Chef Josh Pebbles' story is a familiar one: He started as a dishwasher at age 14, working for "20 bucks a night and a hamburger," he says, nonetheless realizing he'd found where he belonged. By 18 he was at Café Borrone, a venerable Italian café near Stanford University, where he cemented a fascination for Italian cuisine that has carried him from California to Italy to Coeur d'Alene, where he now serves as executive chef at Vine & Olive.
Why Italian cuisine?
"It was the whole mentality of using only the best ingredients," says Pebbles, who traveled to Italy in 2013 and wound up spending two years there. "And they take such precision and care in absolutely everything they do."
Pebbles had been reading the book Heat, by the New Yorker's Bill Buford, who left his writing job to live in Tuscany and work in Mario Batali's kitchen. In that spirit, Pebbles departed for Modena, Italy, to pursue authentic experiences.
While wandering around Florence's Piazza della Signoria, Pebbles stumbled upon what is now one of his favorite dishes: Meatballs. "It was so simple but everything was just perfect," says Pebbles, who remembers heading straight to the butcher to get pork so he could try replicating the dish.
Another serendipitous encounter resulted in an apprenticeship of sorts that redefined his approach to pasta and charcuterie. He'd gone to one of his favorite places to eat and asked where he might learn to make pasta. The answer was Osteria Francescana or Hosteria Giusti, both Michelin-starred restaurants.
After two years at Hosteria Giusti, a restaurant and salumeria — which translates to maker of cured meats — dating back several hundred years, Pebbles returned to California, where he opened the short-lived, dinner-only Borrone Market Bar. Divorce sent him south to Los Angeles where he, like Restaurant: Impossible's Robert Irvine, stepped in to revive a restaurant, the Tart, part of Farmer's Daughter Hotel.
Then, Pebbles took a year-and-a-half break. He migrated to AR Cucina in Culver City, California, to become chef de cuisine for owner Akasha Richmond, formerly megastar Michael Jackson's private chef. Still, he was restless and casting about for a new challenge.
Pebbles' transition to North Idaho almost didn't happen. Remarried and approaching his early 40s, he was contemplating working in Costa Rica when his wife, Shanéa, saw Vine & Olive owner Naomi Boutz' job posting on Craigslist Portland. It seemed like a great fit.
As he did with other restaurants, Pebbles spent time working among the staff and slowly integrating specials into the menu. He's particularly excited about one complex menu item: diver scallops with celeriac puree, Sicilian eggplant caponata, crisp kale with grappa-infused grapes, Aleppo peppers and preserved lemon puree ($26). Pebbles has also been working on a new lunch menu and the wine dinners for which Vine & Olive is known.
PEARL ONION TARTES TATIN
This elegant, yet simple, savory French dish is a variation on the classic tart in which the ingredients — in this case onions — are caramelized along the bottom of the dish while the pastry is baked on top. Pearl onions are small, white and typically sweeter than their larger cousins, and can be found in the specialty produce aisle. Chef Josh uses several 4-inch tart pans but you can substitute ramekins or muffin pans.
- 1-1/2 pounds pearl onions, cut root side off at base of roots
- 12 ounces puff pastry, cut 1 inch larger than pan size, then freeze until use
- 2/3 cup powdered sugar
- 3 tablespoons butter, unsalted, room temperature
- Balsamic vinegar (aged eight years or more)
- Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
- Prepare a bowl with ice water.
- After you've cut the root side off of the base of each onion, bring a pot of water to a simmer and add pearl onions (skin on) for 90 seconds.
- Place onions in ice bath to cool, then squeeze onions between thumb and forefinger to release outer skin.
- Lightly spray tart pans with pan coating.
- Sift sugar over base of pans until bottom is not visible.
- Place approximately one tablespoon of butter on bottom of each pan and spread to edges with fingers. (Use less butter if pans are smaller, more if larger.)
- Place onions in pans.
- Place cut puff pastry sheet over onions and gently tuck edges around inside of pan around onions (use butter knife to aid tucking). Keep puff pastry you're not using in freezer until you need it.
- Flatten dough down so you can see the imprint of onions on dough.
- Bake until golden brown, about 12-15 minutes.
- Let cool slightly (3-4 minutes) then flip pans upside down to release onion tartlets.
- Drizzle with balsamic vinegar just before serving.
PORK MEATBALLS WITH NONNA'S SAUCE
Pebbles says this time-tested recipe is typical of what he'd serve at a party or bring to a potluck. Make any or all of the dish up to several days ahead to minimize time spent in the kitchen on the day-of. The recipe makes 2-3 dozen meatballs, depending on how large they're formed.
Nonna's Tomato Sauce
- 48 ounces San Marzano whole peeled tomatoes
- 6 garlic cloves, chopped
- 1 yellow onion, fine dice
- 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
- 1 cup red wine
- 1 tablespoons granulated sugar
- 2 teaspoons salt
- 2 teaspoons black pepper
- 3 tablespoons olive oil
- In a food processor blend canned tomatoes for about 20 seconds.
- In a large pot, add olive oil, onions and garlic. Sauté until soft.
- Add tomatoes, red wine and balsamic vinegar and bring to a low simmer.
- Add salt, pepper and sugar then over low heat cook for 30-40 minutes.
- Sauce can be made five days ahead and refrigerated till needed.
- 3 pounds ground pork
- 4 eggs
- 3 cups breadcrumbs, Panko style
- 5 cups Parmigiano-Reggiano, finely grated (microplane works best)
- 12 garlic cloves, minced
- 4 yellow onions, fine dice
- 1 cup parsley, chopped
- 3 tablespoons olive oil
- 2 teaspoons salt
- 1 teaspoon black pepper, ground
- Sauté onions on medium heat in olive oil until soft, then add garlic. Remove from heat and let cool.
- Combine the remaining ingredients with the cooled onion mixture in a large bowl. Using your hands, fold all together until completely incorporated.
- Test it! Take a small piece of the mixture and sauté with a little oil, then taste for seasonings, adjusting as necessary.
- Form the meatballs into small, bite-size pieces and place in refrigerator for at least one hour or overnight (wrap tightly in plastic if overnight). This helps firm them up.
- In a large sauté pan, add oil to cover bottom of pan. Over medium high heat, sear the meatballs on all sides. Do this in batches as to not overcrowd the pan. Place seared meatballs in a separate baking dish.
- Once all the meatballs are seared, drain off most of the fat from the pan and add the tomato sauce, stirring with a wooden spoon to deglaze the pan.
- Bring tomato sauce to a simmer and then pour over meatballs.
- In a preheated 350 degrees Fahrenheit oven, bake until cooked through, about 15 minutes depending on size.
— SHARED BY VINE & OLIVE'S JOSH PEBBLES