Gather: Casual Cooking from Wine Country Gardens by Janet Fletcher

I recently received an email from Janet Fletcher, who lives in Napa Valley, California  where she develops and tests recipes for cookbooks and magazine features, evaluate cheeses for her classes and columns, does extensive gardening, and prepares dinner nightly with her winemaker husband, Doug Fletcher. I’ve talked to her frequently in the past and wrote about several of her cookbooks including Wine Country Table and Cheese and Beer. I also follow her blog Planet Cheese.

Maggie’s Chicken. Photo by Meg Smith from Gather by Janet Fletcher.

Fletcher,  the author of 32 books on culinary arts, who has won three James Beard Awards and the International Association of Culinary Professionals Bert Greene Award, has a new cookbook out, called Gather: Casual Cooking from Wine Country Gardens and I asked her if she would share recipes.

Courtesy of Gather by Janet Fletcher. Photo by Meg Smith.

She agreed, including recipes easily made at home and the California wines she suggests using when serving them.

“Gather features 13 wineries with edible gardens along with recipes,” says Janet, noting most of the wineries are in Napa Valley.

It started off as a magazine assignment with a focus on just a handful of winery gardens but grew into a book which took over a year to create. Janet worked Jen Barry of Jennifer Barry Design and photographer Meg Smith who has photographed the weddings of Anne Hathaway, Jimmy Kimmel, Governor of California Gavin Newsom, LeAnn Rimes, and the late Robin Williams. Her work appears frequently in Martha Stewart Weddings, Town & Country, and InStyle magazine. Barry has over 30 years in the design and publishing worlds and has designed and art directed hundreds of illustrated books on a variety of subjects ranging from from food and photography to nature and winemaking. 

Working together, the three captured the lushly beautiful gardens that Janet describes as reflecting the hospitality, sustainability and the wineries dedication of the farm-to-table lifestyle.

Courtesy of Alexander Valley Vineyards.

Though Janet is an avid gardener, she was delighted to learn more when visiting the wineries’ gardens.

Prisoner Wine Company grows over a dozen different basil plants, ones I didn’t know existed,” she says.

That’s led her to plant with more diversity and also use more flowers mixed with her vegetables to draw beneficial insects.

The following are recipes she created along with anecdotes about their origins and Fletcher’s wine recommendations. If for some reason you can’t locate these wines substitute what is locally available. Such as when a Merlot is called for you can substitute a local Merlot or one from another area though keep in mind that Fletcher paired her food and wines very carefully based upon California wineries.

Courtesy of Alexander Valley Vineyards.

Maggie’s Ranch Chicken

Serves 4

Ranch chicken has nothing to do with ranch dressing, says Katie Wetzel Murphy of Alexander Valley Vineyards.

“It’s what we called this dish as kids,” she recalls. “It seems that my mother, Maggie, only made it when we came to ‘The Ranch,’ which is what we called the vineyards before we had a winery.”

Baked with honey, mustard, and tarragon, the quartered chicken emerges with a crisp brown skin, and the sweet aroma draws everyone to the kitchen.

“Kids like it and adults like it,” says Katie, “and most of the food we make has to be that way.”

  • 1 whole chicken, 4 to 4 1/2 pounds, backbone removed, then quartered
  • Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/3 cup honey
  • 4 tablespoons salted butter
  • 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
  • 4 fresh tarragon sprigs, each 6 inches long
  • Wine: Alexander Valley Vineyards Merlot

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Season the chicken quarters all over with salt and pepper. Put the quarters into a 9-by-13-inch baking dish.

In a small saucepan, combine the honey, butter, and mustard over low heat and stir until the butter melts. Pour the honey mixture evenly over the chicken. Place a tarragon sprig on each quarter.

Roast the chicken for 30 minutes, then remove the dish from the oven, spoon the dish juices over the chicken, and return the dish to the oven for 30 minutes more. The chicken will be fully cooked, with beautifully browned skin. Let rest for at least 15 minutes before serving to allow the juices to settle.

Antipasto Platter with Southern-Style Pickled Okra

Makes 6 pints

“Napa Valley’s Regusci Winery proprietor, Laura Regusci, developed a passion for pickling in her grandmother’s Kentucky kitchen,” she writes.

Courtesy of Regusci Winery.

The family pastime began as a way to preserve vegetables for winter and share homegrown gifts with neighbors.

Photo by Meg Smith from Gather by Janet Fletcher.

Today, Laura carries on the tradition, growing okra and other seasonable vegetables in the Regusci estate garden for pickling. Each Thanksgiving, pickled okra adds a southern spirit to the family’s antipasto board

  • 3 pounds small okra
  • 6 cups distilled white vinegar
  • 4 cups water
  • 1/2 cup kosher or sea salt
  • 1/4 cup sugar

For Each Pint Jar:

  • 1/4 teaspoon yellow mustard seeds
  • 1/4 teaspoon dill seeds
  • 6 black peppercorns
  • 6 cumin seeds
  • 2 cloves garlic, peeled
  • 1 fresh oregano sprig
  • 1 bay leaf
  • Pinch of ground coriander
  • Pinch of red chili flakes

When creating the antipasto platter use the pickled vegetables along with alongside figs, salami, other charcuterie meats, and marinated  veggies like artichokes.

Suggested Wine: Regusci Winery Rosé

Have ready six sterilized pint canning jars and two-part lids. Trim the okra stems if needed to fit the whole pods upright in the jars. Otherwise, leave the stems intact.

In a saucepan, combine the vinegar, water, salt, and sugar and bring to a simmer over medium-high heat, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Keep hot.

Into each of the six jars, put the mustard seeds, dill seeds, peppercorns, cumin seeds, garlic, oregano, bay leaf, coriander, and chili flakes. Fill the jars with the okra, packing it in upright—alternating the stems up and down if needed—as tightly as possible. Fill the jars with the hot liquid, leaving 1/4-inch headspace, and top each jar with a flat lid and screw band. Process the jars in a boiling water bath for 15 minutes, then cool on racks without disturbing.

Refrigerate any jars that failed to seal and use within 2 weeks. Store sealed jars in a cool, dark place for up to 1 year. Wait for at least 1 week before opening a jar to allow the flavor to mellow.