This is the first edition of The 30 Second Wine Advisor's new weekly FoodLetter. I'm delighted that so many of you have signed up for this new E-mail publication, and look forward to working with you and receiving your comments and suggestions as we shape it into a community effort that we all can enjoy.
Next week's edition will be more concise, but for this first edition, I would like to take a little extra time to set the scene before we head for the kitchen and start working on today's dinner. This newsletter is based on suggestions that have come from many of you as readers of our 30 Second Wine Advisor and WineLoversPage.com and participants in our online food and wine forums. Many of you have asked me to come up with a way to provide more information about the dishes and the food-and-wine matches that I frequently mention in my wine tasting notes, and have expressed interest in articles and discussions that focus on the food and culinary side of the world of wine.
As noted in the FoodLetter's sign-up page, the recipes and short articles here will reflect my personal approach to cooking: I enjoy it as a hobby, and I get a kick out of creating new dishes. I'm interested in ethnic fare from all around the world and like to experiment with foods from unusual places (and sometimes mixing together unlikely pairs, like Italian and Chinese). I'm interested in the connection between food and wine, and if not necessarily putting wine into every dish, at least working out what wines will match well with each dish, and WHY. And I rarely take on a dish that I can't expect to finish in an hour or less. Some of the dishes may seem a little exotic, but I'll try to avoid throwing you any challenges that a home cook of average skills can't handle ... and none of those all-day projects!
Recipes are normally scaled for two, but can easily be increased or decreased in proportion. The recipes aren't "dietary," but I do take care to keep calories under control by measuring ingredients carefully, particularly oil, butter and other fats. And since we're in the U.S., I use American measures (what we used to call "English" until the English stopped using it). To assist our readers in the rest of the world, I'll occasionally put in a conversion reminder - an ounce is about 30 grams, for instance, and four cups are one quart which is a little less than 1 liter.
Now, in keeping with my pledge to keep the FoodLetter quick and to the point, let's get cooking!About Risotto
You will see risotto ("ree-zoe-toe") turn up frequently in my food and wine matches. Italian cuisine is one of my (many) favorites, and this rice-based dish is a strong part of the basic repertoire around here because it's filling, can be made with almost infinite variations, and - despite its reputation as a "difficult" dish because it requires nearly constant stirring - it's quite simple to make and just about foolproof as long as you give it a reasonable amount of attention. I generally make it as a dinner-in-a-dish, containing the evening's starch, protein and vegetables all in one, needing nothing more than a salad or green vegetable to make a meal.
Once you've mastered the simple procedure, you can fashion a risotto out of just about anything in the house. Start with a medium or short-grain rice - the Italian Arborio or gourmet-style variations like Carnaroli are ideal, but short-grain from the grocery store is fine. Avoid long-grain rice, though, as it doesn't cook down to the desired creaminess that makes risotto comforting.
Armed with your rice, the rest is straightforward: Heat a quantity of broth to simmering: You'll need about eight times as much broth as rice - four cups broth (about 1 liter) to 4 ounces (about 120 grams) of rice should be plenty for two. Then heat a little oil or butter in another pot; cook onions, shallots or garlic (depending on the recipe), then stir in the rice and sautee until it starts "toasting" a bit. Then start adding liquid, a half-cup at a time, stirring fairly constantly so it won't stick, and keep adding liquid in small amounts as it is absorbed. You may add meat, fish, vegetables, whatever the recipe or your imagination suggests, as you go, generally putting in ingredients that require longer cooking early in the process while holding more delicate, quick-cooking items until the end. After about 15 minutes of adding liquid and stirring, the rice will start to look creamy and delicious, and when the grains are just tender, you're done. Add a little grated cheese if the recipe or your taste calls for it, and serve!
Now, here's a risotto I came up with recently, based on a combination of memories of similar dishes in Trieste and a recipe in Fred Plotkin's excellent cookbook, "La Terra Fortunata: The Splendid Food and Wine of Friuli-Venezia Giulia." It may possibly be the best risotto I've ever made.This week's recipe: Risotto Pescatore
Although it may seem finicky because of all the different kinds of seafood (and requires a cooperative fishmonger who's willing to sell you tiny quantities of various items), it actually took no more than an hour to put together including all prep work. (Since your attention will be focused on stirring once the cooking begins, it's important to get all your ingredients organized before you start to cook.) A procedural note: To save space, I'm listing the ingredients as they occur in the recipe, but not presenting a separate ingredients list. If this approach makes the recipe less helpful to you, let me know! As I said, we'll develop this thing collaboratively.
