Los Banos Autumn & Tourist season

Autumn brings memories of Los Banos, the end of melon season and cotton harvest. The colors of the foothills turn golden and, although the weather is warm, it is definitely Fall. I would joke that we have two tourist seasons in Los Banos, melon season and duck season. We would get the most influx of ‘tourists’. Out of state melon buyers would spend the summer, stay in our motels and eat in our local eateries. Pickers and packers as well would stay until the end of melon season, mid-September. Just about the time melon season would end, bird hunting season would begin, dove, pheasant and then duck, Los Banos’ second ‘tourist’ season of the year. Not to say that the locals did not hunt, but ‘tourist’ hunters would come to Los Banos Tuesday and Friday evenings before hunt days. The bars and restaurants were packed, Carlos, Danny’s, Canal Farm Inn, Espanas, The Basque Restaurant, Woolgrowers were all hopping. Even the Bowling Alley bar was busy. I recall sons speaking of their Fathers coming; it was a real tradition. I haven’t lived in Los Banos since 1986 so I don’t know if the tourist seasons are still, so much has changed. There is no more Carlos, Basque Restaurant or Danny’s. The Bowling Alley was torn down and Espanas replaced the Canal Farm Inn. One thing remains, our memories and our recipes. Every Autumn, I crave polenta and game sauce. Here are the recipes:  

AUTUMN GAME SAUCE WITH POLENTA (347)

Autumn brings lovely things to mind–game, mushrooms, wine, corn and polenta.  Try this Game Sauce with Polenta, a family tradition, when the leaves turn to gold.

 THE INGREDIENTS for GAME SAUCE

6 links Northern style Italian sausage

2 pheasant, 4 pigeon, 6 quail, 8 dove or a combination or 4 Cornish game hens

1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon coarse ground black pepper

1 rounded teaspoon fresh dried rosemary and thyme

2 1/2 tablespoons coarse chop fresh garlic, reserving 2 tablespoons

2 medium onion

1 large carrot

1/4 head celery, heart and leaves included

1/2 bunch fresh Italian parsley

1/4 cup good quality olive oil

1/4 cup tomato paste

2 2 1/2 pound can size whole plum tomatoes in juice

1 ounce imported dried Porcini mushrooms, also called cepes

1 teaspoon fresh dried oregano

1/4 cup basil leaves, packed tight, chopped

1 teaspoon sugar

1 cup red wine

1 cup chicken broth

1 pound assorted sliced wild and domestic mushroom, portobello, porcini

2 ounces, 1/2 cube butter

salt and pepper to taste         

THE METHOD

1.         Prick the sausages with a fork and sauté them in a large sauce pan on medium heat. When  the sausage is golden,  remove and reserve.

2.         While the sausage is cooking, quarter the larger birds and halve the smaller ones.   Remove any fat.  Wash with salt or lemon juice, rinse and pat dry.

3.         Add 1/8 cup olive oil. Add the game and sauté until golden. Season the game with salt,      coarse ground black pepper and the dried herbs. Continue cooking until the fats are absorbed and brown bits cling to the pan.

4.         While the meats are cooking, quarter the onions, carrots, celery. Add to a food processor with the garlic and parsley leaves. Using the pulse switch, process until finely chopped.

5.         Remove and reserve the game with the sausages. Add 1/8 cup olive oil to the pan.  Add the processed vegetables. Sauté the vegetables, scraping and incorporating the brown bits.

6.         Add the wine to deglaze the pan.   After the wine has been absorbed, add the tomato paste, lower the heat and simmer for 10-15 minutes.

6.         Rinse the tomato cans with 1-1/2 cups water. Check the dried mushrooms, rinse if necessary. Place the juices and dried mushrooms into the liquid. Bring to a boil. Turn off the heat and allow the dried mushrooms to reconstitute. Cool, mince in the food    processor. Add to the pan along with the chicken broth. Continue to cook for 10-15   minutes.

7.         Without rinsing the food processor, place the canned tomatoes in the bowl and process. Add to the sauce. Add the basil and oregano, sugar and salt to taste. Add the game and sausages. Simmer for about one hour. After one hour, check the game, the joints should move easily.

8.         Slice and sauté the mushrooms in butter. Salt and pepper to    taste. Add to the sauce.   Taste and adjust seasoning.

 THE INGREDIENTS for POLENTA

4 quarts water

1/4 cup olive oil

1 Tablespoon salt

1 pound polenta, coarse grained corn meal

1 cube butter

1 cup chicken broth, optional

2 cups shredded Parmesan cheese, reserving 1 cup for garnish

1 pound teleme cheese, cubed

 The Method

1.         Bring water to a boil. Add salt and olive oil.  Add the polenta in a steady stream stirring constantly with a long handled wooden spoon. Continue stirring and cook for 45 minutes. When the polenta pulls away from the sides of the pan, add butter, optional broth and  Parmesan, stir. Add the teleme just before serving for the marbleized effect.

2.         To serve, arrange the game and sausages on a platter. Garnish with fresh chopped herbs. Mound the polenta on individual plates. Ladle the game sauce over the polenta.  Pass the Parmesan.

 Love and Garlic, Nancy Vajretti

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