Matching food and wine: apple, sage and walnut risotto with Silvaner

Matching food and wine: apple, sage and walnut risotto with Silvaner

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.

SWA strand: caramelising apple slices
SWA strand: caramelising apple slices

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.

risotto: adding cheese
risotto: adding cheese

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.

Submitted by Dot Tuesday, 18/01/2011

Oh Torsten, this sounds gorgeous! If you promised to make this for me I would come to London soon! I'm sure *someone* here would be willing to watch Andrew for a few days... In all seriousness, thank you for the recipe. I intend to try it. Do you happen to know if the Silvaner is available in the USA? This post, partnered with your wine review, has my mouth watering.

Submitted by torsten Tuesday, 18/01/2011

In reply to by Dot

Thanks, Dot - comments like this one really make it worth spending the time to write things up for the Wine Rambler. I'd be delighted to treat you to the risotto when you next come to London, and I will aim not to drink up all my Silvaner (or get new wine in).

With regards to finding the Feuervogel in the USA I am not so sure. On the one hand Keller has an awesome reputation and there will be several merchants in the US carrying his wine (for instance This particular Silvaner may be harder to track down though. It may not be too easy to find German Silvaner at all - I'd just go an try some others, if you can find them, there are many good producers (such as Wittmann, Wirsching or Juliusspital) and a Kabinett Silvaner should be good value too.

Submitted by Alex Tuesday, 18/01/2011

Apples in a risotto? That doesn't sound like a genuine Italian recipe to me! Rather like a German take on it (add pineapple and you ll have risotto Hawaii !:P ). No just kidding, it really looks delicious! And if even an Italian approved!

Keller wines are just great. And what I love about them is that they also have great wines on the low budget side. Secret tipp: Only at their estate they sell their Riesling in the litre bottle. It's a Feinherb Riesling for about 5,5 Eur and it's out of this world for that price!

Greets, Alex

Submitted by torsten Tuesday, 18/01/2011

In reply to by Alex

They just need a bit of spice and a good dosage of salt, plus the intense sage and then it all balances out. Risotto Hawaii sounds like a reason to panic though, or a case for Heston Blumenthal. Perhaps I will experiment...

With regards to cheaper Keller wines I haven't had much luck so far. One was good but was so closed it felt it needed at least a year more in the cellar; two others were corked. One Riesling was very good even though that too was yeasty enough that it seemed to me waiting another year would have been better. I have a few more sitting here (not the 1l category, but Kabinetts, so there will be something to report on later this year).

Again, thanks for your comment, Alex.

Submitted by Andrew Tuesday, 18/01/2011

So nice to see someone championing Silvaner (though from a quite browse of your blog it looks like you are a big fan - I shall be reading further)

I was at Iris Ellmann's (Winebarn) tasting yesterday and the 09s from Wirsching are realling singing. The Julius-Echter-Berg GG is blinding. The last couple of vintages I prefered Silvaner at Spaetlese trocken level (the GGs seemed a bit extracted) but 09s seem fabulous.

I think the herbaceous note in the Silvaner off the Keuper soils in the east of Franken would be delicious with your risotto

Submitted by Valentina Tuesday, 18/01/2011

In reply to by Andrew

I am Italian, I think I am the Italian friend Torsten is referring to, and I tried that risotto and I can simply say that it was delicious! Thanks for the recipe, I have been waiting for this for a very long time!

Submitted by torsten Tuesday, 18/01/2011

In reply to by Andrew

We are big fans of Silvaner here at the Wine Rambler. Glad to hear that you are too, Andrew. I hung out at the Wirsching stand at the Wine Barn tasting yesterday for a little while and we make sure to sample Wirsching's Silvaner at an annual tasting in Munich. Now I wonder if you might have been one of the people I had to outmanoeuvre to try Wirsching's wines yesterday... Anyway, German 09 really is a delight, at least with quality producers.

Maybe our paths will cross again over a glass of good Silvaner, Andrew...

Submitted by Andrew Connor Tuesday, 18/01/2011

In reply to by torsten

It was a bit of a cramped room. Rather a low ceiling too. But, as always, such a lovely selection. If you put a gun to my head I guess I would say wine of the tasting for me was Schaefer-Froelich 09 Felsenberg GG but it's a tough call

I was sad not to be able to go to Berlin for the release tasting of GGs but I'm going to do my best to get to the Mainzer Weinboerse

kind regards

Submitted by torsten Wednesday, 19/01/2011

In reply to by Andrew Connor

I understand what you mean about the gun - overall I found the quality very high. The Felsenberg was terrific; I also enjoyed the TBA Riesling from Bassermann-Jordan a lot. Some of the Meyer-Näkel Pinots I'd really like to drink in four or five years...

If you make it to Mainz, please do let us know how you find it.