Lamb Sirloin with Ratatouille

We are certainly spoiled here in Northern California with the bounty of produce and fresh herbs.  Most of us grow culinary herbs as shrubs in our yards.  It makes it so easy to craft excellent dishes that reflect the seasons.  I have always felt that one of the biggest improvements home cooks can make to their food is to use more fresh herbs.

One of my favorite side dishes to make in the summer is ratatouille.  Our garden is a prolific producer of squash, zucchini, and egg plant.  Outside of the basic vegetables you can greatly impact the flavor profile of your dish by what fresh herbs you choose to use.  For summer I like a little thyme and oregano.  In the winter I use heartier herbs like sage and rosemary.

My basic Ratatouille is made using:

2 summer squash diced

2 zucchini diced

1 onion diced

1 large eggplant diced

Fresh chopped garlic

3 fresh tomatoes diced

1/4 cup of white wine

Salt and Pepper to taste

Fresh Herbs chopped (Thyme and Oregano)

This is a really easy and basic dish.  Sauteed the onion, zucchini, and squash in olive oil for 8-10 minutes.  Add the garlic, salt and pepper, and continue to cook for another minute.  Finally add the tomatoes and white wine.  Let the mixture reduce for several minutes and add in your fresh chopped herbs.

This dish pairs with just about any protein.  Here we serve grilled lamb sirloin over the ratatouille with a port reduction.  This is fantastic with Croze Vintners Reserve Cabernet!

Lamb Sirloin with Ratatouille and Port Reduction
Lamb Sirloin with Ratatouille and Port Reduction

How will the drought affect Napa?

The number one question we get whether visiting a market or hosting visitors is “How is the drought affecting Croze?” “How will it affect your wine?” The easy answer is not at all, a little and a lot. Due to the uniqueness of the grapevines and the Napa growing area, each answer is multi-faceted and impacts the other…and future wine production.

Not at all. Unlike most other crops, grapes are very drought tolerant. It would take extended periods of high stress for grapevines to stop producing fruit. Napa has been very lucky in the last two years to get just enough rain—at the right time—to prevent the issues that other grape growing regions in California are experiencing. One of the positives, if there is a positive of the lack of is, due to the lack of rain the disease pressure from fungal and mold is almost nonexistent in the vineyards. So with the good comes the bad.

A little. Because of the dry periods, the vines are often producing smaller concentrated berries with thicker skins. The wines made from these grapes are often more fruit forward and higher in alcohol. We like to produce more elegant and balanced wines with a higher acidity so we at Croze, have to be very diligent in the vineyard as harvest approaches and adjust our harvest dates to obtain the optimal fruit. This creates a little more work and a little more stress on the winemaker.

A lot. The biggest issue is the planting of new vines. Because new vines have not begun to root in the soil, they are not very drought tolerant and need constant water. Many wineries have not planted new vines in the last several years due to cost of bringing in water and fears of more watering regulations. This isn’t much of an issue now but many wineries were counting on these vines for increased wine production in the next couple of years and they won’t be able to meet those projections. Lastly, what we foresee as the biggest challenge is just as the vines will not shut down immediately, they do not recover immediately. It will take several years of solid rain to recover from the current conditions.

Ciccio in Yountville

I am often asked by customers and friends who visit the Napa Valley which restaurants I recommend.  There is no shortage of fine dining options here in the Valley and, in particular Yountville, where I live.  My number one recommendation is always a small local Italian Restaurant called Ciccio.

What can I say about Ciccio that has not already been said.  They have received critical acclaim from the Travel Channel, SF Chronicle, and just about every other publication that reviews restaurants.  The food there is simple and amazing.  Most of the reviews I have seen focus on the food, as they should.  However, it is the people that keep us going back and giving recommendations.  We are lucky enough to be within walking distance so we dine there often.

The staff at Ciccio are simply fantastic.  Their attention to detail when it comes to hospitality is way above what you expect from a neighborhood pizza and pasta joint.  The crew treats every table as if they are family visiting for Sunday dinner.  Quite honestly, that is the best way to describe the overall vibe here…family dinner.  On most nights you can find the owner there at his table, with his family having dinner.

From the hostess to the servers, everyone makes a point to visit our table and make sure everything is perfect.  They are genuine and accommodating.  For that we make Ciccio a weekly stop and encourage all of our visitors to give it a try.

I could list our favorite dishes and recommend things to try, but why?  Everything on the menu is great.  Pick something that sounds good to you and you will not be disappointed.  Just make sure you order a pre-dinner negroni and a bottle of wine!

Thanks to our friends at Ciccio for providing us such a wonderful neighborhood restaurant.

Pizza at Ciccio
Pizza at Ciccio