Thursday, August 9, 2018

DINNER PARTIES: Marble House Project Farm-to-Table Dinner

When I received the email telling me I'd been selected from among roughly 700 candidates to win a residency at the Marble House Project in Dorset, Vermont, I was a little incredulous. I'd applied on a bit of a whim, never expecting to be awarded the culinary residency, especially since so few of these residencies exist for those of us in the food world. I thought about applying as a writer (something I'd end up doing a lot of anyway during my chef residency, since I'm working on various culinary book projects) -- but since my primary career for the past 18+ years has been as a chef, and this opportunity was so rare, I went for it. Culinary residency it was.

Marble House Project hosts one of 3 culinary residency programs in the U.S., and the other two are really year-long paid chef positions cooking for the other artists in residence. This was different. At MHP I was considered to be an artist in my own right, and though we'd all rotate cooking dinner for our fellow residents Monday through Friday, I wasn't expected to do more than anyone else in the Marble House home kitchen. As the sole culinary resident in my session, I was given my very own work kitchen/cooking barn in which to experiment, test recipes, and just generally cook up a storm. When other artists retreated to their studios to create (film and photography, sculpture, music, dance, film, animation, and writing), so did I. Nobody had any imperatives to complete projects during the program. This was a safe haven in the verdant hills of Vermont where we could just create, and hopefully show our work to the public during "Art Seed" the final SAturday of our session. Except, well...I had the imperative of creating a farm-to-table dinner for 40 people, on the Friday night at the end of our three week residency. So, there was that.

But we chefs live to cook for others, to bring people pleasure, to feed bellies as well as souls. So I was enthusiastic about making this farm-to-table meal a happy task, and an excuse to get to know the area a bit, speaking with the local farmers and food purveyors. Since I was simultaneously working on Italian recipe testing, I decided to marry the Mediterranean flavors I dealt with on the daily, with the local culinary strong suits of Vermont. This meant putting the amazing dairy products of the Dorset area front and center. I made my own ricotta cheese with the high-quality milk from Larson's Dairy Farm in nearby Wells. (Bonus: the owners were an absolute pleasure to work with!). 

I sourced specialty items from the Dorset Farmers Market. I sourced local organic chicken from a nearby farm, and the only fish I used was river trout, a local substitute for sardines in a classic Venetian preparation. There were a surprising amount of "Italian connections" for lack of a better term, in the Dorset-Manchester area. Al Ducci's Italian market (featuring Bennington's Maple Brook Farms' homemade mozzarella and burrata) and Fortuna's sausage for some great homemade salumi were two mainstays. I worked with the Vermont Butcher Shop to source locally made guanciale (cured pork jowl) -- and though it was nothing like the original Roman version, it was its own version of the classic, and it gave my pasta all'Amatriciana a hyper-local touch. 

My husband collecting freshly laid eggs
Of course, we have our own Marble House hens for delicious, fresh eggs from happy chicks; these made for some delicious fresh egg pastas and helped to make one of the main dishes, shakshuka, a stand-out. And although the cooler spring weather had caused most of the Marble House garden to run close to a month behind season, I used what we had and what we could forage -- herbs, strawberries, asparagus, ramps, edible flowers -- to speak to the seasonality of the menu. And of course, I had to incorporate Vermont's finest local dark maple syrup into dishes wherever I could! This syrup came directly from a local neighbor's trees and it was delicious and flavorful. The entire meal was accompanied by Mediterranean wines picked (with the help of owner John) from the local natural food store, Nature's Market, in Manchester, where they know their wines!

The prep required a whirlwind four days of intensive shopping, sourcing, and prep. I had great help in the form of Marble House staff and volunteers from among my fellow residents, assisting me with everything from candying flowers to rolling out homemade gnocchi, from sautéeing and smoking to chopping, slicing, and dicing. It was a series of small miracles, but it came together on Friday, June 1st in what turned out to be a magical night at Marble House. Below, I share the menu and a collection of photos from the constantly-changing buffet. It was a culinary journey through the Mediterranean, from all over Italy, north to south, to Spain, Greece, Israel, Lebanon, Morocco, and beyond -- all filtered through the flavors and spirit of Vermont.

