The stated purpose of The Winemaker Cooks is to offer home chefs an "insider view of wine country life," complete with farm-to-table menus meant to pair well with local varietals. If that's what you're after, you're in luck; author Christine Hanna (president of Hanna Winery & Vineyards) makes good on the promise. There's a better reason to keep the book on hand, though. The recipes are simple. Not "simple" as in "dumbed down for beginners," but simple as in, if it's not broken, don't fix it. Hanna's recipes showcase fresh, local ingredients in the best way possible: Leaving them alone.
Divided by time of year and interspersed with "Ask the Winemaker" Q&As, the dishes here tend to leave pieces of produce intact, smartly combined, and minimally seasoned.
A Green Zebra Tomato, White Corn, and Mozzarella salad admits a little pepper, olive oil, and vinegar; the Kadota Fig Tart wants its fruit left in big, gorgeous chunks to ensure that the attendant mascarpone and honey don't compete for center stage. Even the more substantial entrees -- Pork Roast Stuffed with Kalamata Olives and Oregano -- are designed for minimal fuss and maximum flavor.
These recipes are more about buttressing what's good from the garden, rather than trying to transform anything too fully. A happy side effect of this approach is that the recipes are low-maintenance and very often kid, picnic, and weeknight-friendly.
Order: The Winemaker Cooks: Menus, Parties, and Pairings
Lolla Rossa, Fig, and Feta Salad
Lolla Rossa is a beautiful crimson-leaved salad green that grows in our garden and can be found at farmers’ markets in the fall. Any red-leafed lettuce would be a fine substitute. Our Mission fig tree is prolific with its second crop, offering up the sweetest, most succulent figs. I love them in this quintessential fall salad.
The winey flavor of the figs, along with the salty feta and crunch of the walnuts, makes this a salad to enjoy with either Sauvignon Blanc or Pinot Noir.
¾ cup walnuts, coarsely chopped
¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 tsp red wine vinegar
1 tbsp balsamic vinegar
½ tsp salt
¼ tsp freshly ground pepper
Leaves from 2 small heads Lolla Rossa lettuce, or 1 head other red-leafed lettuce
½ cup crumbled feta cheese
6 small Mission or Kabota figs, quartered
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Spread the walnuts in a pie pan. Toast in the oven for 10 minutes, or until fragrant. In a small bowl, whisk together the oil, vinegars, salt, and pepper. In a salad bowl, toss the lettuce and walnuts with the vinaigrette to coat well. Add the feta and figs and toss gently. Divide among plates.
Pan-Seared Hangar Steak with Porcini-Merlot Reduction
I’m having a love affair with hanger steak. I started ordering it in restaurants a couple of years ago, and then it began to occasionally show up in high-end grocery stores. Now it’s a regular at the meat counter of my local market. Hanger steak is cut from the area between the last rib and the loin. Previously called the butcher tenderloin, it’s very juicy and tender, with the added benefit of being considerably less expensive than pricey cuts like filet.
Fall is mushroom season, so they take pride of place alongside the steak. Feel free to use whatever mushroom you find at your market. On the north coast, we begin seeing porcini and chanterelles soon after the first good rain of the fall. But shiitakes are a nice substitute, and readily available at the market, as are cremini. Steak and Cabernet are meant for each other, so serve a classic Napa or Sonoma Cabernet Sauvignon here.
1 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
One 1½- to 2-lb/680- to 910-g hanger steak, cut into 6 portions
Salt and freshly ground pepper
4 oz/115 g porcini or stemmed shiitake mushrooms, or 8 oz/225 g cremini/brown mushrooms, brushed clean and thinly sliced
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
½ cup/120 ml Merlot
¼ cup/60 ml good-quality beef stock
In a large, heavy sauté pan or frying pan, heat the oil over medium-high heat until shimmering. Season the hanger steaks on both sides with salt and pepper, then sear in the hot oil until browned, about 2 minutes per side. Transfer to a plate.
Add the mushrooms to the pan and return to medium-high heat. Add the garlic and stir to combine. Add half of the wine and cook the mushrooms for 2 to 3 minutes. Add the remaining wine and the beef stock. Return the steaks to the pan, cover, and cook for 2½ minutes on each side for medium-rare. Add salt and pepper to taste. Serve the steaks drizzled with the pan sauce.