"Movable Feast" is a term once used by Ernest Hemingway, referencing the memory of a splendid place a traveler takes home in the heart. Wine country in Napa Valley, Calif., is one of my favorite spots, and each time I visit, new discoveries await. A recent visit to Yountville, Calif.’s second annual Moveable Feast, running through February (great package deals on food, wine, spa and lodging), brought me to a new tasting room, a new hotel dining experience and an old-fashioned-turned-contemporary comfort food that was sheer pleasure to my palate.

"Movable Feast" is a term once used by Ernest Hemingway, referencing the memory of a splendid place a traveler takes home in the heart.

Wine country in Napa Valley, Calif., is one of my favorite spots, and each time I visit, new discoveries await. A recent visit to Yountville, Calif.’s second annual Moveable Feast, running through February (great package deals on food, wine, spa and lodging), brought me to a new tasting room, a new hotel dining experience and an old-fashioned-turned-contemporary comfort food that was sheer pleasure to my palate.

First, let’s begin with the wines.

Many oenophiles believe 2007 was the best vintage of the decade for California cabernet sauvignon. If the 2007 Priest Ranch cab is a test of this taste, then I would wholeheartedly agree, even though I’ve enjoyed plenty of 2005 vintages. Aside from spectacular cabs, their petite syrah is a star on its own.

Priest Ranch wines fall under the umbrella of Somerston, a winery that shares its vineyard block with Heidi Barrett, daughter of Chateau Montelena’s Bo Barrett, son of Jim Barrett, who won at the 1976 blind tasting, the “Judgment of Paris,” with a cabernet that put California wines on the map, beating the French. Somerston’s tasting room in Yountville opened last June, and today, they have officially opened a 1,700-acre ranch to the public, offering tours, tastings, hikes and biking, foraging classes, fishing and more. And in a few months, they’ll open a grocery store adjacent to the Yountville tasting room, with all local foods, including their grass-fed lamb.

Cornerstone Cellars is another great stop in Yountville. In a private tasting room, Cooking with Julia Child episodes run on a wide-screen television while you sip and nosh on nuts and breads. Cornerstone’s Stepping Stone wines are the bulk of production, but it was the Howell Mountain 2005 cab that stole my heart.

Wine country days are filled with mid-morning tastings, lunch, then more tastings, a nap, and then dinner. By the time you’re ready for dinner, you’ve reached your limit in wine tasting, and may be too full to enjoy the amazing menu selections in the area. The new Hotel Yountville’s Hopper Creek Kitchen offers a fine dining experience before the start of tastings — as breakfast. Duck ‘n donuts anyone? Breakfast risotto? Add to that a tableside “coffee tasting experience” in a luxurious setting aside a roaring fireplace – and you’ve got a glorious start to your day.

Off to the tasting rooms, and then lunch at Bistro Jeanty for a tomato soup that excels in presentation. If you happen to catch a glimpse of this dish being brought to another table, with its pastry crust topping bubbling over, you will not be able to resist ordering one.

Until you get to wine country, here are a few recipes to give you a tease of what you’ll taste. 

Bistro Jeanty-Tomato Soup

2 1/2 lb. tomatoes, ripe, cored and quartered
½ cup butter, unsalted
½ lb. yellow onions, sliced
6 garlic cloves
1/4 cup tomato paste
1 bay leaf
1/2 tablespoon whole black peppercorns
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1 cup water (use if tomatoes are not ripe and juicy)
4 cups heavy cream
1-2 tablespoons butter
Salt, to taste
1/2 teaspoon ground white pepper
1 lb. puff pastry, defrosted if frozen
1 egg, beaten with 1 tablespoon water

Melt 1/2 cup butter in a large stockpot over medium-low heat. Add onions, cover and cook for about 5 minutes. Do not let the onions color. Add tomatoes, garlic, tomato paste, bay leaf, peppercorns, thyme and water if needed. Simmer over low heat for 30-40 minutes, until the tomatoes and onions are very soft. Puree in blender (work in batches) or use a handheld immersion blender, strain. Return the soup to the pot. Add cream, salt, white pepper and the remaining 1-2 tablespoons of butter, to taste. Bring soup back to boil.

Let the soup cool for 2 hours or overnight (in refrigerator). Divide among six 8-ounce soup cups or bowls. Roll out puff pastry to 1/4-inches. Cut 6 rounds slightly larger than your cups or bowls. Paint the dough with the egg wash and turn the circles egg-wash side down over the tops of cups, pulling lightly on the sides to make the dough tight like a drum.

Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Lightly paint the top of dough rounds with egg wash without pushing the dough down. Bake for 10-15 minutes, until dough is golden brown. Do not open the oven door in the first few minutes or the dough will fall.

Serves 6, immediately.

***

Breakfast risotto

For the rice

1.5 cup carnaroli rice
1 quart whole milk
1 vanilla bean
1/2 cup sugar

Preserved strawberries

1 pint strawberries
1/4 cup sugar

Caramelized fruit

2 Asian pears
1/4 cup sugar
2 teaspoons apple cider vinegar
1 tablespoon canola oil

Mint syrup

2 bunch mint
1 cup simple syrup

For the strawberries:

Toss the strawberries in the sugar and put in a bowl, tightly cover the bowl with plastic wrap.

Place the bowl on a double boiler and simmer on low for an hour and a half until the strawberries are fully cooked through.  Place bowl in refrigerator and cool completely.

For the mint syrup:

Blanch the mint leaves in rapid boiling, salted water for 30 seconds and put into an ice bath.  Take the mint out and squeeze out the excess water. Place mint into the blender and pour in half of the syrup.  Turn on the blender and pour in the remaining syrup and continue to blend for two minutes.  Pour mixture into a container and refrigerate.

For the Asian pears:

Cut the pears into eight equal sized wedges and cut out the seeds.  Heat the oil in a sauté pan on high and add the pears.   When the pears have color on them add the sugar.  Once the sugar has reached the desired caramel color, deglaze the pan with the vinegar (this will cause the pan to splatter a bit, so be careful and stand back.) Once the liquid is of syrup consistency, put on a plate and cool until ready to use.

For the rice:

Combine the milk, vanilla bean (split and scraped), and half of the sugar to a sauce pan and steep for 30 minutes, strain.  Add the rice and 1 cup of milk to a pot and continue to stir over medium heat until all the milk is absorbed.  Using a ladle, continue to pour milk into the rice 1 ladle at a time until the milk is absorbed and the rice is fully cooked.  Taste and add the remaining sugar to your preference.

To assemble:

Heat up the pears and strawberries, and then strain the mint syrup through some cheesecloth.

Spoon the warm risotto into bowls and spoon some mint syrup around the outer edge of the rice.  Add some of the strawberries and pears to the rice and spoon a little more syrup and some of the liquid from the preserved strawberries around and on top of the rice. 

Serve immediately. 

Marblehead (Mass.) Reporter