Robert Mondavi’s widow, Margrit Biever Mondavi, passed through Atlanta recently on a meet-and-greet mission and invited me to join her before a dinner engagement for a quick snack and a drink at Abattoir. So I arrived one brutally hot late afternoon at this westside meat museum from chefs Anne Quatrano and Clifford Harrison, sat down with Mrs. Mondavi and a couple of her colleagues from the winery, and joined them for fresh pig-skin chicharrones (in the bowl at left) and a recent vintage of Mondavi Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve. It made for a strange Happy Hour menu, but a delightful time.
I had heard that the Swiss-born Mrs. Mondavi was a very charming character, and she more than lived up to her reputation. Not only had she gamely not wilted in the August sun, but seemed to dive into the menu with gusto.
“I’d love to try some real Southern food!’ she enthused, which is easier said than done at Abattoir. (Are lamb liver fritters Southern? Discuss.)
We eventually ended up with these pig skins and a tomato salad garnished with a wedge of fried green tomato.
“A green fried tomato!” cried Mrs. Mondavi. “Here I am in the South having a green fried tomato!”
Mrs. Mondavi was the Napa Valley wine pioneer’s second wife, who married him in 1980 after having worked at the winery for more than a decade. As the director of art and culture at the winery, she raised the wine country’s profile as a tourist destination by bringing in top musical acts.
In 2003, Mondavi published a cookbook with her daughter, Annie Roberts, then the winery’s chef, and food writer Victoria Wise. “Annie and Margrit: Recipes from the Robert Mondavi Kitchen” (Ten Speed Press, $35).
The book is ostensibly about the mother-daughter relationship, but there are two interesting themes that both underscore the writing and the recipe selection. The first is Margrit’s upbringing in a Swiss German family that relocated to the Italian-speaking canton of Ticino in southern Switzerland during World War II. The second, broadly speaking, is California wine-country cooking, which is fresh, varied, simple, international in inspiration but American in presence.
With its ample color photography, the book looks destined for the coffee table, but the recipes keep it in the kitchen. I find it to be a good “jumping off” book — i.e., you can adjust and throw in ingredients or change proportions to your taste. The food is straightforward but the ideas are compelling, very much like Ina Garten’s cooking.
I really liked this recipe for Ticino-Style Pot Roast, though I added a few notes. To thank Margrit, I want to take her out to Watershed the next time she’s in Atlanta. From meeting her and reading her book, I know she’ll love it.
Ticino-Style Pot Roast
In a large stew pot, melt the butter over medium-high heat. Add the meat and spriinkle liverally with walt and pepper Brown on both sides, turning once, about 5 minutes total.
Without removing themeat, add the carrot, celery root, leek and cloves and stir to mix. Decrease the heat to medium and cook until the vegetables begin to wilt, about 2 minutes. Add the garlic, tomatoes, rosemary, thyme, basil (I’d add it later), stock and wine, stir to mix, and bring to a boil over high heat. Decrease the heat to medium-low, cover, and simmer for 1 1/2 hours, or until the meat is fork-tender. Remove from the heat and let rest, partially covered, for 30 minutes.
transfer the meat to a plate and set aside i a warm place. Strain the liquid through a fine mesh sieve into a bowl, discarding the solids. Let sit for a few mintues to allow the fat to rise to the top, then skim. Return the skimmed liquid to the pot and cook over high heat until slightly thickened, about 15 minutes.
To serve, cut the meat into 1/4-inch-thick slices and arrange on a serving platter. Pour the reduced liquid over the meat and serve right away.
(A little celery-root/potato mash on the side is all you need.)