Contributed by Katy Morris
In a charming New England setting alongside the whispering Norwalk River in Wilton, Connecticut, sits a quaint and humble looking one-room schoolhouse that is home to a superior dining experience. The Schoolhouse of Cannondale, owned and operated by Tim LaBant since 2006, offers hungry patrons an upscale yet homey surrounding in which to enjoy thoughtfully constructed fare using familiar, mostly organic, seasonal ingredients in creative ways.
Liz offered the opportunity to join her for one of her fave CT. vegetarian experiences, by posting on her facebook page once we set the reservation. A friendly group of readers and like-minded eaters gathered over an extraordinary meal and became acquainted as we dished about the scrumptious food and more. These fixed price Vegetarian Wednesdays (which are going to continue indefinately given the excellent reception from diners) have become a winter tradition at the Schoolhouse.
Think perfectly plated, vibrantly deep orange carrots, freshly pulled from the cold winter soil, alongside a smoked celeriac “cake” and juicy blood orange slices, drizzled with a luminous green emulsion of watercress puree adorning the plate; sautéed cauliflower slices mixed with nutty house made walnut milk and complemented by the unique taste of pickled cauliflower and warm sautéed dark greens. We’re talking an eye-and-palate pleasing impressive tutorial that earned the Schoolhouse an easy A+.
The four course vegetarian menu, printed on a single sheet with easy to read and concise descriptions, warmly welcomed the Rueven party at the top of the page. The menu offered two enticing options for each course. Luckily, between all of us, we were able to order everything on the menu, which consisted of a thoughtful balance of heavy versus light options that were perfectly portioned on generously sized plates. And all of this, fairly priced (maybe even a bargain) at $40. per person.
First dishes up were the hot lentil soup with a saffron crème, and a roasted beet tartar with tarragon emulsion and arugula. The lentil soup was hearty and tasty, quite a comforting option for one of the crazy frigid days we’ve been experiencing here in the Northeast.
As we ate the beet tartar, made with capers, red onions, lemon juice, pickle juice, and a little bit of vinegar, dressed with a tarragon emulsion, and paired with locally sourced arugula and little bit of grapefruit, our palates perked up with the wonderfully balanced, earthy taste of the unique combination.
The choices for course two consisted of a fried duck egg with confit potatoes, thyme butter leeks, and fresh herbs (wow!) or baby carrots with watercress puree, blood orange, and smoked celeriac. We couldn’t believe the delectable richness of the duck egg. We could instantly taste and see the difference from a chicken egg, as it was noticeably bigger and overall had a distinct, lush taste (head on over to The Speckled Rooster in Westport to buy them!)
We were impressed, again with course three: a house made pappardelle pasta with a mushroom ragout (including shiitake and trumpet), topped with fried kale; OR wilted greens dish with cauliflower “steaks”, house made walnut milk, and pickled cauliflower. Both were fantastic, but the pasta would be our valedictorian (recipe below).
Chef LeBant makes the pasta in-house from scratch and shared his simple recipe, below. The hefty pasta combined with the “meaty” mushrooms in a light, creamy sauce topped with light, crispy kale was simply divine.
The crunchy sautéed cauliflower paired with the sautéed greens was also a veggie-loaded delight. Note that the walnut milk is made in house and actually does contain dairy. They create it by steeping walnuts in milk and pureeing it such that it can add an appropriate amount of woodsy, nutty protein to the dish.
Choices for dessert were a warm orange toffee cake with blood orange curd, warm passion fruit cream, and coconut sorbet, OR a rosemary caramel & white chocolate custard with pink grapefruit and grapefruit cava sorbet. Both choices rendered us speechless. There were a lot of flying forks reaching for tastes of shared bites .
The icy cold, super clean coconut sorbet –really, a refreshing palate cleanser – paired exceptionally well with the warm, smooth passion fruit cream and the moist orange toffee cake, which was robed in a citrus glaze and had a flawlessly thin layer of crunch on top. This was a generous portion and perfectly balanced with contrasting flavors and textures – the cherry on top of our fantastic meal if you will. The smooth, creamy rosemary-infused custard contrasted with the tangy grapefruit to create a delectable juxtaposition of flavors – a perfect conclusion to a wonderfully executed dinner.
Tim LeBant and his crew (including Sous Chef, Nick Verdisco who is the creative mastermind of the vegetarian menu) strive to ensure they offer wide-ranging options that provide a variety of flavors, textures, colors, and richness. As always, LaBant makes every effort to obtain organic, locally sourced ingredients (many from Millstone Farm, just up the road in Wilton), but at times that tends to be a challenge. I had to ask why “Substitutions Politely Declined” was noted on their menu, to which the answer was that they spend a considerable amount of time and effort constructing a given dish to ensure optimal flavor, and texture, and if a customer requests a change to an ingredient, it could throw off the whole dish.
That being said, Tim assured me that they are 100% able to accommodate vegetarian diners with a smile…we love that. Call ahead for reservations (way ahead) and for special requests.
34 Cannon Rd, Wilton, CT 06897 | email: Chef@schoolhouseatcannondale.com | call: (203) 834-9816
Tim was kind enough to share the recipe for our favorite dish of the night, the Pappardelle Pasta with Mushroom Ragout. Enjoy!
Serves 8-10, dairy
Pappardelle is a fat, wide pasta, perfect for handling this hefty mushroom ragout, below. These broad noodles are named pappardelle from the Italian root "pappare", meaning "to gobble up". You get the picture.
- 18.75 oz. flour
- 3 oz. Semolina
- 5 Lg eggs
- 1 egg yolk
- 1 t milk
- 2 t salt
- Pulse in a Cuisinart 15-20 times
- Knead 20 minutes by hand
- Wrap in plastic rest 30 minutes to rest at room temp
- Roll pasta out ,cut in to pappardelle and dust with semolina
This Pappardelle recipe and the Mushroom Ragout recipe that follows, were provided by Tim LaBant, owner and Chef at The Schoolhouse, Cannondale, CT.
Thank you, Tim, for sharing the recipes for our favorite dish!
Tip: If you are not up for making your own pasta, buy fresh sheets of lasagna and cut them into wide strips, modeled after pappardelle.
This is a Dairy recipe.
Using a variety of mushrooms provides a complexity of flavors and textures. These less common varieties are well worth seeking out for their meaty textures and subtle nutty, herbaceous flavors.
- mixed mushrooms (Trumpet Royals, Hen of the Woods, Black Trumpets, Beech, Honshimeji) any fresh mushrooms can be used
- 2 avg sized shallots
- 4 cloves garlic minced
- 1/4 C Sherry
- 1/2 T fresh thyme
- 1/4 C of fresh parsley leaves (packed) minced after measuring
- salt & pepper to taste
- 1 T Balsamic
- 1 T Cream
- Parmesan cheese to taste
- Start a pot of water for cooking pasta
- In a large skillet sautee mushrooms, & shallots on high heat to caramelize
- Add garlic & saute 1 min
- Add sherry and reduce
- When most of sherry has cooked out add thyme and balsamic vinegar, reduce again
- Once liquid has become thick, add cream and parsley; remove from heat.
- Cook pasta and test for doneness. When done, add strained pasta to mushrooms and incorporate pasta into mushroom ragout. Toss gently making sure not to break up the pappardelle.