Romancing the Senses

Wine and chocolate spark amore on the Leelanau Peninsula Feb. 7 and 8 during “Taste the Passion,” an annual celebration hosted by Michigan’s largest and oldest wine trail. Photography by Coreene Kreiser, small plate recipes by Chef John Piombo, Nonna’s Ristorante

Mountain Flowers LodgeThroughout this popular winter weekend, members of the Leelanau Peninsula Vintners Association present the fruits of their winemaking passion — internationally-acclaimed Riesling, Pinot Grigio, Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Cabernet Franc varietals, among them — with decadent desserts and savory small plates.

Sweet memories of last year’s chart-your-own-flavorful-course to the region’s 25 eclectic wineries are still dancing like sugar plums: Brownies drizzled with a chocolate-Pinot Noir ganache at Blustone Vineyards in Lake Leelanau; sparkling glasses of Sirius Raspberry dessert wine at Black Star Farms in Suttons Bay; steaming bowls of brie and mushroom bisque enriched by 2012 Baco Noir from Leelanau Wine Cellars in Omena; mini chocolate zucchini cupcakes plated with the Brengman Brothers’ 2010 Refosco in Traverse City.

Taste the Passion artwork
Art courtesy Jane Ditri

Visitors to picturesque “Taste the Passion” venues this Feb. 7 and 8 (11 a.m.-5 p.m. Saturday and noon-5 p.m. Sunday) can expect delectable pairings on par with these creative combinations — and even more the Friday night before at The Homestead in Glen Arbor.

Nestled in Sleeping Bear Dunes National Park, America’s Freshwater Resort kicks the weekend off on Feb. 6 from 6-8 p.m. with “Art From Michigan Wine Country.” This annual evening event hosted at The Homestead’s inviting Mountain Flowers Lodge — a benefit for Glen Arbor Art Association class scholarships, after-school art and a summer art program for migrant children — pairs engaging exhibits of local artists with regional wines and small plates designed on-site by Nonna’s Ristorante Chef John Piombo.

Shipwreck White“My inspiration comes from the beautiful work that is displayed,” shares Piombo, whose specialty is classically-inspired contemporary Italian cuisine prepared with the freshest local ingredients. “I look to complement it through color, texture and, of course, flavor to continue this experience of the senses.”

While a sampling of tasteful plates Piombo served last year are presented here, find ticket prices, special lodging packages, tour services and other details for 2015’s “Taste the Passion” at and “Art From Michigan Wine Country” at

Gamberoni in Padella with Ricotta Gnocchi and Summer Truffles

Yields: 4 small plate servings

Gamberoni in Padella with Ricotta Gnocchi and Summer TrufflesShrimp:
10 colossal (U15) shrimp, peeled and deveined
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
Salt to taste
Crushed red pepper to taste
1 garlic clove, chopped
1 small shallot, chopped
2 tablespoons Italian parsley, chopped
2 tablespoons white wine
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 teaspoon summer truffle peelings

Over medium high heat add oil and begin to sauté garlic and shallots. Once they begin to gain color add shrimp and cook for about 3 minutes. Remove shrimp from pan and set aside. Finish pan sauce by adding wine splash, butter, parsley and truffles. Adjust seasoning. When ready to assemble plates, return shrimp to pan to warm up.

Ricotta Gnocchi:
1 pound whole ricotta, strained about 1 hour
1 large eggs
½ cup Parmigiano-Reggiano
½ teaspoon salt
1 cup all-purpose flour

In a large bowl, combine all ingredients until they are incorporated. Do not overwork dough.

Cover and refrigerate for 15 minutes. Split dough into four equal sections. Roll each dough section into a ¾-inch log. Cut each log into ½-inch pillows (approximately 10-15 pillows per log). Toss with flour to prevent sticking. Bring a pot of salted water to a boil. Add gnocchi and allow to float. Remove from water and add to shrimp pan. Toss and serve.

Butternut Squash Ravioli with Sage, Brown Butter, Dried Cherries and Hazelnuts

Yields: 6 small plate servings

Egg Pasta:
2 cups all-purpose flour
3 large eggs
½ teaspoon salt

Mound flour on clean work surface. Hollow out the center and make a well. Break eggs into well, add salt and gradually begin to incorporate the flour. Dough will begin to take shape.

Once dough starts to gain structure, begin kneading by hand until smooth and elastic. Cover with plastic wrap and let it rest for approximately 30 minutes.

Butternut Squash Ravioli with Sage, Brown Butter, Dried Cherries and HazelnutsButternut Squash Filling:
1 butternut squash, roasted (flesh removed and pureed)
2 tablespoons shallots, minced
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
4 tablespoons heavy cream
4 tablespoons Parmiggiano-Reggiano
Pinch of nutmeg
Salt and pepper to taste

In a large saute pan, over medium heat, melt 1 tablespoon of the butter. Add the shallots and saute for 1 minute. Add the squash puree and cook until the mixture is slightly dry, about 2 to 3 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. Stir in the cream and continue to cook for 2 minutes. Remove from the heat and stir in 3 tablespoons cheese and nutmeg, to taste. Season with salt and pepper. Cool completely.

Roll dough out into a rectangular pasta sheet. Fold over to create 2 halves. Brush an egg wash over one half of the sheet. Spoon squash filling on top of the egg-washed sheet. Fold dry sheet over and seal. Cut ravioli into squares. Add pasta to boiling salted water. Cook al dente about 2 to 3 minutes.

½ cup unsalted butter
16 fresh sage leaves
2 tablespoons Italian parsley
¼ cup dried Michigan cherries (reconstituted)
4 tablespoons toasted hazelnuts, rough chopped
Salt and pepper to taste

In a saute pan, add butter and allow to brown. Immediately add sage, parsley, cherries. Adjust seasoning. Add ravioli. Plate up and garnish with toasted hazelnuts.

Nonna’s Chocolate Mousse

Yields: 6 servings

Nonna’s Chocolate Mousse6 ounces bittersweet chocolate
6 ounces unsalted butter
¼ cup espresso coffee
4 eggs (separated)
2/3 cup granulated sugar, plus 1 tablespoon
2 tablespoons dark rum
1 tablespoon water
Pinch of salt
½ teaspoon vanilla extract

Fill a large bowl with ice water and set aside. Set a another bowl containing chocolate, butter and coffee in a bain-marie (heated water bath) and stir until smooth. Remove from heat. In the same bain-marie, position a separate bowl containing egg yolks, sugar, rum and water. Whisk until mixture becomes thick. Set bowl with egg yolk mixture into bowl of ice water. Beat until cool and thick, then fold in chocolate mixture.

In another bowl, beat egg whites with salt until frothy. Continue to beat until they hold their shape. Whip in sugar and continue to beat until thick and shiny, but not too stiff. Add vanilla.

Fold 1/3 of the beaten egg whites into the chocolate mixture, then fold in the remainder of the whites until just incorporated; don’t overdo. Transfer mousse to a serving bowl or divide among serving dishes and refrigerate for at least 4 hours before serving.

Lisa M. Jensen is editor of Michigan BLUE Magazine.

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