Oliveto, Flour, Family, and a Lunar New Year recipe
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Oliveto is an outpost. Sure, it looks like a restaurant, but it is really more an enclave of food soldiers marching to the beat of boldness. Bob and Maggie Klein, incited by Maggie’s passion for olives, have created a unique restaurant with impeccable taste that is also abundant with revolutionary energy.
Depending on who you are and what you’ve experienced at Oliveto, the place might signify salumi or roast meats, ignite memories of chef Paul Bertolli before he started Fra Mani, or remind you of your first experience eating an heirloom tomato. It could be the place you got engaged or the place you just had a blissfully lingering night out with friends. Last night it was the host of a memorable family dinner, our table laden with things like precious agnolotti and linzer torte made with locally grown, whole ground flour.
At Oliveto the flour discussion is reaching a fever pitch. It is difficult to imagine that Community Grains, the company Bob founded in an effort to create a local ‘grainshed,’ is getting truly whole grain pastas on grocery shelves and all the while the stocks and stews are brewing for 3-day agnolotti in the restaurant. It makes juggling sound like an exercise in twiddling.
To make a very long story short, Community Grains wants to solve a few problems the Klein’s have noticed in the restaurant and in the greater community. The problems are perhaps best illustrated by a comment that a miller from Certified Foods made to me as we finished off a plateful of completely whole wheat apple pastries and salted chocolate cookies. He said his wife, who is in rice farming, had been called by a UC Davis student on the path to finding the farms that were connected to a single pint on Haine Rice Dream. It took the student and his entire class eight months to retrace the path from farm to food for rice ice cream. Many of the products at the grocery store would require similar diligence to determine their origins.
It is hard to get good flour, but in the process of searching for it they discovered what good flour really is: that which has been milled with the germ and bran intact rather than being separated from the endosperm, which is actually not living cell tissue. Stone-milled flour. I know this because I was recently invited over to the restaurant and found myself in a room of not only food writers but farmers, scientists, bakers, and millers. The dynamic perspectives on this universal food staple made me want to rethink my own kitchen pantry.
Luckily, Community Grain flours, like the Hard White Winter Wheat I’ve been playing around with, can be found on local Bay Area grocery shelves, and are beginning to catch on with Whole Foods. Community Grains pastas are getting better and better with the new Identity Preserved line, which includes a marvelous Fusilli Lunghi. I met the farmer who removed rows of old grape vines in Healdsburg in order to grow Desert King variety wheat. He’s a part of a greater experiment to find out which wheats grow best in which Bay Area micro-climate and which stone-milled flours work best for which uses. Hard Red Winter Wheat isn’t as good for pastry or tea buns, but it can yield an incredible sourdough loaf, for instance.
I encourage you to build sauces around Community Grains pastas, and to use these stone-milled flours in your cooking and baking as much as possible – after all, the simple-starch flours we’ve grown accustomed to are directly indicated for GI tract inflammation and all the health issues that steam from it. This isn’t a dieting or gluten-free issue, but rather represents the greater context around which both obesity and food allergies have arisen. It is a switch in taste, but if handled with enthusiastic openness and willingness to try new recipes, it will be a wonderful transition for you and your family. There are some good-looking recipes on the Community Grains website, as well as tricks from baking master Craig Ponsford, past gold medal winner of the Coupe du Monde de la Boulangerie, he uses exclusively stone-milled flour at his bakery in San Rafael, Ponsford’s Place.
With the Lunar New Year coming up soon, I love resurrecting childhood memories of celebrating with the Tibetan monks whom we often hosted. They were big on sharing plentiful food during this holiday, and the urge has definitely passed to me. I snagged a big bag of Community Grains Hard White Winter Wheat from Monterey Market and have found it works very well for making momos—over-size Tibetan-style dumplings.
2 cups Hard Winter Wheat Flour from Community Grains
1 tsp kosher salt
1 tsp baking soda
2/3+ cup warm water (not hot)
3/4 ground beef or lamb
10 or so fresh shitake mushrooms (or dried and re-constituted)
2 stalks celery with green tops on
oil and butter, about a tablespoon each
fresh ground black pepper
3 TB grated ginger (I recommend using a Microplane)
1 tsp chili paste, or 1 minced, de-seeded hot chili pepper
2 tsp kosher salt
2 scallions, chopped
optional: cilantro or chopped caramelized onions
*basically any combination of herbed and spiced veggies and/or ground meat can be used as a filling. If you don’t use any meat add mashed yam or an egg to keep the filling together. Even though these are far from traditional fillings they are still quite good and fun for experimentation.
Measure out the flour, salt, and baking soda into a large bowl and mix to incorporate. Slowly add the warm water until a dough starts to firm, adding less or more as needed to make a dense dough. If you add too much water and the dough begins to feel slimy add a little more flour. Once a ball is formed, turn out onto a clean counter or stone surface and knead a dozen or so times. Place in a clean plastic bag (I reuse them from other packaging, cleaned and dried, of course) and let rest for 20 minutes to 2 hours, 2 hours if you have the time.
Make the filling by sautéing the celery and mushroom in the oil and butter and add a generous amount of ground pepper. Add half of the salt. Cook until tender and slightly caramelized. Add the ginger and chili paste and stir to combine, then turn off heat and let cool to room temperature. Mix with the raw meat and add the rest of the salt and the chopped scallions and cilantro, if using.
Roll into a snake and cut into 16 even pieces. Roll each piece into a round and place a tablespoon of the filling into the center. Pinch either by pressing into half-moon shapes, or by folding and pinching as if making small pleats. You can also twist the tops in a bun shape. Any matter of folding the momos that doesn’t have any areas where the dough is too balled up will suffice. Folding these is often best taught hands on and gets easier with practice.
Place in a steam basket lined with parchment and work in batches (unless you have a giant steamer!). They take about 12 minutes t cook through, but check doneness by sacrificing one and cutting in half to see. Serve hot with chili paste mixed into some soy sauce, strands of quick-pickled daikon, or straight hot sauce. Make double and triple batches and share with friends.