Hosting a Wine Country-Inspired Outdoor Party

Cookbook author Brigit Binns invites Wine Enthusiast into her rustic home in Paso Robles wine country, hosting an intimate summertime get-together that captures the gorgeous, simple charm of California.
Entertaining comes naturally to Brigit Binns—author of several cookbooks, including The New Wine Country Cookbook—and her husband, actor Casey Biggs.

Asking guests to bring bottles is the easiest task on their checklist since the couple’s party regulars includes a who’s who of the local wine scene. There’s Chloe Asseo, whose family owns L’Aventure Winery, and her fiancé, Arnaud Fabre, along with winemakers Riley Hubbard from Law Estate Wines, and Anthony Yount, who owns Kinero Cellars.

True to the laid-back vibe of the region, Brigit and Casey orchestrate dinner parties that are casual, lounging affairs, while still ensuring the menu is palate pleasing and the outdoor table motif is inviting and Instagram-ready. 

Brigit’s simple secret for making these afternoon-into-evening soirees relaxed and collegial is prepping hearty, comfort-driven gourmet dishes so her pals can help out and apply the finishing touches. At this gathering, her menu included a big, busy salad, pizzas and her mouthwatering take on s’mores—all foods that naturally invite easy-to-handle participation both in her kitchen and alongside her wood-burning stove. 

Obviously, it’s easy to throw a wine-country bash when you live in wine country and have winemaker friends. Assuming this is not you, don’t fret. Simply invite guests to bring their favorite bottles from a single wine region that you want to celebrate. 

—Mike DeSimone and Jeff Jenssen
Photos by Trinette Reed and Chris Gramly
Styling by Andrea de Wit

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Your backyard banquet should evoke casual wine-country living, so save the table for the main course, and pour everyone a glass of white or rosé wine and savor appetizers while gathered in the kitchen or porch .

The couple loves to dish wood-fired olives, as everyone assesses the bounty of BYOB wine, strategizing which bottles to open and when.

The whites they poured  first include Barton Family Wines’s 2011 The River, a blend of Grenache Blanc and Viognier, and Cypher Winery’s 2010 Chardonnay.

Then, it’s  on to the rosés: a L’Aventure Rosé, made from Syrah, Mourvèdre and Grenache; and Ranchero Cellars’s  Galaxie Rosé, blended from Carignan, Mourvèdre and Grenache.

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Appetizers

Whole Artichokes in the Wood Oven
Oil-cured Olives in the Wood Oven
Rinconada Dairy Sheep’s Milk Cheese in Vine Leaves

Pizzas

Meyer Lemon, Sautéed Leek and Caper Pizza with Taleggio
Calamari and Chorizo Pizza with Caramelized Fennel and Shaved Manchego
Slab Bacon and Fresh Fig Pizza with Fontina and Thyme Flowers with a Farm Egg

Salads

Watercress, Tangerine and Black Pepper Vinaigrette
Grilled Zucchini with Feta and Mint

Desserts

Strawberry and Blueberry Galette
Negranti Creamery Vanilla Sheep’s Milk Ice Cream
“A’Mores” with roasted grapes

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1 medium red onion, peeled, halved lengthwise, and then thinly sliced lengthwise
3 tablespoons white wine vinegar
1½  tablespoons Dijon mustard
1½ teaspoons coarsely cracked black peppercorns
¾ teaspoon fine sea salt
²⁄₃ cup extra-virgin olive oil
6 small tangerines, peel and pith removed, supremed
6 small bunches watercress, coarse stems removed, washed and dried

In a bowl, cover the slivered red onion with ice water and let soak 25–30 minutes to mellow the flavor. In a large bowl, prepare the vinaigrette. Whisk together the vinegar, mustard, pepper and salt. Drizzle in the olive oil, whisking constantly until the mixture is emulsified. Drain the red onions well and pat dry with paper towels. Add the onions, tangerines and watercress to the bowl of vinaigrette, and toss together gently. Serve immediately. Serves 6–8.

PAIR IT WITH…

Barton Family Wines 2011 The River A blend of 56% Grenache Blanc and 44% Viognier from Paso Robles, widely considered Rhône-blend country. Grenache Blanc’s acidity and minerality brightly balance Viognier’s depth and viscosity, nicely matching the citrus and vinaigrette.

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The primal thrill of tearing into a steamed-then-roasted artichoke and slathering it in lemon aioli is the vegetable version of covering the table with newspaper and opening crabs with a hammer and pliers. Simple, sumptuous and striking to look at, it just may become your favorite dinner-party dish.

Roasted Artichokes with Preserved Meyer Lemon Aioli

For steaming the artichokes, a corn pot is ideal—especially if you have great big California artichokes. To keep them safely above the steaming water, support a circular metal rack on three upside-down ramekins.

