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The Covenant Kitchen: Kosher Cookery from California’s Wine Country

Kosher wine aficionados are probably familiar with the name Jeff Morgan. He started what has become the most successful kosher winery to open in California in the last dozen years: Covenant Wines. So seven years ago, when I was in Northern California doing a story on the growing California kosher wine scene, meeting with Morgan was a must. At the time Covenant was being produced in rented space in a commercial winery in St. Helena, CA—right in the heart of the Napa Valley. When I was scheduling my visit, Morgan insisted that after visiting the winery, I should join him and his wife Jodie for dinner.

I was a bit dubious of accepting the invitation, as I knew that the Morgans did not keep kosher. However, Jeff told me that since they started making kosher wine they had often had kosher-observant guests over for dinner, and that they would kasher their stove and had kosher vessels and dishes for such occasions. As Jonathan Hajdu, Covenant’s Associate Winemaker/OU Mashgiach was also going to be at dinner, I decided to accept the invitation. We dined alfresco in their lovely back garden, and drank a fair amount of wine. While I don’t remember exactly what food they served that evening, I do remember truly enjoying the meal.

A lot has changed for Morgan in the intervening years. First of all, Covenant’s portfolio has grown from three wines to more than a dozen, and they have relocated production into their own winery, which is located in Berkeley. Jeff and his wife Jodie have also become more traditional in their observance of Judaism, a change they credit to their decision to start producing kosher wine. “I never put on tefillin before Covenant,” says Jeff, “This wine has reconnected me and my family to our heritage.” So when they bought a new home in Berkeley, they decided that the kitchen was going to be strictly kosher.

The Covenant Kitchen: Food and Wine for the New Jewish Table (2015, Shocken Books/OU Press, $35), their recently released cookbook, reflects this change in observance. The Morgans, who have previously collaborated on four cookbooks, wanted to write a kosher cookbook “that reflects our California wine lifestyle,” says Jeff.

The cookbook contains more than 100 recipes, all of which contain detailed instructions, and most of which read as if they are relatively easy to produce. Although a few, like their recipe for “Gefilte Quenelles with Braised Leeks and Lemon Zest” (page 137) look to be a bit more labor intensive. Many of the recipes, such as that for the “Gefilte Quenelles” or their recipe for “Stuffed Summer Squash Flower Beignets” (page 68), have a clear French influence; this is not surprising as the Morgans spent about a decade living in the south of France—in his youth Jeff had worked as a musician in Monaco.

Each recipe is accompanied by recommendations for wine pairings. “Wine is an important part of Jewish life,” says Jeff, “but for many it’s more of a symbolic part and not a daily part.” By including wine pairing Morgan hopes to make it “less intimidating” to include wine at everyday meals.

As Shavuos is right around the corner, I decided to try their “Lavender Goat Cheese Tart” (page 63, reprinted at the end of this article), one of the recipes from their recommended Shavuos menu (page 254). I found the recipe easy to follow, and I only needed about 20 minutes of prep time. As I did not have a dairy food processor or electric mixer, I made the filling in a blender (using the highest speed, and stopping it every minute or so to stir the contents). I also did not have the required tart pan, so I used a 9-inch round disposable aluminum pan, snipping off the sides of the pan before serving. The most difficult part of the recipe was actually procuring the dried lavender—I had to visit two supermarkets and a gourmet shop before finding some in a health food store.

The tart was rich, dense and had a sharp but creamy flavor. The lavender, which I had feared would be overpowering was actually a subtle element of the flavor, and one which complemented the sour note of the goat cheese. Overall this struck me a good recipe for spring and summer, and while I tasted it warm, I imagine it would also be good served at room temperature. I did not follow the wine pairing recommendation of a “bright-edged white wine,” but instead served it with a bottle of Jonathan Hajdu’s 2014 Hajdu Rose, which was a lovely accompaniment.

Lavender Goat Cheese Tart

dairy | serves 6 to 8

This quick-cooking tart serves up a blend of zippy flavors and creamy texture, all enhanced by fragrant lavender. (Look for dried lavender in your supermarket spice rack.) The tart can be enjoyed as an appetizer alone or accompanied by a Green Salad with Mustard Vinaigrette (page 75) for a light lunch.

While it is possible to make puff pastry from scratch at home, we don’t recommend it. Commercial (kosher) dough is readily available and quite good. Also, remember to choose fresh, soft, mild goat cheese for the best results.

Wine Pairings: Any bright-edged white wine such as bubbly, Sauvignon Blanc or Chardonnay would make an excellent match.

1 sheet puff pastry (about 10 × 4 inches), thawed to room temperature

1 stick (8 tablespoons) plus 1 tablespoon unsalted butter, at room temperature

8 ounces soft goat cheese

¾ cup whole-milk cottage cheese

3 egg yolks

¼ cup all-purpose flour

½ teaspoon salt

2 tablespoons dried crushed lavender flowers

Preheat the oven to 375° F. Use the end of the stick of butter to lightly butter a 9-inch tart pan with a removable rim. Reserve the rest of the stick.

On a floured surface, gently roll out the puff pastry to stretch and shape it to cover the bottom and sides of the tart pan. Press the dough into the base and sides of the pan and trim excess dough to hang just slightly over the top edge of the pan. This allows for some shrinkage as the dough cooks. Use extra dough to patch up any uncovered spots on the pan.

In a small saucepan, melt 1 tablespoon of the butter over medium-low heat. Using a pastry brush, brush the dough with the melted butter. Place the tart shell in the oven and bake until slightly puffy and light gold in color, 10 to 12 minutes. Remove from the oven but leave the oven on.

While the tart shell is baking, prepare the filling. In a food processor or in a large bowl, with an electric mixer, combine the remaining stick of butter with the goat cheese, cottage cheese, egg yolks, flour, salt, and lavender, blending until the ingredients are creamy smooth.

Scrape the filling into the tart crust, leaving about ¼ inch of space below the top of the crust. The surface of the filling should be smooth.

Return the tart to the oven and bake until the filling appears firm to the touch and the surface is light brown in color, about 20 minutes. Let the tart cool for 15 minutes before removing the sides of the pan. The tart is best when served warm.

Excerpted from The Covenant Kitchen by Jeff and Jodie Morgan. Copyright (c) 2015 by Jeff Morgan and Jodie Morgan. Excerpted by permission of Schocken, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

By Gamliel Kronemer

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