Americans have been having a love affair with ‘Cucina Italiano’ for years. Right alongside our love of Italian food is our passion for Italian wines, which stands to reason since they are inseparable. The two grew up together over centuries of being served side by side–it’s no wonder the two pair together so well. Whenever I am cooking Italian, the thought of Napa Cabernet or French wine never even crosses my mind! It can only be Italian wine.
Risotto is certainly one of the iconic and traditional dishes of the Old Country. Not only is it a dish with literally dozens of interpretations, but one that has an affinity for wine. Like Bouillabaisse or a thick rib-eye off the grill, I couldn’t imagine serving risotto without wine, and in fact with my best bottles!
1 Small White Onion, finely chopped
3-4 tbsp EVOO
½ cup Dry White Wine
2 cups Arborio, Carnaroli or Vialone Nano Rice (traditional risotto varieties, available online and worth the small price difference)
6-8 cups stock*
1 cup Finely Grated Parmigiana Reggiano, Pecorino Romano, Grana Padano
1 cup (or more!) Sautéed Wild Mushrooms, cooked down with EVOO
Whole Butter, to taste
Salt & Pepper, to taste
EVOO, to taste
Sweat onion in EVOO until soft, add white wine, stir until wine evaporates. Add rice, stir well and cook until rice is browned but do not burn! Add stock about a cup at a time with heat on low, and stir to evaporate. Repeat. You don’t need to stir constantly, but don’t leave the stove, you might burn it. Continue adding stock until stock is gone or about 21 minutes. Add last of the stock, turn off heat and add sautéed mushrooms and grated cheese, stir. Some people like to add butter here–Emeril does, I don’t. It does add another level of creaminess. If you happen to have Italian truffles, Tartufi, good for you! Shave it thinly over the risotto! Drizzle some EVOO over the top, and hit it with a sprinkling of grated cheese. Serve.
*A note on stock: Make your own, it’s easy! Veggie, shellfish, chicken, beef…whenever you have leftovers, toss them in a pot with water, salt & pepper and veggies. Simmer it to create your own stocks, as they make the best base for risotto.
At home, when I make risotto, it is usually because I have a nice Italian red that I want to showcase, most often Barolo or Barbaresco. What I thought I would offer this time, rather than my selections for an easy risotto recipe, are the opinions of a few who know better than I do: a couple of Italian winemakers.
Michele di Gregorio of Tenuta Cavalier Pepe in Italy’s Campania (one of my favorite regions) was quick to recommend his white Greco di Tufo. That surprised me, since I have served his Taurasi Red with Risotto before. He said the wine’s natural acidity, body, weight and grip would match well to the weight of the risotto.
Mauro Pavia, whose winery Agostino Pavia is near Italy’s famous truffle region Alba, said with wild mushroom risotto you should try his Barbera Moliss, but if you were able to get fresh truffle, move up to the Marescailla. It offers more power and perfume, as does the truffle.
From La Calonica, a winery in Cortona/Tuscany, Giovanni Cattani advises his Rosso di Montepulciano. But, he was quick to add, his Calcinaio if you were finishing your risotto with truffle, as this blend has 15% Syrah, which adds spice and earth notes that would match the pungent truffle well.
Martina Fornaser of Nicolis in the Veneto thought her Valpolicella Seccal, a Ripasso, had the richness and spice to pair well with the risotto. I was hoping she chose her Amarone Ambrosan, just so I could try it again!
Lastly, I spoke with Alberto Passeri from La Gerla in Montalcino, Tuscany. He recommends the Birba IGT Sangiovese with the regular risotto, citing the earthy quality of both, but mentioned his Brunello di Montalcino with the Truffle Risotto. I loved his reason: you need to up your game!
Shayne Hebert – Wine & Spirits Sales Manager
Follow me on Twitter @abcwineshayne