6 large artichokes, stems ends trimmed flush with the base
4 lemons, halved, divided
Kosher salt, for the steaming water
4 cloves garlic
1 tablespoon fresh oregano leaves
½ teaspoon sea salt
½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
½ cup extra-virgin olive oil
½ teaspoon red or white wine vinegar
Preserved Meyer Lemon Aioli, for serving (recipe follows)

Rinse the artichokes thoroughly under cold water. Squeeze lemon juice over the tops, using 2 of the lemon halves. Place on a rack over about 3 inches of gently simmering, well-salted water in a tall pot large enough that the lid will fit on snugly; the artichokes will be stacked at least 2 layers deep. Drop the two lemon haves into the pot. Cover the pot and steam the artichokes until a leaf at the base comes away with not too much effort, from 35 to 50 minutes, depending on their size. Transfer the artichokes to a large, round baking dish (a small paella pan works well), fitting them in snugly. Let cool for up to 1 hour, if desired. Nestle the remaining 6 lemon halves cut sides up among the artichokes. Preheat the oven to its hottest setting.

In a mini food processor, combine the garlic, oregano, salt, pepper, olive oil, and vinegar. Pulse to emulsify, then drizzle the garlicky oil over the artichokes, working it down in between the leaves and coating the lemons as well. Transfer the artichokes to the oven and roast for 15 to 25 minutes, until blackened in places. (This may also be done on a covered grill over indirect high heat.) Let cool slightly, and serve with plenty of napkins, plus a “morgue” bowl, for discarding the leaves and gristle.

Preserved Meyer Lemon Aioli

You can easily skip the preserved lemon aspect of this aioli (although we counsel against it). Simply substitute 2 tablespoons minced Meyer or standard Eureka lemon zest for the preserved zest I’ve called for here. And be sure to scrub and dry your lemons before zesting, unless they came from a tree that’s personally known to you.

Four-Day Preserved Lemon Zest (optional):
2 large Meyer or standard Eureka lemons, scrubbed to remove wax, and dried
1½ teaspoons coarse sea salt

Aioli

1 large egg, at room temperature
1 large clove garlic, minced or pushed through a press
½ teaspoon white wine vinegar
½ teaspoon Dijon mustard
¼ teaspoon fine sea salt
¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil
¼ cup canola oil
1½ to 2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice, to taste
⅛ teaspoon white pepper, preferably freshly ground

Make the preserved lemons:

With a vegetable peeler, remove all the lemon zest in strips, leaving behind as much of the white pith as possible; juice the lemons and measure ⅓ cup of juice (save the remaining lemon juice for another use). In a small saucepan of boiling water, blanch the zest for 1 minute, then drain in a sieve. Place the strips in a clean, 1-cup jar, and add the salt and the lemon juice, pressing down with the back of a spoon to submerge all the zest. Cover with a clean, tight-fitting lid and let stand at room temperature for 4 days, shaking energetically once a day. After 4 days, the lemons may be refrigerated for up to six months. Retrieve with a fork or tongs when needed, and chop or sliver the zest as desired. Rinse thoroughly and shake dry before using.

Lift a few pieces of preserved lemon zest from the lemon-juice/salt mixture and mince enough to measure 2 tablespoons, set aside and reserve the remaining preserved zest in the refrigerator.

In a food processor, combine the egg, garlic, vinegar, mustard, and salt. Process until evenly blended. With the motor running, drizzle in the olive and canola oils very, very slowly at first, adding slightly faster after the first ¼ cup has been emulsified. Add 1 teaspoon of the fresh lemon juice and the pepper; pulse two or three times. Taste for seasoning and add another ¼ to ½ teaspoon of lemon juice and/or pinch of pepper, if desired. Transfer to a bowl and stir in the minced preserved lemon zest. (The aioli will improve and mellow if allowed to rest for 24 hours; cover and refrigerate, then return to cool room temperature before serving. It will keep for up to 5 days in the refrigerator.) Yields about ²⁄₃ cup.

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Most of your time will be spent around it, so take time to make your tablescape worthy of the landscape. To set a lazy summery scene, Brigit uses soft hues, mixing her own vintage honey-colored dishes with turquoise plates from Pottery Barn, while accenting the table with herbs, fresh flowers, grape leaves and a hand-hewn wood cutting board.

Cream-colored linen napkins with delicate edging are from AndBe Boutique in Paso Robles, as are glass jar vases and candleholders.

A side-serving table keeps the dining surface uncluttered and elegant. Situating your table under a large tree provides not only provides a dramatic backdrop and cooling shade, it’s ideal for stringing lights to keep the mood magical after sunset.

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Roll out the pizza dough and let the communal topping fest begin.

This group activity isn’t a way to lessen your workload (remember, you’ll still need to prep everything), it provides a narrative for the dinner party.

