this with our Big Fire Pinot Gris or any of one of the fruitier Pinot Noirs.
- 2 T olive oil
- 1 medium onion, chopped
- 2 medium celery ribs, chopped
- 2-3 garlic cloves, minced
- 4 cups bottled clam juice (find this by the tuna fish in the grocery store), or fish stock
- 2 cups dry wine - red, white or both
- 1 28 oz. can tomatoes, undrained (I used the Muir Glen Fire Roasted ones, for a bit of that smoky flavor)
- 1 heaping tablespoon “Better Than Bouillon” Lobster Base (see note below)
- 2 tablespoon chopped fresh parlsey
- 1 - 2 teaspoons chopped fresh marjoram
- 1 - 2 teaspoons chopped fresh thyme
- 1 bay leaf
- ½ t salt
- ¼ - ½ t crushed red pepper flakes, to taste
- 1 pound fish fillets, skinned and cut into 1 1/2 - 2 inch chunks
- ½- 1 pound shellfish of your choice
- In a large skillet heat the oil over medium heat. Add the onion and celery and cook, stirring often, until the onion is softened, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and cook, stirring often, for 1 minute.
- Stir in all the rest of the ingredients except the seafood. Bring to a boil and then immediately reduce to a low simmer. Let simmer very gently for about an hour, so the flavors meld. Put a lid on the pot if the soup seems to be reducing too much.
- Increase the heat to high and stir in the fish. Cover and cook until just cooked through, about 15 minutes – stirring frequently.
- - "Better Than Bouillon" Lobster Base is the secret ingredient, you can find it in the soup section of your grocery store or on-line. I don't usually use product that list ingredients I can't pronounce, but the flavor boost here is really terrific, and I figure if I only use a few tablespoons a year, how bad can it be?
- - Another option is to make the soup in advance (1 or 2 days) refrigerate it, and then when you're ready to serve it warm it on the stove and when it's hot, add the fish.