Last Saturday we hosted a party at the cafe and we had a blast! Several people came in and got to sample the dishes we made and a couple of wines that we loved in Italy, as well as check out some of our pictures that Mark took on the trip. We had a pot of Pasta e Fagioli (pasta and beans… on the east coast it is commonly referred to as ‘pasta fazoole’) and we topped it with our fabulous olive oil. Everyone loved that so much that we offered it for sale while we handed out the samples. I made a caramelized onion tart that was so popular and had such an enthusiastically positive reception, that I have gladly added it to our catering menu. Mark made ‘pizza truffles’: little rounds of pizza dough stuffed with gorgonzola cheese, drizzled with olive oil and baked. Oh yea, they were fabulous, though better hot than after they got cold. Mark made our olive oil cake, which we usually make with hazlenuts, but instead we made with fresh chestnuts thanks to Ron who brought them in to us. That was a huge hit, as well. I made some marinated zucchini and that went over nicely, as did the wines we served.

I left my computer on with a slide show of our photos, and we got to see 5 of our fellow travelers who all came out for the festivities! Our tour coordinator, Doumina Whyman, was on hand to talk about next year’s trip and the whole day had a festive and fun atmosphere. I poured some 100% Vernaccia from Le Rote (near San Gemignano), and 2 wines from our beloved Perazzeta: Erio (50% Sangiovese, 20% Cabernet, 20% Syrah, 10% Merlot) and Sara 90% Sangiovese 10% Ciliegiolo, all of which are nearly gone now. We sold out of the Rigoloccio Rosato (100% Cabernet Franc) which is still the best rose I have ever had and I am very sad that we will not be able to get any more. Folks always say ‘oh, I don’t drink rose’, thinking it will be like white zinfandel. Then they taste and are, without exception, very surprised at the wine. Even if they still do not prefer the wine, it is always surprising as to how good the quality is. Europeans drink rose all the time and theirs is good, we just have to get used to thinking of it differently over here. And while I decidedly do not enjoy white zin, I never bash it because that is the wine that actually got me started drinking wine in the first place. Bartels & James wine coolers got me to Sutter Home White Zinfandel (I preferred it over Beringer for some reason), then on to Gewurztraminer, and then on to an array of different wines. So hooray for white zin!

All in all I am calling the party a success because everyone had a good time and we introduced some new flavors to our friends and family at the cafe. We will have another party in January or February and serve up some more goodies and wine, since we are always looking for an excuse to have fun!

Last week I told you about a new place that is opening and Friday is the grand opening! Fresh-Local Bremerton is the place to be on Friday from 3-8 to see this new concept for a grocery store. I am so excited and I plan to be there the minute they open! First I am going to go check out the new bakery that has taken the space where Luigi was. Heidi & Lowell, of Hi-Lo’s 15th St Cafe fame have opened The 15th St Bakery and they hired Luigi’s former staff to fill the place with breads and baked goods. They also have an art gallery in there, merchandise for sale, as well as their fabulous coffee. Heidi took me around the space last summer as she shared the plans with me so I have been very excited to see this come to fruition. Heidi is one smart business cookie and I love just love that whole gang! I will get there before the grand opening at Fresh-Local and have a lovely full day of fabulous local food! I hope to see you all there and when I ask the question: What did you buy locally this week? You will have an easy answer!

By the way last week was Mark’s birthday and we enjoyed a fabulous dinner at home, and then later in the week I made him shrimp risotto that he loved so much he almost married it! I was going to give that recipe today and then was asked so many times about caramelized onions that I decided to do that instead. You can email me if you want the risotto, or maybe I will do it next week, you never know! Or maybe you have a recipe to share with me, I would love that, too.

Caramelized onions have many uses and while they are naturally very sweet, they are great in savory things, too. You can caramelize onions a little, so they are a light brown and not too sweet, but still soft and supple and add a great depth of flavor to sauces, soups, pastas and more. Or you can give them such an extreme, deep caramel that they are fabulous on toast and act as fruit preserves only better! I love them on pizza with roasted cashews and while that sounds odd, I did it as a lark and that is what I always have at our staff meeting pizza parties now! Last Saturday when I put them into a quick pastry dough the crowds went wild. Everyone who tastes caramelized onions always asks ‘what is this??’ because no one expects it to really just be onions, but it is, and it is so simple. The only difference in preparation between lightly caramelized and deeply caramelized is time. That is entirely up to you! It takes time, but not much work.

How much do you want to make? 4 onions will reduce down to 1-2 cups, depending on original size and cooking time.

Peel, cut in half, then slice the onions to the size you like. I do 1/4 inch slices

Pour some olive oil (I use my good stuff for this) into the bottom of a heavy bottom pot or deep sided skillet. Coat the bottom of the pan.

Drop the onions in and if they are not sweet onions (you can do this with any kind at all) you can add a touch of honey to get the sugars going. Just a quick drizzle is all you need.

Stir to coat all the onions in the oil, turn it up to medium high, put a lid on, and let it go for 5-7 minutes, until the juices start to release and the bottom of the pan is fairly wet.

Remove the lid, give it all a really good stir, turn it down to medium low and leave it alone. Do not stir it too often, though do stir it often enough to keep it from sticking to the bottom. If it does stick, vigorous stirring usually loosens it right up. The first half hour I might stir it 3 times at the most, then less after that. I usually turn it down a bit more after the first half hour as well. The longer it goes, the lower you can make the heat, and the less you need to stir.

They will go a minimum of an hour for a light caramel and you will be surprised at how much they reduce. They will go upwards of 3 hours for the deepest caramel, and they will be a golden lump of goodness by that time.

When they are as done as you want them give them a little salt, which will brighten up the flavors and balance a bit of the sweetness. For 4 onions maybe a 1/2 teaspoon will do… start light because you can always add more but you can never take it out.

Voila! That is all it takes! You will love this result and you can do many things with these onions. I know the farmer’s markets are pretty well shut down by now, so check out the fresh-local store for onions from our farmers.

And remember to Think Local First! It’s better for all of us!