“Assuming you have all the ingredients at the ready, having friends help out is great way to give them some ownership with the dishes,” she says. “It not only keeps people together, talking and laughing, but it’s this great little experience and connection they all shared and is a storyline we all can keep referring to as the party progresses.”

Straying from the usual cheese-and-tomato pie, Brigit’s signature pies include a calamari and chorizo pizza and a slab bacon and fresh fig pizza.

No wood-burning oven or pizza steel? Transfer the dough to and from the grill using a rimless cookie sheet, and grill for 1 minute per side before adding toppings. If your grill has no cover, lightly pan-fry raw items like calamari or bacon before adding to the pizza.

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1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil, plus extra for drizzling
1 small bulb fennel, quartered, cored and slivered crosswise (greens reserved for garnish)
1 tablespoon medium-dry white wine, like Viognier
Fine sea salt
One 9-ounce dough ball, room temperature
Rice flour and cornmeal, for shaping and cooking the pizza
3 ounces cured chorizo, skin removed and sliced very thinly on the diagonal
3 ounces shaved Manchego, or other aged sheep’s milk cheese
3 ounces calamari rings and tentacles
¼ teaspoon black lava salt
Freshly ground black pepper
Torn fresh fennel tops or dill, for garnish

In a heavy skillet over medium-low heat, warm the olive oil. Add the fennel and wine, and season lightly with salt. Cover the pan and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened, about 20 minutes. Uncover and cook, stirring more frequently, until most of the liquid has evaporated and the fennel is slightly golden, about 5–10 minutes. Be careful to not let it scorch.

Place a heavy baking steel on the lower oven rack of your oven and preheat it to its highest setting (usually 550˚F) for 1 hour.

With 10 minutes left in the preheating, dust a board and your hands with rice flour, then stretch and pull the dough (don’t press) into a roughly 13-inch round or oval—don’t try to make it perfect. Transfer to a wooden pizza peel (or upside-down large, rimless baking sheet) liberally sprinkled with cornmeal.

Working quickly, drizzle the dough evenly with about 1 tablespoon of olive oil and scatter the fennel evenly over the top, leaving a 1-inch border.

Arrange the chorizo evenly and top with the shaved Manchego, again leaving a 1-inch border. Scatter with the calamari rings and tentacles and black lava salt. Jiggle the dough on the peel to make sure its still mobile, then slide it onto the hot baking steel. Bake until the edges are golden and the cheese melts, about 8–11 minutes. Remove the pizza and place on a cutting board, then grind plenty of black pepper over it. Garnish with the fennel tops, slice and enjoy. Makes one 13-inch pizza. Recipe may be doubled.

PAIR IT WITH…

Copia Vineyards’s 2012 The Cure

A small-batch Syrah-based blend, with 4% Grenache and 4% Mourvèdre. Made using grapes from L’Aventure’s vineyard, this heavyweight effortlessly stands up to the spicy chorizo and briny calamari.

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​One 9-ounce dough ball, at room temperature
Rice flour and cornmeal, for shaping and cooking the pizza
Extra-virgin olive oil, for drizzling
4 to 5 fresh figs, stemmed and sliced
2 ounces best-quality slab bacon, cut into ¼-inch lardons
2 teaspoons picked fresh thyme, preferably with its flowers
4 ounces thinly sliced fontina cheese
1 farm egg
Handful of baby arugula leaves

Place a heavy baking steel on the lower rack of your oven and preheat it to its highest setting (usually 550°) for one hour.

Ten minutes before the hour is up, flour a board and your hands with rice flour, then stretch and pull the dough (never press) into a roughly 13-inch round or oval; don’t try to make it perfect. Transfer to a wooden pizza peel (or large, upside-down rimless baking sheet) liberally sprinkled with cornmeal. 

Working quickly, drizzle the dough with about 1 tablespoon of olive oil and scatter the figs and bacon over the top, leaving a 1-inch border and a 2-inch round bare spot in the center, for the egg. Scatter the thyme and cheese evenly over the whole circle, again leaving a 1-inch border. 

Jiggle the dough on the peel to make sure its still mobile, then slide it smoothly onto the hot baking steel and immediately break the egg into the center. Bake until the edges are golden, the cheese is melty, and the egg white is set, 8 to 11 minutes depending on your oven. Retrieve with a metal pizza peel (or a rimless baking sheet), transfer to a cutting board, and scatter with arugula. Slice and enjoy.  Makes one 13-inch pizza. Recipe may be doubled.