So, begin with the seafood: To serve two, I used four to six large shrimp in their shells, 4 ounces of scallops sliced into fairly thin circles; and 4 ounces of scrod (or other mild, flaky white fish) cut into cubes. You can substitute freely, of course. Once I added a few tiny squid, cut into rings. Baby clams in their shells would also be very nice.
Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in a sautee pan with 1 tablespoon minced garlic; before the garlic browns, add the shrimp in their shells and cook until they just start to turn pink, less than one minute. Then pour in 4 ounces white wine, 4 ounces water, 1 teaspoon tomato paste and a dash of cayenne, cover, and cook at a bare simmer for 3 or 4 minutes or until the shrimp are barely cooked through. Peel the shrimp and set aside, reserving the cooking liquid.
Bring 4 cups water to the boil with 1/2 tablespoon salt and one scallion; turn the heat to very low and poach scallops and fish (and other optional ingredients) for just a few minutes, until they're just cooked through. Lift out the seafood and fish, reserving the cooking liquid.
Melt 1 tablespoon butter in a large saucepan, and sautee 1/4 cup chopped red onion and 1 minced scallion in it. When the vegetables are soft but not brown, add 4 ounces arborio rice and cook until toasty. Stir in 1/2 cup dry white wine and cook as for risotto, stirring frequently, until all the liquid is absorbed. Do the same with the reserved shrimp-cooking liquid, and then continue with the fish-poaching liquid, using about 1/2 cup at a time, stirring frequently in the standard risotto process for about 15 minutes or until the rice is tender and creamy. Add a last 1/4 cup fish broth (or substitute water in the unlikely event you run out), and gently stir in the reserved seafood and fish.
Bear in mind that seafood risotto should remain a bit of liquid at serving time and isn't customarily finished quite as dry as most risottos. Also note that, although Plotkin suggests grated cheese as an option, Italians generally don't use cheese on seafood dishes, and this dish is so delicate that it really doesn't need it.
MATCHING WINE: All the light seafood in this dish demands a white, and even the small amount of tomato paste (which confers only a nuance of flavor and the slightest pink color) won't bring it up to a red. A Fruili white, a Pinot Grigio or Tokai Friulano, would be just right. I would avoid richer whites like buttery Chardonnay as being too full-bodied for the dish; but anything crisp and white, from a Sauvignon Blanc to an Alsace Pinot Gris, would be fine. I have served it recently with such off-the-wall options as Austrian Gruner Veltliner and a sparkling Vouvray!Cookbook: Fred Plotkin's "La Bella Fortunata"
While many of my recipes are original, when I use or borrow a concept from a cookbook or Website or get a recipe from a friend, I'll give credit. As noted, today's risotto owes part of its heritage to Fred Plotkin's excellent La Terra Fortunata, a book that I have doubly enjoyed since recent visits to Friuli.
For a good review of the book by WineLoversPage.com cookbook columnist Burt Kaplan, see http://www.wineloverspage.com/winebook/laterra.shtml.
To look at La Terra Fortunata on Amazon.com, click to http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/076790611X/robingarrswineloA/. Should you choose to buy it using this link (it's $24.50 plus shipping from Amazon.com, a $10.50 saving from the list price), the transaction will pay a small commission to WineLoversPage.com.Emeril Sweepstake On WineLoversPage.Com!
WineLoversPage.com has joined with Emerils.com to bring the fun of celebrity chef Emeril Lagasse and his cooking to wine lovers on the World Wide Web!
During the next four weeks, "Emeril's Missing Ingredient Sweepstake" will present a recipe for a good wine-pairing dish from Lagasse's latest book, "Prime Time Emeril" ... with one essential ingredient missing. Your challenge is to study the recipe and figure out what key ingredient has been left out.
Each Friday we'll choose a winner from those who correctly identify the missing ingredient. Winners will get a free, autographed copy of Lagasse's latest book, "Prime Time Emeril," and a Grand Prize winner will win an entire Emeril Cookbook collection.
The first week's "Missing Ingredient" recipe is EMERIALIZED PILAU. For details, the recipe and entry form, see http://www.wineloverspage.com/emeril/index.phtml.Administrivia
This is The 30 Second Wine Advisor's weekly FoodLetter. To subscribe or unsubscribe, change your E-mail address, switch from daily to weekly (Mondays only) distribution, or for any other administrative matters, click to http://www.wineloverspage.com/wineadvisor/admin.phtml. In all administrative communications, please be sure to include the exact E-mail address that you used when you subscribed, so we can find your record.
For more about food and wine, you're invited to visit us at http://www.WineLoversPage.com, and to join in the interactive online community in our Food Lovers' Discussion Group, http://www.wineloverspage.com/cgi-bin/sb/index.cgi?fn=2.Thursday, Jan. 24, 2002
Copyright 2002 by Robin Garr. All rights reserved.