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August 14, 2011 / joyful plate

joyful plate partners with Masi Amarone for a Risotto Rendezvous in NYC July 27, 2011

Last month I had a thrill of a lifetime making risotto with the chefs at the International Culinary Center and presenting Masi’s Amarones for the first ever Masi Risotto Rendezvous in NYC. Joining me was Raffaele Boscaini, the youngest son of Dr. Sandro Boscaini, the President of Masi Agricola and President of the Amarone Families organization. Masi has been producing wine in the Veneto for seven generations, since 1772. For more of Masi’s deep appreciation for culture on every level-wine, food and particularly the arts, enjoy this video:  Masi Venetian Culture.

I worked with Sandro Boscaini and his family years ago in 1999 and was absolutely delighted to partner with them again. I fell in love with the whole process of making risotto at their cooking school, La Foresteria.  Since then, I’ve made risotto for friends and family in nyc, CT, Dublin and Paris. The place and the people often influence the recipe. Every risotto has a story:  joyful plate day after Thanksgiving risotto in Paris.

Risotto and Amarone make the perfect marriage.They are both cultural phenomenons of the Veneto.

The Rice

Rice was brought from the Orient to the Po Valley– an area with flat lands and an abundance of water for natural irrigation. Risotto dates back to 1475 in Venice where master chefs at Palazzo Ducale would prepare risotto for state dinners. “Nano” is the preferred rice in the area, grown in 90% of the region. It is short and round and absorbs liquid very well. Apparently, there are about 24 types grown in Italy and nano is the second oldest, from the Japonica strain. Risotto rices are shorter than long-grain rices and have a high proportion of amylopectin, a type of sticky starch that’s responsible for its creamy texture.

The rice we used for the event was flown in from the Serego Alighieri Estate.  If you have the chance to visit, it is one of the most special places in the world where you can be a part of some serious history. The descendants of Dante have lived there since the 1300’s and you’ll see references to the Divine Comedy while walking your way to the dining room for your blood orange juice breakfast.  Everything you taste will be tutto tutto buono, like the chestnut and apricot spreads made on the vineyard. Here is a photograph I’ll always treasure, taken on my 40th birthday (under a “bella luna”).

The Wine

Amarone is a modern wine steeped in ancient tradition and a shining example of culture in the Veneto. It starts with indigenous grape varieties (corvina, rondinella and molinara). The magic happens in the traditional process of semi-drying grapes after picking called “appassimento” which allows for a concentration of flavor. Amarone is unique because of the microclimate in the Veneto,  naturally allowing this process to happen. So with Barolo and Brunello,  Amarone is regarded as one of the most prized wines in Italy and the world.

The Menu

Here is the menu we prepared for Risotto Rendezvous:

-Lemon and mint risotto paired with Masi Masianico (pinot grigio/verduzzo)

-Masi 2006 Costasera Amarone paired with wild mushroom risotto and Amarone risotto. Click here for the authentic recipe: Serego Allighieri recipe Saveur Magazine.

After the risotto we paused from eating to reflect on the big boys (the single Vineyard Amarones): 2003 Vaio Serego Aligheri, 2001 Campolongo di Torbe and 2001 Mazzano. Rafaelle said the Mazzano has the personality of an army general. This reminded me of my visit to these hilltops years ago when I said the Campolongo di Torbe is more feminine and the Mazzano more masculine.

Dessert risotto

For the grand finale we enjoyed a sweet risotto made with coconut and wild berries, paired with 2007 Masi Casal di Ronchi Recioto dessert wine. The guests were so relaxed at this point, they started to share stories about their most unusual risottos…like risotto on the barbie in Australia, and risotto with frog’s legs in China town! We ended on a high note with a lot of laughs and exchanges. In true Masi style, new friends were made over food and wine.

Special thanks to Chef Daniele Matrocce and all the pros at the International Culinary Center.  I was in their cooking fundamentals and knife skills program back in 2003, and took the Craft of Food writing this past fall. It is a magical place where you can turn the corner to see a portrait of Jacques Pépin and so personal that you can have Dean Alan Richman (decorated food writer and GQ editor) personally edit your homework.

How to make risotto

Everyone thinks risotto is hard to make. It’s really not, you just need to plan well and take your time.

The rice

-Sautee shallots in olive oil and butter (whatever your recipe calls for – sometimes recipes call for onion and other recipes, garlic)

-Add rice and stir until coated and glistening. Toasting the rice before you add any wine or stock seals the grains and so they don’t soak up the liquid too quickly.

-Add wine (the pan will sizzle-the wine will evaporate)

The stock

-If you can make stock from scratch, great. The flavor of fresh stock brings out the aromatic qualities of the dish. If you can’t, no worries-just buy it.

To make stock, just sauté onions, garlic, carrots, celery and parsley –really whatever veggies you have like fennel or zucchini. Then add water and boil for a few hours and cool down. That’s it! It’s comforting to make it on a cold winter day and freeze it then you’ll always have it fresh. But here’s the trick-make sure you have the stock boiling in a big pot behind your risotto pot. It needs to be hot, not cold so when you ladel it into your pan the rice temperature remains constant. Plan for three times the amount of liquid: rice.

Ladel the stock into the rice bit by bit so the rice can absorb the stock slowly. Its very intuitive, you’ll just feel when it’s right. Taste along the way…. the rice is done when it’s al dante-firm, but not crunchy. The whole process will take about a half hour. You don’t need to constantly stir; you just need to make sure the bottom of the pot doesn’t burn.

Take the risotto off the heat. A  bbc recording I heard recently calls for adding ice-cold butter and Parmesan cheese (vs. warm) so the butter melts slowly into the rice. Then season with salt and pepper. This is what I call the “naked” risotto-it’s like a pallete you work from. From here, there are endless creative possibilities like:

-Cheese: fontina, taleggio, gorgonzola

-Veggie: asparagus, leeks, tomato, eggplant

-Herb: sage, thyme, mint, basil

-Nut: chestnut, walnut

-Meat: chorizo, bacon, pancetta

-Fish: lobster, scallops, muscles

-Sweet: peaches, fresh berries

A lovely book that has been my bible is: Risotto-Ursula Ferrigno.

Pop Culture

Preparing for this event, I discovered the coolest film about rice in Northern Italy called Riso Amaro, “Bitter Rice”. The story begins at the start of the rice-planting season in Northern Italy in 1949. In an effort to escape the law, two small-time thieves hide amongst the crowds of female workers heading to the rice fields of the Po Valley where they run into Silvana Mangano (Miss Rome 1946). The film was nominated in 1950 for an Academy Award for best story  and was entered into the 1949 Cannes film festival. Check out this you-tube video  for some delicious Italian drama, retro style: Riso Amaro (1)Riso Amaro (2).

And to find these gorgeous Masi Amarones, click here for the Zachy\’s website. For everyday enjoyment and amazing value < $20, try Masi’s Masianico, Modello, and Campofiorin (a “baby” Amarone made in the ripasso method).

Copyright © 2011 –joyful plate LLC. All rights reserved.


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