She drew a capacity crowd to Fresh Starts Chef Events in Novato to demonstrate recipes and talk about her eateries, both of which have earned the Michelin Bib Gourmand distinction — “good cuisine at a reasonable price.”
Chef Heidi demonstrated four recipes, with mise en place and plates for guests prepared by Fresh Starts Culinary Academy students. Though all was pre-measured, she still took spices into her hand, saying, “I have to feel it.”
Not only does she feel, but she tastes frequently. Chef Heidi said, “Every time you watch those cooking shows and they roll their eyes back and say ‘I love it’ – LIARS! It takes a bunch of tries before it’s right.”
Her goal, she says, is food that will “kind of speak in my mouth” with texture, balance, heat and flavor. Her menu of Italian Fennel Salad and Haydari with Turkish Spoon Salad spoke with style.
Chef Heidi intersperses entertaining tales – such as the time Oprah contacted her and she responded as if it were a prank call — with cooking wisdom. Among them: “When you add salt to something cold, you have to give it time” to “melt” into cold ingredients.
She’s promoting her new cookbook, Insalata’s and Marinatas: The Story of Two Restaurants, which she self-published so she could “write the book I wanted to write.”
Chef Heidi also prepared Salmoriglio, described as a versatile Sicilian salsa verde, which was served on perfectly cooked swordfish.
Midway through the meal, winemaker Joe Freeman of Rubin Family Vineyards and Winery talked about the Russian River-area property now owned by Ron Rubin, founder of The Republic of Tea in Novato. A tasting room is coming soon.
If your autumn table needs some Mediterranean light, try a recipe that “speaks in the mouth.” — Contributed by Carol Inkellis with photos by Neely Wang.
Italian Fennel Salad – Serves 6
For the vinaigrette:
1 teaspoon lemon zest
2 teaspoons minced shallots
1 tablespoon verjus (or substitute sherry vinegar)
3/4 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
For the salad:
3 fennel bulbs (about 1 pound, 8 ounces)
3 heads red endive
2 cups seedless grapes, stemmed and halved
24 kalamata olives, pitted and halved
4 ounces aged Asiago cheese, cut into 1/4-inch matchsticks
1/3 cup pine nuts, toasted
1/2 cup coarsely chopped Italian parsley
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
For the vinaigrette:
In a small bowl, whisk together all of the ingredients. Taste and adjust seasoning with salt, pepper, and verjus if needed.
To make the salad:
Cut off the stalks and feathery tops from the fennel bulbs (if still attached). Halve the bulbs and cut away the core. Cut the halves lengthwise (with the grain) into thin slices. You may use a mandoline, but avoid slicing the fennel so paper-thin that it lacks texture.
Trim the ends off the endive heads. Separate the leaves and slice them thinly on the diagonal.
Put the fennel, endive, grapes, olives, cheese, pine nuts, and parsley in a large bowl and season lightly with salt and pepper, keeping in mind that the olives are salty and the vinaigrette contains salt. Drizzle the vinaigrette over the top and toss the salad. Taste and adjust seasoning if needed. Arrange the salad on a platter or divide between 6 plates.
Note: This recipe calls for verjus, the unfermented juice of underripe grapes, which helps to tie the flavors together. Sherry vinegar works well as a substitute.