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Thursday, February 4, 2010

Red Wine Risotto


This hearty dish can be served as a vegetarian or vegan main course (see the directions that follow the recipe) or a side dish to accompany thinly sliced grass-fed flank steak (fan it out on top for a beautiful presentation). The deep purple color makes it an attractive addition to a special Valentine’s Day dinner.

I always make risottos with short-grain brown rice instead of the traditional white Arborio rice. Because brown rice has the bran and germ layers intact, it is a whole grain and a good source of fiber, B vitamins and minerals like calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium and selenium. Whole grains also contain essential fatty acids and protein (cooked brown rice has 5 grams per cup). The complex carbohydrates they contain ensure that the whole grains are digested slowly, which has a balancing effect on blood sugar levels.

White rice is made by removing the bran and germ layers, leaving only the starchy endosperm behind. Devoid of vitamins, minerals, fiber and essential fatty acids, these processed grains are quickly digested into glucose and quickly absorbed into the blood stream. The rapid rise in blood sugar can contribute to insulin resistance, metabolic syndrome, diabetes and weight gain.

I like to use a fruity, dry merlot for this recipe, but another dry and fruity red wine will also work well. Additionally, I chose grated Romano cheese instead of the Parmesan traditionally used in risotto, because the sharper flavor stands up better to the bold red wine. But Parmesan can also be used if you prefer it or already have some on hand.

If you can, soak the rice ahead of time to activate the enzymes that make the micronutrients more bioavailable and the macronutrients easier to digest. Soaking the rice also reduces the cooking time, but risotto is a slow food nonetheless. Allow at least an hour and a half to make this dish.

-1 large portabella mushroom, wiped clean
-1½ cups mushroom stock or beef or chicken broth
-2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil, first cold pressing, divided
-2 tbsp butter made from organic grass-fed milk, divided (or more olive oil)
-Sea salt to taste
-Ground peppercorn to taste
-1 large red onion, chopped
-1½ cups dry brown rice, soaked for 8 hours or overnight, rinsed and well drained
-Several sprigs fresh thyme to yield 1 tbsp leaves, or 1 tsp ground dried thyme
-2 or more cloves garlic, grated or minced
-1 cup red wine
-¼ cup grated Romano cheese
-2 to 4 tbsp organic grass-fed cream

Place the portabella mushroom in a shallow baking dish, gill-side up. Drizzle 1 tbsp olive oil over the top and sprinkle with sea salt and ground peppercorn. Broil until the gills begin to crisp, about 7 minutes. Set aside to cool, then dice.

In a small saucepan, warm the broth or stock over low heat.

Warm 1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil and 1 tbsp butter (or 2 tbsp olive oil) in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the onions, a generous pinch of sea salt and several grinds of fresh peppercorn. Sauté until soft and starting to brown, about 5 to 7 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the chopped thyme, garlic and brown rice. Stir to coat all of the grains and cook for two more minutes. Add the red wine and cook until almost completely absorbed.

Prepare approximately two cups of water in a tea kettle or sauce pan. Warm it as the broth or stock gets low, in case you will need more liquid.

Once the wine has absorbed, add a ladle full of broth or stock, about one half cup. Cook until most of the liquid has been absorbed, stirring occasionally, and repeat, until the grains are tender and enveloped in a thick, creamy sauce. (This step may take 45 minutes, but you can use that time to prepare the rest of the meal.) Once the broth or stock is gone, add water from the kettle if more liquid is needed.

Stir in the remaining tablespoon of butter, cheese and cream. Taste for seasoning and adjust if necessary. Allow the risotto to sit for a few minutes to fully thicken before serving.

Vegan Variation:
Omit the dairy products, substitute additional olive oil for the butter, and opt for mushroom broth over beef or chicken stock.

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