Meet In Your Kitchen I Maria Sinskey’s Culinary Take on Napa Valley

Maria Sinskey

The air is hot and dry in Napa, not the slightest movement, it stands still, wrapping the hills and vines in a magical silence.

We first stopped at a lake, Lake Hennessey, on our way to meet the Sinskeys at Robert Sinskey Vineyards. The scene was too peaceful and beautiful, as perfect as a postcard, the calm water spread out in front of us. A man sat at the sandy bank staring into the bluest sky reflecting on the water’s surface, I walked through the swaying grass and my film team made jokes about unseen alligators. Later, Maria Sinskey told me that there are rattlesnakes in the area – sometimes it’s good not to know the danger around you and enjoy the moment.

I had seen the wines of the Robert Sinskey Vineyards on the menu of some of the best restaurants in San Francisco, friends praised the quality of their reds and whites, so there were enough reasons to pick this particular wine maker in Napa on my culinary trip through California. But what struck me goes beyond an excellent bottle of wine: it’s the Sinskeys’ philosophy of making honest wine, their work ethics oblige them to take care of their team, who also hold shares of the company and have been with the wine making couple for decades. Maria and Robert create an environment of togetherness, they cherish people, nature and its gifts, they live a good life and share it with the ones around them.

Robert Sinskey was a photographer in advertising, he’s an artist, a philosopher, he never went to a wine school, but maybe that’s the reason why he makes good wine. It was a call from his father 25 years ago that changed his life, Sinskey senior needed help at his wine business, and young Rob fell in love with his new obsession for grapes and what you can do with them. He turned the 200 acres of premium vineyards into an organic, biodynamic ecosystem at a time when this step wasn’t as popular as today, he was a pioneer, inspired by Rudolph Steiner’s 1928 “Agriculture” manifesto. Believing that, if you harvest grapes of outstanding quality, you don’t actually have to do much, you can let nature do its thing and trust. In that respect, the Sinskeys feel closer to the European than the American tradition of wine makers. Rob says “wine should not be a quick study, but rather, sneak up on you, seduce you, and evolve in the glass and in the bottle. The goal is to make pure wines of character that pair well with cuisine.” And now, his wonderful wife Maria comes in.

Maria Sinskey is an acclaimed chef and cookbook author from New York, she’s the cooking soul of the winery. She worked at Michelin starred restaurants in France but when Rob won her heart, she moved to Napa and set up her beautiful open Vineyard Kitchen right in the heart of the winery’s rustic stone building, next to the wine tasting room. It’s not a restaurant, you can only book and enjoy her exquisite culinary compositions along with a tasting experience (a visit and reservation is highly recommended). Maria and Rob follow the same credo: nature is good, trust her, treat her well and you’ll be gifted. Organic fruits and vegetables come from the garden, sheep grazing the vineyards provide wool and meat, beehives pollinate the orchards and bring the most delicious honey to Maria’s kitchen.

You could call it a utopia, you could call the Sinskeys dreamers, but decades of creating fantastic wine and food with and not against nature that people praise all over the world, living and working harmoniously in a community with love and passion, and feeling – as a guest – the spark of happiness and dedication jump over, would prove you wrong.

Maria spoilt us like kids with her elegant, deliciously cozy comfort food. Her duck confit was a revelation and her herb marinated rack of lamb with sun-ripened tomato and herb blossom salad tasted just heavenly, thankfully she shared the recipes with us.

Check for visits: robertsinskey.com

In the next months, I’ll share many new Meet In Your Kitchen features with you that took me to California, Italy, France, and Japan. Thanks to Zwilling for sponsoring these features for our culinary trip around the world! Thank you, my man James Hickey, for joining me on these adventures and helping me take pictures!

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Maria Sinskey

Sun-ripened Tomato and Herb Blossom Salad

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Herb Marinated Rack of Lamb with

Buttered Green Beans, Roasted Potatoes, and Lamb Jus

By Maria Sinskey

 

Sun-ripened Tomato and Herb Blossom Salad

Serves 6

Capture the flavor of ripe, just-picked tomatoes at their peak with this simple salad. The sweet tomatoes are gently scented with herb and arugula flowers that provide small bursts of intense flavor. Blossoms can be gathered as herb and arugula plants bolt. If herb blossoms aren’t available use small herb sprigs and leaves instead.

6 ripe garden tomatoes, about 2 pounds, assorted colors and sizes
Extra virgin olive oil
Aged balsamic vinegar
Flaked sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper
¼ cup (a handful) mixed herb blossoms – dill, arugula, basil, chive

Core and slice the tomatoes into ¼-inch / ½-cm thick slices and fork-size wedges. Arrange the tomatoes on a serving platter. Drizzle with olive oil and balsamic vinegar. Sprinkle with sea salt and grind a few grinds of black pepper over. Scatter the blossoms over the top. Serve with simple crisp flatbread if desired.

