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Big Bottom Market's Michael Volpatt publishes cookbook chronicling 50 days of cooking in quarantine

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Michael Volpatt’s new cookbook, “Cooking in Place,” offers a sassy subtitle that is self-explanatory: “50 Days, Stories and 70+ Recipes to Keep You Sane in Challenging Times.”

Part chronicle, part cooking lesson and part escape from the coronavirus, the e-book was self-published earlier this month by Volpatt, co-founder of Big Bottom Market in Guerneville, after he created a Facebook Live cooking show for 50 days while sheltering in place. Since his casual cafe and market were closed for most of the stay-at-home order, Volpatt had a lot of time to think about how to help others with their quarantine cooking.

“There’s joy in cooking at home, and people have discovered that joy,” he said. “I think we’re going to see people cooking more.”

He’s also spreading joy in other ways. A percentage of the cookbook’s sales will go to two, local nonprofits: Becoming Independent in Sebastopol and the Food For Thought food bank in Forestville. Volpatt’s goal is to sell 10,000 books in order to raise $5,000 for each organization.

Volpatt’s first cookbook, “The Big Bottom Biscuit” (Running Press, 2019), was a long-held dream that took some time to bring to fruition. The book idea took root after the Big Bottom Market’s biscuit mix and honey was named one of Oprah’s Favorite Things in 2016.

His newest cookbook, however, was more of a spur-of-the-moment project. The self-described extrovert and avid cook launched the project on March 14 when he sought comfort in the kitchen by making his mother’s marinara sauce.

“It’s cozy, and it reminds me of home,” Volpatt said of the recipe, which, like others in the cookbook, is easy and accessible. “Cooking is 100% therapeutic for me, and when you mix my mom into it, it becomes so much more.”

While the sauce slowly simmered, Volpatt started scrolling through the Facebook news feed on his cellphone and noticed the “go live” link. A lightbulb went on, and for the next 50 days, he produced a daily cooking show aimed at helping friends and family nurture themselves and each other.

“I spent the next 50 days on camera, cooking, writing, scripting, taking pictures,” he said. “This book is unlike any other cookbook I’ve read or worked on.”

Technically, there were a few challenges. A friend helped him flip the lens of his camera so the letters didn’t read backwards during the live shows. After that, it was just a matter of coming up with fresh ideas.

“In the very beginning, I would wake up every morning and ask, ‘What’s my plan?’” he said. “If I was featuring a winery, I had to do research and write the script. So it became a job.”

Volpatt invited a friend to help him with an early episode on cooking with canned foods, and they came up with ingenious recipes like a simple ragu of white beans and tomatoes. But the rest of the time, it was just Volpatt alone in his home kitchen, improvising.

“Within a few days, I made a commitment,” he said. “I looked at the camera and said, ‘I love doing this, and I’m going to do this until the orders are lifted, or lightened.’”

When Big Bottom Market opened for takeout after 51 days, he stopped filming and started assembling his stories and recipes into a cookbook that would also serve as a quarantine diary. (Big Bottom Market is now open to the public from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. and closed Tuesday).

One of the most helpful features of the book is the Pantry Preparedness section at the beginning, which gives suggestions on what spices, oils, baking essentials, canned goods, grains, proteins and refrigerator items you should keep stocked.

“The whole idea is to have your pantry ready, no matter what,” he said. “You should always have a really healthy pantry.”

To break up the recipes, which are organized chronologically, Volpatt instituted special days such as “Sunday Bubbly Sunday” featuring sparkling wines; “Microwave Monday” showcasing that handy appliance; “Kids Tuesdays” highlighting fun ideas for young chefs; and “Gluten-Free Fridays,” in honor of a friend who eats a gluten-free diet.

“She was watching my show, and I wanted to challenge myself,” he said. “One of the things I made were these oat cookies. And now we have gluten-free pastries at the market.”

Sometimes Volpatt found inspiration in his own cravings. Such was the case with the pedestrian-sounding recipe for Ketchup Chicken.

“It has an Asian twist because you coat the chicken with flour and fry it and serve it over rice,” he said. “I used Heinz Ketchup, of course. I’m from Pittsburgh!”

When a friend’s son asked him to make something that “sounds gross but is actually delicious,” he came up with Milk and Pepsi, a twist on the old-fashioned soda float.

“On ‘Laverne & Shirley,’ Laverne used to drink milk and Pepsi together,” he said. “Then I made an Avalanche Mudslide Bread Pudding, which was fun.”

There are a few recipes from “The Big Bottom Biscuit” cookbook thrown in for good measure — the biscuits, of course, plus an aioli and a champagne vinaigrette.

“In addition to making things up, I also reached into my bag of tricks,” he said. “My dad makes beef broth with oxtail bones and cabbage, which gives it a rich flavor. And the beef broth is used to make a soup with pastina (tiny pasta) in it.”

Some of the recipes were invented during his weekly routine of cleaning out the refrigerator, which he usually tackles on Sundays.

“You clean your refrigerator out and make something from whatever you have,” he explained.

One Sunday, he came up with a dish he dubbed Cream of Refrigerator that was one part desperation, two parts inspiration.

“I had leftover cherry tomatoes, cooked peppers and onions from the cheesesteak recipe, half a red and yellow onion, two fennel bulbs, celery, garlic and butter,” he said. “I also had heavy cream and ground beef, so I created a sauce and served it over egg noodles.”

Along with his mom’s marinara, he included her recipe for Deviled Shrimp, an appetizer dressed up with a simple vinaigrette, black olives, red onions and lemon slices.

