Summer presents the ultimate opportunity to practice contemporary California cuisine in your own backyard.
Why? Because it is barbecue--sorry, make that grilling--season. To turn the old-fashioned barbecue into today's trendy grill, stoke it with mesquite or oak or grapevine cuttings--anything but those serviceable briquettes from the supermarket.
Then compose the menu around fresh, seasonal ingredients. Be sure to include an upscale herb such as basil or rosemary--fresh, of course, not dried. Work in some pasta, choose a light main course such as chicken or fish, and end with a dessert that has more class than calories.
These are not hypothetical guidelines but the outline of a meal that took place at Callaway Vineyard and Winery in Temecula. Consummately Californian in style, the lunch inaugurated a series of vineyard events pairing wines with regional foods in a setting that might be called country elegant.
This first in Callaway's "Celebrate the Grape" series matched the dishes to two styles of Chenin Blanc. One was a dry-styled crisp wine, the Chenin Blanc-Dry 1984 (the 1985 vintage has since been released). The other was a lush late harvest dessert wine, the 1982 Sweet Nancy, produced from Chenin Blanc grapes that had developed the mold called Botrytis cinerea, which concentrates sweetness and adds honeyed character.
After touring the facilities and attending a wine tasting, participants gathered outdoors at a picnic area overlooking the vineyards. Bouquets of bottle brush, New Zealand poppies and other flowers that might have been plucked from the countryside gave a natural look to the table settings. Cooled by breezes, the diners relaxed to classical guitar music as the first wine was poured by a youthful serving staff wearing blue Callaway aprons and red bow ties.
Lunch, prepared in a nearby outbuilding housing the kitchen, began with red onion tarts seasoned with fresh herbs and nutmeg. Earlier, boneless chicken breasts marinated with Chenin Blanc and fresh rosemary had been grilled over blazing barbecues fashioned from tubs formerly used to ship / airplane parts. Grapevine prunings provided the fuel and gave a distinctive, smoky taste to the chicken.
Cindy Hattrup, Callaway's culinary manager, has found the dry Chenin Blanc a good match for Mexican and Italian dishes. Therefore, she accompanied the chicken with spinach fettuccine, a wedge of avocado and a spoonful of fresh salsa. An assortment of herbs including basil, tarragon and chervil went into a sauce tossed with the fettuccine and spooned over the chicken. A sprig of flowering rosemary from a patch at the winery decorated each plate.
Pursuing the regional theme, Hattrup chose avocados from a nearby ranch, herbs from Vista, tart pastry shells from a Riverside bakery, bread from Fallbrook, pasta from Carlsbad and chicken from San Diego.
For dessert, apples from Julian were accorded a treatment appropriate to mythical golden apples. Served in a pool of creme fraiche, the apples had been baked in Sweet Nancy, a wine that is rarely made because the grapes must be exposed to unusual and unpredictable weather circumstances that permit the development of the mold, then the drying of the grapes. The 1978 vintage was considered so exceptional that it sold for $50 a 750-milliliter bottle. That makes the 1982 vintage a bargain at a winery retail price of $15 for a 375-milliliter bottle. Sweet Nancy was first produced in 1973. The 1982 wine is the fifth and most recent vintage.
Callaway will stage another "Celebrate the Grape" winery tour, tasting and luncheon Oct. 12 when the featured wine will be Sauvignon Blanc. Tickets are $25. For further information, contact the winery at 32720 Rancho California Road, Temecula, Calif. 92390 or call (714) 676-4001. ALSACIENNE PATISSERIE (Red Onion Tart)
8 (4-inch) unbaked tart shells
1/8 pound sliced bacon, cut into small pieces
1/4 cup unsalted butter, softened
2 1/2 pounds red onions, thinly sliced
1 tablespoon chopped garlic
1/4 cup parsley, minced
1/4 cup snipped chives
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup milk, scalded and slightly cooled
1/2 cup whipping cream, scalded and slightly cooled
Pierce bottom of each pastry shell with fork and sprinkle with a little nutmeg. Cook bacon in large skillet, stirring constantly until bacon is cooked but not crisp. Add butter, cook until melted and combine with bacon.
