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[whitespace] Can-Do Ethic

Fire roasted, organic sauces made easy

By Christina Waters

THE ORGANIC CHEFS at Muir Glen have done it again. They've out-tomatoed even their own high-quality organic tomato products with brand new goodies--Fire Roasted Organic Tomatoes that practically leap out of the can with depth of flavor. Even John Ash (Fetzer Vineyards' resident cuisinartist), who recently gave me cooking tips (and God, do I need them!) at St. Helena's posh Culinary Institute of America, is high on a product he calls "the hottest thing Muir Glen has done with tomatoes yet." I tested advance samples of both the fire-roasted diced tomatoes and the fire-roasted crushed tomatoes, and the subtle hint of wood-roasting definitely gives a primal je ne sais quoi to these full-flavored new products. We used Muir Glen's Fire Roasted diced tomatoes at my house recently to create a quick pasta sauce, adding some crushed garlic, extra-virgin olive oil, fresh basil and shredded chicken. Served over Del Verde spaghetti--my favorite brand--it was memorable. Up in St. Helena last month, I had a chance to taste the new fire-roasted products before they hit the markets, and it was there that Ash showed me (along with other food writers from around the country) some of the real secrets to Muir Glen's success. For example, next time you open a can of Muir Glen organic tomatoes to add to a stew or pasta sauce, check out the white enamel lining on the cans. That keeps the tomatoes from tasting metallic--it ensures a totally honest tomato flavor. We also got involved in a gloriously messy blind-tasting of Muir Glen's sauces, diced, crushed tomatoes and pasta sauces versus four other brands. And in every single case--we did a dozen blind tests--Muir Glen won. For vivid color, clear flavor, thickness, viscosity--all those qualities serious cooks demand--this excellent organic group, based near Seattle, won out--tying in only one case, stewed tomatoes, with a Safeway house brand. Very revealing. But not surprising. Organic products not only make eco-sense, they invariably just plain taste better than anything else.

I say get out there and grab a can of the brand-new Fire Roasted Organic Tomatoes from Muir Glen. Then get creative in the kitchen.

A Few Juicy Tips

When you're over the hill in scenic Soquel (south of Santa Cruz), don't miss a visit to Theo's restaurant. But especially don't miss Chef Pete Dressen's remarkable appetizer of marinated albacore cubes tossed with fennel, picholine olives and Meyer lemon, served with a fistful of succulent mache field greens. Unbelievable. ... Closer to home, after you've bought that 10th pair of ankle boots at Nordstom, you'll be needing something from the fall menu at California Cafe in Valley Fair. Chef Kyle Wiens stays up all night dreaming up temptations like a tiny pizza of roasted portabello and porcini mushrooms. We also like the decadent Parma Ham (that's the British way of saying "genuine prosciutto from Parma") and dried figs with balsamic vinegar and apple cider. I would consider a visit just for one of the new salads of fresh spinach and red grapes, topped with Laura Chenel goat cheese crusted with fresh hazelnuts. Go find your own to-die-for item. ... Another reason to get out of bed: all the authentic Italian edibles at A.G. Ferrari Foods in Los Altos. Located at 295 Main Street, Ferrari's is totally devoted to all things Mediterranean. And that works for me. But then, so is Boca La Pastaia, at 2081 S. Winchester Boulevard, in Campbell. Boca's new fall menu is thick with luxury like pan-roasted mussels and lemon butter, a risotto of forest mushrooms and Gorgonzola, or seared duck breast with Marsala and fig demi-glace. Mama mia!

Email me! Readers, restaurateurs, chefs: Please send any news items, tips, menu changes, openings, special events and juicy gossip to [email protected]

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From the October 26-November 1, 2000 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

Copyright © 2000 Metro Publishing Inc. Metroactive is affiliated with the Boulevards Network.

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