“It’s so perfect and delicious for summer and so easy,” he said. “You just get a bag of 16-20 frozen shrimp and cook them up.”

Now that we have all endured three months of cooking for ourselves, Volpatt believes the experience of eating out may never be quite the same.

“The whole experience of going out — we’re not going to lose that,” he said. “But people are looking at their checking accounts and saying, ‘Where did all the money come from?’”

Even extroverts like himself have found unexpected pleasure in hitting the pause button, a theme the New York Times explored in an article on May 29 that quoted Volpatt and others who spoke about the silver lining of the pandemic.

“When I was forced to spend time with myself, I learned to like it,” he said. “I’m actually fun to hang out with.”

“Cooking in Place” is available for $4.99 as a Kindle edition on amazon.com (you can download the Kindle reader on your smartphone, iPad or desktop to get the e-book version). A paperback edition ($15.99) will be available soon.

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“This marinara recipe is simple to prepare and is the one my mommy made for me and my family when I was a kid. She still makes it for me when I visit,” Volpatt said. “I wanted to be reminded of home, and it did just that. It goes wonderfully on pasta and also tastes great on chicken with your favorite cheese melted on top.”

Mom’s Marinara

Makes 3 ½ cups

— Extra virgin olive oil

1/2 sweet yellow onion, chopped

3 garlic cloves, minced

1 cup of dry white wine

1 28-ounce can of San Marzano Whole peeled tomatoes

1 teaspoon kosher salt, plus more to taste

1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper, plus more to taste

1/4 cup of chopped parsley

1 teaspoon lemon zest (optional)

2 teaspoons fennel seeds (optional)

— Grated Parmesan

Cover the bottom of a saucepan with extra virgin olive oil. Turn the heat up to medium and get the oil hot. Add the onions first and then the garlic and saute for a few minutes.

Add in the wine and let that cook down for about 3-5 minutes.

Put the can of whole tomatoes in a blender, pulverize and add the tomatoes to the pan.

After about 15 minutes, remove the sauce from the stovetop and add the chopped parsley. If you are feeling adventurous, add some lemon zest (about 1 teaspoon, finely chopped) and/or some toasted fennel seeds (2 teaspoons). Volpatt said his mother does this and it brightens up the sauce.

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“In 2007, before I lived in Sonoma County, I was out wine tasting with friends. We decided to go off the beaten path and visit a winery I had never been to before,” Volpatt said. “The winery was Marimar Estate, owned by Marimar Torres of the famed Torres Wine family in Spain. My friends and I were greeted by the tasting room manager, and she immediately asked if we wanted to do the tapas and wine pairing. No brainer for us at all and soon we were sipping on some of the best chardonnay and pinot I had ever tasted while savoring tasty house-made tapas.

“Over time I got to know Marimar well and also developed a friendship with her daughter, Cristina. When they asked me to feature their wines on the (Facebook Live) show, I was all in. As Marimar is also a cookbook author, I decided to adapt this recipe from her book, ‘The Spanish Table.’”

Shredded Carrot Salad with Orange and Pine Nuts

Makes 6 servings as a side

1 ½ pounds of carrots, shredded

¼ cup fresh orange juice

1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice

1 tablespoon olive oil

¼ cup pine nuts

1 teaspoon salt

Peel and shred the carrots. You should have about 4 cups. Volpatt shredded his in a food processor. Place them in a bowl with the orange, lemon and salt. Allow to marinate anywhere from 10-30 minutes.

Heat the oil in a small pan and saute the pine nuts, constantly stirring until golden. Just before serving, toss the nuts with the carrots.

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This is a delicious and easy recipe, Volpatt said. The deviled shrimp is a party pleaser and go-to for his mom.

Mom’s Deviled Shrimp

Serves 8-10 as appetizer

1 32-ounce bag of 16/20 shrimp (cooked and frozen, then defrosted)

½ of one red onion, sliced thin

1 6-ounce can of black olives

1 lemon, cut into slices

½ cup of olive oil

¼ cup of red wine vinegar

½ teaspoon salt

½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

½ teaspoon dried yellow mustard

Place the shrimp, onion, black olives and lemon slices in a bowl. In a separate bowl, vigorously whisk together the rest of the ingredients and pour over the shrimp. Let set in the refrigerator for about 20-30 minutes and serve chilled.

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“Each week I clean out my refrigerator and try to come up with something tasty that uses leftovers and veggies and other things I don’t want to throw away,” Volpatt said. “This is what my friend Heidi calls ‘Cream of Refrigerator.’ There is never a set recipe to follow with this dish. You just need to be creative and use your noggin.”

For a successful dish, you need “anchor ingredients,” Volpatt said. He used ground beef, cooked and set aside, and cream, plus random vegetables to make the sauce: cherry tomatoes, cooked peppers and onions leftover from a cheesesteak recipe, red and yellow onion, two fennel bulbs, lots of celery, minced garlic and butter.

“First, I chopped up the fennel and onions, then melted the butter in a sauté pan. The garlic, onion and fennel were added and cooked until translucent.

Then I added in the celery and let that cook and finally tossed in the peppers and onions. I had about two cups of heavy cream that I added to the dish and let it cook down for about 8-10 minutes. The beef was then added to the sauté pan, and I let the flavors meld for a few more minutes.

“The egg noodles took about 10 minutes to cook, and I started them immediately after the beef was added to the sauce.

“When the noodles were done, I placed them in a bowl and spooned a healthy portion of beef and veggies on top.

“A little bit (actually a lot) of Parmesan cheese and parsley topped it all off.”

Staff Writer Diane Peterson can be reached at 707-521-5287 or diane.peterson@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @dianepete56.

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