Eight years ago, Peay Vineyards was lucky enough to be invited to Blackberry Farm, an enchantingly beautiful Relais and Chateaux resort nestled in Tennessee’s Smoky Mountains, for a Vintner’s weekend. The personal hospitality at Blackberry Farm was such a warm embrace that my wife, Ami, and I could not fathom leaving. Early on Sunday morning, on our way to the airport, we stopped in at Allen Benton’s glorious church of bacon and ham. Something was afoot down here. Passionate people were reviving, distilling, and exalting food and hospitality by dint of hard work and vision. I knew I needed to further explore the food and food culture of the South.
Over the next few years, I found reasons to visit Charleston, Birmingham, and Atlanta many times. I was impressed with the “foreign” ingredients abundant in Southern recipes. Whether it was rustling sorghum in Tennessee with Sean Brock or cooking heritage grains resurrected by Anson Mills with Steven Satterfield, standard dishes were made “exotic” and distinctive through the inclusion of Southern vegetables, grains and fish. Traditional preparations and recipes were featured at all levels of dining. And at the helm, there appeared to be a good-natured, soft-spoken sense of excitement among the chefs leading the Southern food movement: the tasteful gentleman, Frank Stitt; the passionate food anthropologist, Sean Brock; the soft-spoken intensity of Steven Satterfield; the no-bones, sweetness of Ashley Christensen. The list goes on.
Last month, we were invited back to Blackberry Farm to be the guest vintner for the 10th annual Taste of the South weekend in support of the Southern Foodways Alliance. The SFA is a collection of farmers, artisans, chefs, and enthusiasts working to revive and promote Southern food culture. It was an exceptional weekend. The easy-going yet excited camaraderie of the attendees and featured guests was palpable. They knew they were at the vanguard of something special.
I have included below one of the dishes from Blackberry Farm’s new cookbook that captures the essence of their James Beard award-winning chef, Joseph Lenn’s, cuisine. Rabbit may not be the easiest protein to find, depending on where you live, but when made properly—and wrapped in prosciutto—delivers all of the moist and rich flavors you hope to find in chicken (and often do not). Oh, and Blackberry Farm has generously offered a “buy one, get one “complimentary event tuition (based on availability) for friends of Peay Vineyards for the following Spring events: Hospice du Rhone (March 2-5), California Spring (March 23-26), Tennessee: West Comes East (April 13-16), or Balanced Life and Body (May 4-7). I highly recommend you see what the fuss is all about. You can call them at 865-273-8597 to secure your seats.
Makes 6 servings
• 1 Tbs grapeseed oil
• 1/4 cup chopped sweet onion
• 2 medium carrots, sliced crosswise into paper thin discs
• 1 tsp Kosher salt
• 1 cup fresh carrot juice
• 18 paper thin slices of prosciutto
• 6 rabbit loins with belly flaps attached (5 oz each)
• 1 1/2 tsps Kosher salt
• 3/4 tsp ground black pepper
• 1 1/2 tsps finely chopped fresh thyme
• 1-3 Tbs grapeseed oil
• 3 Tbs unsalted butter
• 3 3-inch fresh thyme sprigs
• 3 cloves of garlic, crushed
1. To prepare the purée, heat oil in a large skillet over high heat. Add the onion and stir until softened, about 5 minutes. Add carrots, stir to coat. Add the salt and 1 cup of water and cook until the carrots are very tender and the pan is almost dry. With the blender at medium speed, add the carrots and carrot juice. Mix until puréed. Set aside.
2. To prepare the ham for wrapping, lay out a 12 x 12 inch piece of parchment paper. Lay one slice of the prosciutto vertically on the far left. Lay another piece next to it, slightly overlapping the first. Lay a third in the same manner. Next, lay a piece perpendicular and at the bottom on top of the three vertical slices. Lay a 5th piece above it and slightly overlapping. Do the same with the third. You now have a 9 or 10 inch square of ham with no holes for wrapping the rabbit loins. Repeat 2 more times so you have 3 squares.
3. To prepare the rabbit, lay the loins skin side up. Using the textured side of a meat mallet pound the flaps on both sides– do not pound the loin. Lay one loin on a work surface with the loin nearest you and the flap above. Lay a second one on top and nestle the loins. Season the top loin with salt and pepper and thyme. Roll loin in a tight cylinder so the belly flaps wrap around the loin roll. Repeat so you have 3 double stacked loins. Flip one of the ham squares onto a cutting board so the horizontal slices are face up. Lay a loin roll at the bottom and roll up. Repeat for all three loin rolls.
4. Preheat the oven to 300° F. Lay a rack on a baking sheet. In an oven-proof skillet (cast iron is best), heat oil at medium-high heat and brown a loin roll on all sides. Add butter, thyme and garlic and when melted pour over the loin on all sides. Place loin on the rack, repeat. Put all three loins in pan and roast in oven for 30 minutes until the internal temperature reaches 140°. Let rest for 5 minutes, slice into 1 inch discs. Scoop the reheated carrot purée on each plate, lay the rabbit slices on top. Serve with spinach, collards, etc.