The Bottega Favorita Challenge: We Win

by Patrick on March 2, 2009

This past Saturday, some of Vroman’s finest booksellers got together for the Bottega Favorita Challenge.  The idea was pretty simple:  1. Take the exquisite new cookbook Frank Stitt’s Bottega Favorita; 2. Get a few fellow booksellers together and cook a meal from the cookbook; 3. Blog about it.  Sherri and Anne jointly organized our dinner, which as you can see was, well, pretty damn incredible.

The cookbook is an interesting concept — a Southern chef’s take on Italian cuisine.  As you might expect, it had some very intriguing recipes with lots of adventurous flavor combinations.  We decided to break up the meal and make it potluck style.  I drew the assignment of appetizers, and after browsing the book, I thought the Roasted Beet Crostini was the way to go.  As it would happen, I chose wisely.  The recipe was very simple — a couple of roasted beets, some roasted walnuts, ricotta cheese mixed with lemon juice and zest, and a good, fresh baguette.  Topped with olive oil, sea salt and cracked pepper, this was a great way to start the meal.  The sweet and sour flavor of the beets and lemon-infused ricotta were a pleasant surprise.  Too often, appetizers can be too heavy or too salty, or simply too much for a starter.  These crostinis were perfect – light and flavorful, piquing our appetites for the meal that lay ahead.  Even Anne, who later confessed that she doesn’t much care for beets, enjoyed them, saying that the combination of sweet and peppery was just right.

This is the actual dish that I made, not something I ripped from a magazine.  Photograph by Sherri's husband, Rich Zanetson.

This is the actual dish that I made, not something I ripped from a magazine website. Photograph by Sherri's husband, Rich Zanteson.

For the main course, we had lamb skewers cooked over an oak fire (by Sherri and Rich), with potato and fontina gratin (by Anne), couscous with chickpeas and peppers, and a salad my wife improvised – mesclun tossed with avocado, roasted pine nuts and pecorino.  The only dish that didn’t turn out absolutely perfect was the couscous, which just didn’t want to cooperate. This might have been a blessing in disguise, though, as the vegetables that were meant for the couscous turned out to be a great side dish on their own (and frankly, with the rich, decadent potato dish, I don’t think we needed another starch).

Lamb skewered on sprigs of rosemary.  Photo by Rich Zanetson.

Lamb skewered on sprigs of rosemary. Photo by Rich Zanteson.

The food gods were looking down on us when we chose this menu, as all the dishes really complemented each other.  The lamb was marinated in a fairly dry rub of olive oil, garlic, rosemary and other spices, and it was some of the best lamb I’ve ever had – cooked to perfection over a real oak fire.  The potatoes, which I’d been hearing about for a week, were really incredible.  They were slow cooked over low heat for a very long time.  The result was a thick, almost sedimentary texture, a rich, flaky potato casserole of sorts.  I had about three helpings of it.  The vegetables and salad balanced out the plate with some color and some bursts of flavor.

Potato and fontina gratin, photographed by Rich Zanetson.

Potato and fontina gratin, photographed by Rich Zanteson.

An improvised salad.  Photo by Rich Zanteson.

An improvised salad. Photo by Rich Zanteson.

The main course.  Photo by Rich Zanteson.

The main course. Photo by Rich Zanteson.

Miraculously, after all that food, we still had room for dessert.  Jen had made an apple crostata, which she expressed some trepidation about.  Her doubts were misplaced.  The crust was flaky and buttery, and it had exactly the right blend of sweet and tart.  It wasn’t overpowering or cloying, and it was the perfect accompaniment to a few cups of good black coffee.

Apple crostata, photographed by Rich Zanteson.

Apple crostata, photographed by Rich Zanteson.

Apparently the following bookstores taking part in the Bottega Favorita Challenge:  Third Place Books, Chapter One Books, Harvard Bookstore, Vintage Books, Watermark Books, Chester County Book Company, Books & Books, The Book Mark, Garden District Book Shop, Town Center Books, Northshire Books, and Book Loft.  I would love to hear about their meals, and see which recipes they chose, but come on — there’s no way that their meals topped ours.  Seriously.