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Herb Marinated Rack of Lamb with

Buttered Green Beans, Roasted Potatoes, and Lamb Jus

Lamb Jus (to serve with the rack of lamb, can be prepared in advance)

Yield: 2 cups (470ml)

1 head garlic, cut in half horizontally
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, divided
2 medium shallots, peeled and sliced thinly
1 cup (240ml) red wine
4 cups (950ml) lamb stock
1 medium plum tomato, fresh or canned
1 3-inch / 8-cm sprig rosemary
Kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper

Preheat the oven to 375°F (190°C). Wrap garlic in aluminum foil and bake until garlic is aromatic, soft and caramelized, about 45 minutes. Reserve.

Heat a 3-quart / 2.8-l saucepan over medium-high heat, then add 1 tablespoon butter. When the butter starts to brown, add the shallot and cook for about 2 minutes until the shallot is wilted and starting to turn golden.

Add the wine and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer until wine is almost dry, about 10 minutes. Add the lamb stock, roasted garlic head, tomato, and rosemary spring. Bring to a boil and then reduce to a simmer. Simmer until stock is reduced by half. Strain the jus into another pan and season to taste with salt and pepper. Reserve at room temperature for up to 4 hours otherwise refrigerate.

To serve: Return sauce to a simmer. Check seasoning, then whisk in the remaining 3 tablespoons of butter until emulsified. Serve immediately.

 

Herb Marinated Rack Of Lamb

Serves 8

The herb marinade for the rack really perfumes the meat if it is done a day or two ahead of time. The same marinade can be used for many other cuts as well. It is best to remove as many of the herbs and garlic before roasting as they will burn and create off flavors.

2 lamb racks, 8-9 ribs each
¼ cup (60 ml) extra virgin olive oil, plus 2 tablespoon for roasting the meat
4 garlic cloves, unpeeled and crushed
2 4-inch / 10-cm rosemary sprigs, crushed
6 thyme sprigs, crushed
4 rosemary sprigs for garnish
Sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper

Clean the rib bones well by scraping off meat and sinew with a small sharp knife. Cut the racks in half so that each has four ribs. Mix together the olive oil, crushed garlic, crushed rosemary and thyme sprigs in a large bowl. Add the lamb and coat well. Grind some coarse black pepper over all. Wrap well and marinate the racks overnight.

The next day prepare the roasted potatoes first, then continue roasting the lamb.

Preheat the oven to 400°F (200°C). Remove the lamb from the marinade and scrape off as many herbs as possible.

Heat a large sauté pan over medium high heat and add 2 tablespoons of olive oil. Season the lamb well with salt; no additional pepper should be necessary, and sear fat side down until golden, about 7 minutes. Turn over so that the fat side is up and roast in the preheated oven for 17-20 minutes for medium-medium rare (120°F / 50°C internal temperature). Let the rack rest for 10 minutes before cutting. Prepare the beans while the meat is resting.

To serve, cut each lamb rack half into 2 equal pieces, two bones per chop, and serve on individual plates or a platter with the roasted potatoes, beans, and lamb jus.

 

Olive Oil and Sea Salt Roasted Potatoes

Serves 8

2 pounds yellow potatoes, Yukon Gold or similar
Sea salt
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
3 tablespoons unsalted butter melted

Preheat the oven to 425°F (220°C).

Peel the potatoes and cut into ½-inch / 1.25-cm pieces. Reserve in a bowl of cold water to keep from browning.

Fill a large pot with water and bring to a boil, season well with salt. Add the potatoes and boil for 7 minutes until the potatoes are tender. Drain the potatoes into a colander. Make sure they are very dry.

Place the well-drained potatoes in a large sauté pan and toss them with the olive and butter and additional salt to taste. Place the pan in the oven and roast for 30 to 40 minutes until the potatoes are golden and crispy on the edges. Keep them warm.

 

Buttered Green Beans

½ pound freshly picked green beans or haricot vert
Salt
3 tablespoons unsalted butter

Trim the stem off of the beans but leave the slender pointed tips. Reserve.

Ready a medium bowl of ice water. Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add salt until the water tastes of the sea. Add the beans and cook until tender about 3-4 minutes. The thinner and fresher the beans the faster they will cook. Remove the beans from the pot with a pair of tongs or skimmer and plunge into the bowl of ice water to stop the cooking. When beans are cool, remove from the ice bath and let rest in a strainer or colander to drain.

To serve: melt the butter in a large sauté pan and add ¼ cup (60ml) water. Bring to a boil to emulsify, season with salt to taste. Add the beans and toss until heated through. Remove with tongs to a serving plate. Serve immediately.

Maria Sinskey

 

Maria Sinskey

 

Watch my interview with Maria in Napa in September 2017:

 

 

Thank you, Maria!

 

Maria Sinskey

 

Maria Sinskey

 

Maria Sinskey

 

Maria Sinskey

 

Maria Sinskey

 

Maria Sinskey

 

Maria Sinskey

 

Maria Sinskey

 

Maria Sinskey

 

Maria Sinskey

 

Maria Sinskey