The long, warm days of summer are now in the rear-view mirror, but for serious foodies in Sonoma County, that means the best is yet to come.
Welcome to the shoulder season of early fall, when the long, growing season of the temperate North Coast provides the best of both worlds: the juicy, sweet corn and tomatoes, cucumbers and peppers of summer, overlappingy with the warm, earthy butternut squash and sweet potatoes, mushrooms and root vegetables of fall.
“The fun thing about harvest in Sonoma County is that it’s almost like we have an extra season,” said Justin Wangler, executive chef at Kendall-Jackson Wine Estate & Gardens in Santa Rosa. “The tomatoes are going crazy, but we already have squash and pumpkins coming in ... right now it’s my favorite time to cook, because you have so many ingredients.”
There are plenty of iconic harvest parties that you can attend, including Kendall-Jackson’s brand new Harvest Celebration this Sunday set inside the pristine garden at the winery and the long-running Sonoma County Harvest Fair on Oct. 6-8 at the Sonoma County Fairgrounds. Or you could simply use some of these wine-and-food celebrations as the inspiration to throw a harvest hoedown in your own back yard.
We asked chefs from both of these celebrations to provide insider tips on creating a casual food-and-wine bash that helps hosts with the heavy lifting while providing a delicious feast for guests.
Here are the top 10 tips from the folks participating in the Kendall-Jackson Harvest Celebration (formerly the Heirloom Tomato Festival) as well as a few of the chefs competing and judging the Sonoma County Harvest Fair’s Professional Food Competition. (for more information on the K-J event and the winners of the food competition, see related stories inside)
1. If you want to highlight the shoulder season, Wangler suggests assigning half of your guests to bring dishes made with summer vegetables, like corn and tomatoes, and the other half to bring dishes crafted out of fall vegetables, such as pumpkins and mushrooms. That way there will be plenty of variety on the table.
2. Of course, some overachieving guests may want to combine both seasons. For K-J’s Harvest Celebration, chef Daniel Kedan of Backyard in Forestville will serve up some fried green tomatoes with mushrooms. “That’s summer and fall in one plate,” Wangler said. That’s OK too, and you could even make it a contest. Who can come up with the best shoulder season dish, embodying the best of both worlds?
3. Make sure you have some hearty meats to go along with all those yummy vegetables. For the K-J Harvest Celebration, Mark Stark of Stark Reality Restaurants will be grilling up some juicy rib eye steaks, and Chef Douglas Keane of Two Birds One Stone in St. Helena will be serving his Hoisin Glazed Pork Ribs. Flat iron, flank steak or tri-tip would also work well.
4. If veggies and seafood appeal more to the crowd, you could concoct a big seafood, sausage and chicken paella on the grill, which is easy to make, wine-friendly and can feed a hungry crowd. K-J’s Harvest Celebration will feature the paella from Yay! Paella of Santa Rosa run by Stan Halverson.
5. Make sure you’ve got some tasty appetizers to whet people’s appetites. Bethany Barsman, chef/owner of Out to Lunch catering in Petaluma, won Best of Show Appetizer in the Harvest Fair Professional Food Competition this year for her Prosciutto Cups with Goat Cheese Mousse, Sliced Figs and La Crema Pinot Noir Sauce.