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​2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus extra for drizzling
2 small or 1 medium leek, white and light green parts only, well washed and very finely chopped
1 clove garlic, minced or pushed through a press
1 tablespoon medium-dry white wine, such as Viognier
Fine sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 Meyer lemon (substitute an orange if unavailable)
One 9-ounce dough ball, at room temperature
Rice flour and cornmeal, for shaping and cooking the pizza
2 tablespoons drained capers
3 ounces Taleggio cheese, cut into small chunks

In a heavy skillet over medium-low heat, warm the olive oil. Add the leeks and wine, cover the pan, and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened, about 20 minutes. Uncover and cook, stirring more frequently, until most of the liquid has evaporated and the leeks are slightly golden, 5–10 minutes more. Be careful not to let them scorch; remove from the heat and thoroughly stir in the garlic. (This may be done ahead of time.)

Trim the ends from the lemon and slice lengthwise into ¼-inch wedges. Trim away the flesh so that only about 1/8-inch remains attached to the peel. Slice the peel crosswise into ¼-inch dice.

Place a heavy baking steel on the lower rack of your oven and preheat it to its highest setting (usually 550°) for one hour.

Ten minutes before the hour is up, flour a board and your hands with rice flour, then stretch and pull the dough (never press) into a roughly 13-inch round or oval; don’t try to make it perfect. Transfer to a wooden pizza peel (or large, upside-down rimless baking sheet) liberally sprinkled with cornmeal.

Working quickly, drizzle the dough with about 1 tablespoon of olive oil, staying away from the edge, and spread the leeks somewhat evenly over the top, leaving a 1-inch border. Scatter the lemon dice, capers and cheese evenly over the whole circle, again leaving a 1-inch border.

Jiggle the dough on the peel to make sure its still mobile, then slide it smoothly onto the hot baking steel. Bake until the edges are golden and the cheese is melty, 8 to 11 minutes, depending on your oven. Retrieve with a metal pizza peel (or a rimless baking sheet), transfer to a cutting board, slice, and enjoy. Makes one 13-inch pizza. Recipe may be doubled.

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Dough:
8 ounces (2 sticks) unsalted butter, very cold
1¾ cups all-purpose flour
¾ cup coarse cornmeal
¾ teaspoon minced fresh rosemary
1 teaspoon finely grated zest of an organic or well-scrubbed lemon
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
¼ teaspoon fine sea salt
2 large egg yolks, lightly beaten

Filling:
1 pound strawberries, hulled (in-season only)
½ cup lavender jelly, or ginger or apricot preserves
2 tablespoons butter, melted
1 tablespoon granulated sugar

For serving:
1 small basket blueberries,
about 6 ounces
1 pint sheep’s milk ice cream

Cut the butter into small pieces and place on a plate. Chill in the refrigerator for 25 minutes, or in the freezer for 10 minutes. In a bowl, combine the flour, cornmeal, rosemary, lemon zest, sugar and salt. Chill the bowl in the refrigerator for 20 minutes.

Dump the dry ingredients into a food processor and pulse briefly to blend. Scatter the cold butter over the top and give it a few 5-second pulses, just until the mixture looks like coarse breadcrumbs. Remove the lid, add the egg yolks and drizzle 3 tablespoons of ice water over the top. Pulse for 10–15 seconds, until the dough just begins to clump together. If the mixture doesn’t clump, add up to 2 tablespoons of water, one at a time, pulsing briefly in between—don’t over mix!

Turn out onto a lightly floured surface and gather into a thick disk. Wrap in plastic and refrigerate for at least 1 hour, then let the dough stand for 10 minutes before rolling. Preheat the oven to 375˚F and place a shelf in the center position. Quarter the strawberries lengthwise (halve really large berries crosswise before quartering lengthwise).

Place dough on a baking parchment covered with flour. Roll out and form a 15-inch round that’s less than ¼-inch thick. Then, slide the pastry-topped parchment onto a large, rimless baking sheet.

Brush the preserves over the dough, leaving a 2-inch border. Place the strawberries over the preserves. Using a metal spatula to help, gently lift the edges of the dough, folding them in, creating a bowl-like effect. Brush any exposed dough with melted butter and sprinkle the sugar over the whole tart. Bake for 45–55 minutes, until the crust is golden.

Slide the tart-topped parchment paper onto a cooling rack and let stand for 5 minutes. Now slide onto a platter and scatter any remaining strawberries and the blueberries on top. Cut into wedges and serve with a scoop of sheep’s milk ice cream on the side.
Serves 6.

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Published on April 22, 2015
Topics: Hosting Tips, Recipes, Wine Trends
About the Author
Mike DeSimone and Jeff Jenssen
Entertaining and Lifestyle Editors

Mike DeSimone and Jeff Jenssen are Wine Enthusiast's Entertaining and Lifestyle Editors. DeSimone tastes wine from Israel and the Mediterranean Basin, while Jenssen tastes wine from Eastern Europe, including the former the Soviet Union and Yugoslavia. Both co-authored Wines of California, Wines of the Southern Hemisphere, and The Fire Island Cookbook. Wine educators and presenters, both gentlemen serve as frequent guests on national and local television. Email: mikeandjeff@wineenthusiast.net



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