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The Tra Vigne Cookbook

Seasons in the California Wine Country
by Michael Chiarello with Penelope Wisner (Chronicle Books)

The Tra Vigne Cookbook: Seasons in the California Wine Country



All bets are on that you'd think you were in Italy if you dined at chef Michael Chiarello's restaurant Tra Vigne in St. Helena, in the heart of Northern California's famed Napa Valley. That's because the restaurant is made up of vine-covered arbors and faded stone buildings that pull off looking centuries old, wild flowers surrounding washed-out posts that mimic lush vineyards and antique-looking elaborate stained glass.

Oh, and the food, too: Bread like Chiarello's mother used to bake in a clay oven, vegetables like she used to pick from her garden and gnocchi like his grandmother prepared. That feeling of being transported definitely pours over into The Tra Vigne Cookbook: Seasons in the Wine Country, his substantial, beautifully photographed cookbook that is so much more than just a companion to his PBS show "Season by Season with Michael Chiarello."

The book is divided into seasons and then by vegetables. But with year-round choices like potatoes showing up in spring; corn, tomatoes and bell peppers in summer; mushrooms, onions and eggplants in autumn and broccoli in winter, there's certainly the possibility for crossover. Asparagus is one of the only truly seasonal (spring) vegetables covered. When it's available, do take full advantage of Chiarello's magic: grilled asparagus with tangerine mayonnaise; asparagus risotto with shiitake mushrooms; asparagus pesto with tiny potatoes and pasta; roasted asparagus bundles and whole-roasted fish with asparagus and extra-virgin olive oil.

You can see from those choices that you're definitely eating healthfully (multiple vegetables and/or fruits in one dish, accented by olive oil) when you convert to California wine country Mediterranean-inspired cuisine, a fact that has been hammered home by virtually all the books that now make up that quickly growing category. Eat as Chiarello advises through the seasons and you should definitely notice more spring in your step.

The delicious health fest continues with such choices as fettuccine with mustard greens and mushrooms, swordfish with onion, raisin and tomato agrodolce (a classic Sicilian sweet-and-sour sauce), pastina risotto with English peas, prosciutto bits and carrot broth and pasta with fresh fava bean sauce. That recipe is an example of how Chiarello marries his delicious heritage with his successful present. "This is a version of a sauce I learned while visiting my mother's hometown of Calabria," he writes. "When I asked what was in it, the reply was a shrug. No one could understand why I was curious about a sauce of fresh fava beans, pasta water and salt. Yet is has a delicious, delicate flavor and I put it on the menu as soon as I returned home."

Visitors to his restaurant are grateful for the many such authentic additions Chiarello makes to his menus, as are viewers of his television show and now, undoubtedly, too, readers of his scrumptious book.

Fettucine with Mustard Greens and Mushrooms
Sicilian Harvest Salad

(Updated: 01/08/09 SB)
Cookbook Corner

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