Add onions and garlic and cook slowly 20 to 30 minutes over low heat until onions are almost translucent. Do not allow to brown. Add parsley, chives, salt, white pepper to taste and 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg. Cook until heated through. Divide among tart shells, leveling tops with spatula.
Beat eggs. Gradually whisk in milk and cream. Pour on and around onion mixture in tart shells. Place tart shells on baking sheet. Place baking sheet on bottom rack of oven and bake at 375 degrees 35 to 40 minutes or until knife inserted in filling near edge of pastry comes out clean. Place tarts on rack. Let stand 8 to 10 minutes before removing from tart tins. Makes 8 servings. GRILLED BONELESS BREAST OF CHICKEN
4 large whole chicken breasts, boned and skinned
1 cup Chenin Blanc
1 cup oil
1 tablespoon rosemary
1/2 teaspoon white pepper
Chenin Blanc Sauce
Rinse chicken breasts under cool running tap water. Cut in halves lengthwise. Place chicken in shallow dish. Add wine, oil and rosemary. Cover and marinate in refrigerator overnight. Turn several times. When ready to cook, remove chicken from marinade and drain briefly. Place on well-greased grill over an even bed of medium glowing coals (coals should be partly covered with gray ash). Grill 10 to 15 minutes, turning chicken after 5 minutes. Cook until chicken is seared on both sides and no longer pink inside. Serve with Spinach Fettuccine and top with some Chenin Blanc Sauce. Makes 4 servings. Spinach Fettuccine
3 quarts salted water
1 tablespoon oil
3/4 pound spinach fettuccine
2 cups Chenin Blanc Sauce
Bring water to boil and add oil. Add fettuccine gradually so that water does not stop boiling. Stir with wooden spoon. Boil 10 minutes, or until firm-tender. Drain well. Toss with Chenin Blanc Sauce. Makes 6 to 8 servings. Chenin Blanc Sauce
3/4 cup butter
1/4 cup finely chopped shallots
1/4 cup Chenin Blanc
2 cups whipping cream
2/3 cup sour cream
2/3 cup finely chopped mixed fresh herbs such as parsley, tarragon, chervil, basil, thyme
Melt butter in saucepan over medium heat. Add shallots and cook until tender. Add wine and simmer 5 minutes, until slightly reduced. Gradually add whipping cream and sour cream and simmer 15 to 20 minutes, until sauce is slightly reduced and thickened. Whisk in herb mixture and cook few moments longer. Makes 2 3/4 cups. JULI BOREN'S SALSA FRESCA
2 large tomatoes, diced
1/4 green pepper, finely chopped
1/4 yellow chile, finely chopped
1 small green onion, finely chopped
1/8 red onion, finely chopped
1 tablespoon cilantro, finely chopped
1/4 teaspoon Mexican oregano
Dash garlic salt
Combine tomatoes, green pepper, chile, green and red onions, cilantro, oregano and garlic salt. Mix gently but thoroughly. Cover and refrigerate overnight. Makes about 2 3/4 cups. CINNAMON BAKED APPLES WITH PECANS
1 cup late harvest Chenin Blanc
1/2 cup sugar
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
6 apples, cored and peeled
2/3 cup finely chopped pecans
6 pecan halves
6 mint sprigs
Heat wine in saucepan over medium heat. Gradually add sugar and cinnamon and blend until dissolved. Stand apples in baking dish. Pour wine mixture evenly over apples. Bake at 375 degrees 1 1/2 hours, basting every 20 minutes, or until apples are tender when tested with fork. Remove from oven and cool.
On each of 6 dessert plates, arrange pool of about 1/4 cup Creme Fraiche. Stand 1 apple in center of each plate. Top with spoonful of remaining Creme Fraiche. Sprinkle with some of chopped pecans. Garnish with pecan half and mint sprig. Makes 6 servings. Creme Fraiche
1 cup whipping cream
1 cup sour cream
1 1/2 tablespoons powdered sugar
3/8 teaspoon vanilla
Gradually add whipping cream to sour cream. Add sugar and vanilla and whisk until thoroughly blended. Chill. Just before serving, whisk again. Makes 2 cups.