When you have a background that includes cooking at Michelin-starred restaurants in Southern California and extensive professional experience in Italy, you might make for an intimidating holiday dinner guest. Such is the experience of Chef Kelly Whitaker. His restaurant, Boulder’s Pizzeria Basta, has earned a reputation as the place to go among local foodies craving wood-fired pizza. These pies feature such specialty ingredients as heirloom prosciutto, San Marzano tomatoes and house-cured pancetta.
But Basta’s appeal also goes beyond authentically styled pies. The menu also features charcuterie favorites such as artisan speck and fennel salami as well as house-made ricotta cheese. A house specialty is the beef short rib prepared using the sous vide method of slow 72-hour water bath cooking. This technique makes for a far more moist and flavorful dish. Additionally, Basta offers occasional special menus. For example, a recent beer dinner featured Victory Brewing drafts paired with such dishes as duck rillette with roasted pear and chestnut and an elk salad consisting of cranberry-orange marmalade and arugula.
Given this high level of culinary sophistication, it’s unsurprising that when Whitaker receives invitations to seasonal soirees, it’s under the condition that he doesn’t need to cook anything. Graciously, he explains, “I happily accept but insist on bringing a side dish.”
Whitaker notes that he keeps things unfussy for his contribution. “I like to opt for simple, straightforward sides that are easy, but bring great flavors of the local harvest.”
Despite the simplicity of these dishes, they have passed seasonal muster at Basta. He explains, “My ‘go-tos,’ which have both made it on to Basta’s menu in some way or another this time of year, are roasted root vegetables with herbs and smoked mashed potatoes.
More information on Basta’s offerings and upcoming special events can be found at www. pizzeriabasta.com.
Roasted Root Vegetable with Herbs
3 tbsp. butter
1 pound fingerling potatoes, unpeeled, scrubbed, cut into 1-inch pieces
1 pound celery root, peeled, cut into 1-inch pieces
1 pound carrots, peeled, cut into 1-inch pieces
1 pound parsnips, peeled, cut into 1-inch pieces
2 leeks (white and pale green parts only), cut into ½-inch thick pieces
2 tablespoons chopped fresh flat leaf parsley, celery leaves, chives
1/2 cup olive oil
10 garlic cloves, peeled
Position one rack in center of oven and preheat to 375 F. Add butter to a heavy pan. Add all ingredients except garlic and herbs in very large bowl; toss to coat with olive oil, reserving some for finishing the dish. Season generously with salt and pepper. Roast 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add garlic cloves to the pan. Continue to roast until all vegetables are tender and brown in spots, stirring and turning vegetables occasionally, about 45 minutes longer. In the end, add the herbs and remaining olive oil and finish seasoning if needed.
Smoked Mashed Potato
4 lbs. Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled and cut in quarters
1 cup milk and 1 cup cream, warmed together
½ lb. room-temperature butter
Salt and pepper
Add the potatoes to cold water and bring to a simmer. Once the potatoes are cooked, transfer them to a tabletop or outdoor smoker (McGuckin Hardware in Boulder has a great one with wood chips). Smoke for eight minutes or until they have turned brown. After the potatoes are smoked, work the milk/cream mixture in with the butter. Season to taste.