Like many men who like to cook I have occasional delusions of grandeur. Unfortunately for you, these were made worse when at a Wine Rambler beer tasting an Italian friend (who is as obsessed with good food as any Italian) commented on my risotto: 'And that risotto was simply delicious! Mind you, I am Italian and have got some experience with risotto, very very good indeed! Recipe please?'
Easily charmed by such an appreciation of my cooking skills, I am happy to do as requested - and to make a wine pairing suggestion: Silvaner, the fantastically food friendly German white wine that deserves international attention.
Before I sing the praise of Silvaner, let's focus on the food. The ingredients include (per person):
- risotto rice, 80-100g
- a small handful of walnut halves
- 2/3 of an apple
- a dozen large sage leaves
- a very small onion
- parmesan, about 30g (I tend to be more generous)
- chicken (or vegetable) stock, 300ml
- a few chilli flakes
- butter, 20g+
- olive oil
- sugar, 2 spoons
There are two strands for cooking the risotto - you can either do them in parallel or in sequence: the sage, walnut & apple (SWA) and the risotto strand.
For the SWA strand heat up the oil in a frying pan and fry the sage leaves at mid-high temperature until they are crispy and set aside. Add the walnut halves to the still hot pan - I like to break them down into slightly smaller pieces - and fry at mid-low temperature until the start to brown. You will notice a pleasant walnut smell when they are about ready, just be careful not to turn it into a burned smell! Set the walnut pieces aside, ideally with all the small crumbs so you can continue to use a fairly clean pan. Add a little butter and the sugar, increase the heat and add the apple (cored, peeled and sliced) to caramelise. This will take a little time; don't turn the apple slices too often, two or three times should be enough. Depending on your timing either set the apple slices aside too or add to the risotto.
For the risotto strand, finely chop the onion. Heat up the remaining butter in a wide frying pan (you can add a spoon of olive oil), add the onion and chilli flakes. Sweat the onions for a couple of minutes, then add the rice. After about two minutes add a good splash of the wine (sherry works too). Once that has cooked into the risotto ladle the stock into the pan, just enough to cover the rice. Simmer until almost gone, stirring regularly. Add more stock. Reduce. Stir. And so on.
After 15+ minutes your risotto should be almost ready - you don't want the rice to be too soft, it should still have a bite. Before the last bit of liquid has disappeared, add the apple slices. Wait a couple of minutes. Add grated parmesan until the colour starts to change and the risotto turns gooey. Season to taste, add the cold butter, stir again and then let the risotto rest for a couple of minutes. Serve with the walnut pieces and sage leaves scattered over.
Why does the Wine Rambler recommend Silvaner with risotto? Many reasons. First of all Silvaner is generally a food friendly wine, in particular with food where you don't want much acidity (as in a Riesling for instance). Silvaner often is a little earthy or smoky with grass or herbal notes, which complements the intense sage and the walnut quite well. The apple flavour of Silvaner is an obvious winner with this risotto and I find the mineral of a good Silvaner balances the hint of spice in the risotto - chilli and a good dosage of salt are important to make it clear that this is not a half-hearted dessert, after all.
Last time I cooked this Risotto I went for Keller's Silvaner 'Feuervogel', a wine from the German region of Rheinhessen named after the Stravinsky ballet 'The Firebird'. I had high hopes for this wine, after all one of Germany's best winemakers vinified it from grapes coming from 70 year old vines. My hopes not disappointed, I found it to be a fantastic wine with lots of character and mineral. It was in fact one of the most mineral heavy wines I have tasted in a while - paired with the risotto both the mineral of the wine and the spice of food were enhanced dramatically.
With even more character than I expected, the Silvaner almost overshadowed the food - fear not, though, the combination still worked very well and the Feuervogel is unusual in its intensity. If you can get your hands on a Silvaner (or perhaps a more robust Pinot Blanc) you are looking at a winner pairing.