I explained to the crowd, seated in the big barn at two long, family-style tables decorated with MH flowers and greens, that this was a feast created with my fondest food memories in mind. It was both a nostalgia trip and something completely new for me, with the influence of the community of food producers I'd found in Vermont married with my love of Mediterranean meals, the tradition of which is to linger at the table for many hours. 
I explained the buffet would always be changing, morphing, and when some serving platters were emptied, often, that was it for the dish. This was a marathon and not a race. Those who stuck around for the dessert buffet would reap the rewards. And the diners were kind enough to come and tell me how much they enjoyed the marathon after it was over. I hope you enjoy getting a glimpse here!

*Please scroll down for gorgeous photos, many of which are thanks to fellow resident and photographer, Francisco Vazquez Murillo.

Mediterranean Meets Vermont

Signature Spring Cocktail: Rhubarb-strawberry-basil spritz
Selection of local cheese, salumi, homemade black grape mostarda, honey, grissini
Crostini, Vermont mozzarella & burrata, homemade ricotta with herbs, heirloom tomatoes
Green gazpacho shots

Salads and Antipasti
Israeli Salad
Orange & fennel salad with red onions + kalamata olives
Fregola sarda, sautéed vegetables, herbs, Vermont honey-saffron-lemon vinaigrette
Lebanese eggplant with pomegranate & tamarind, Vermont yogurt, pistachios, mint
Local Chioggia beets with Vermont goat cheese, lavender vinaigrette

Pasta all’Amatriciana with Vermont guanciale
Homemade gnocchi with heirloom cherry tomatoes, basil, Calabrian chile oil
Homemade fettucine with ramp-almond pesto
Timballo of anelletti in tomato sauce with eggplant and ricotta salata

Grilled chicken kebabs, beet hummus, sumac onions & warm pita
Koufounisi-style gigante bean stew
Wood fire-grilled shakshuka with Marble House eggs
Pork tonnato
Trout en saor with Vermont maple syrup agrodolce

Moroccan potato salad with harissa vinaigrette, green olives, preserved lemon, sumac, parsley
Grilled leeks, ramps, scallions with Romesco sauce
Grilled green and purple Marble House asparagus

Homemade ricotta cheesecake, balsamic strawberries
Vermont maple cheesecake topped with blueberry-tarragon sauce
Torta sbrisolona
Torta caprese
Biscotti & meringue baci
Baklava with local Vermont honey
Chocolate salami

Orange, fennel, and black olive salad

Chioggia beet and goat cheese salad with lavender vinaigrette
Fregola sarda with vegetables, herbs, Vermont honey-lemon-saffron vinaigrette
Lebanese eggplant with pomegranate and tamarind, yogurt, and mint

Koufounisi style stewed gigante beans with tomato, Greek oregano, and warm spices

Homemade fettucine with homemade ramp-almond pesto

Pasta all'Amatriciana with Vermont guanciale

Homemade potato gnocchi with fresh heirloom cherry tomatoes, basil, and Calabrian chile oil

Green herb-marinated locally farmed chicken kebabs, sumac onions, beet hummus

Lightly smoked shakshuka with Marble House Project eggs and herbs

Pork tonnato
Grilled ramps, leeks, and scallions with Romesco sauce

Moroccan potato salad with harissa vinaigrette, green olives, chickpeas, preserved lemon, sumac, parsley

Chocolate chip cheesecake made from homemade ricotta, MH strawberries in balsamic

Homemade baklava with Vermont honey

Chocolate "salami" with pistachios and candied ginger

Torta Caprese (flourless chocolate cake with ground almonds)

Homemade almond and hazelnut biscotti

Marble House

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