Thursday, April 17, 2008

Red Wine Risotto with Sausage, Arugula and Caramelized Onions

I know I’m not the first to use red wine in a risotto dish, but it sure looks cool, doesn’t it? I’ve wanted to try it for ages, and I’m thrilled that I managed to combine the red wine with such delicious and complementary ingredients.

If you’ve been reading my blog for awhile, you may remember a post about Butternut Squash, Mushroom and Spinach Risotto where I said risotto is one of my signature dishes – something I can make in countless different ways without a recipe and with confidence that it will turn out well. But, doing something over and over again the same way can be a little boring, so it was fun to add that splash of subtley fruity Italian red and watch it create a telltale stain on my oil and butter-slicked grains of Arborio.

The funny thing about red wine versus white in a dish like risotto is that is messes with your brain a little. I’m sure we eat with our eyes as well as our mouths, so seeing the obvious evidence of the red wine somehow made its flavor more noticeable in the dish. I think I could tell the difference between plain risotto cooked with and without white wine, but I still don’t specifically notice the wine’s flavor when I’m eating the dish.

I don’t mean to say that the red wine is overpowering or alcoholic or anything negative at all. But it’s lovely pinkish color reminds you to appreciate this flavor element rather than overlook it.

As for the other flavors – they’re fabulous. I can’t take all the credit; I was inspired by a risotto dish in the March ’08 Cooking Light in an article by Michael Ruhlman on balancing the five flavors (sweet, salty, bitter, sour, umami) in cooking. The bitter arugula is fresh and peppery; the caramelized onions balance with sweetness; the Pecorino Romano (along with the wine) volunteers indispensable umami; the turkey sausage is salty and savory; and the lemon, as always, adds bright acidity.

I would use red wine is many different risotto preparations, but this one is going to be a keeper in my repertoire. Have you tried red wine in risotto (maybe I’m late to the party)? Do you sometimes skip the wine altogether? Let me know in the comment section.

Red Wine Risotto with Sausage, Arugula and Caramelized Onions
Adapted from this recipe in Cooking Light magazine

You must use a wine that tastes good in this dish. I recommend a medium-bodied one that is well-balanced between fruity and earthy flavors (no jammy fruit bombs!). Italian wine would be great. The arugula wilts a lot, so it might look like too much at first – just add as much as looks good to you. Because it’s an aged cheese, Pecorino Romano has an excellent umami quality and mild, milky flavor that I love with this risotto; Parmigiano is more nutty and fruity, but it would also work. The zippy acid hit of the lemon juice is must, so don’t skip it!

Serves 3 as a main course, 4 to 6 as a starter or side

nonstick cooking spray
2 spicy Italian turkey sausage (such as Jennie O brand)
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, divided
1 1/2 tablespoons unsalted butter, divided
1 red onion, halved lengthwise and thinly sliced
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
4 cups low-sodium chicken broth
1 or 2 shallots, chopped
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 cup Arborio rice
1/2 cup dry red wine
arugula leaves – 2 or 3 big handfuls from a pre-washed bag
Pecorino Romano cheese for serving
Lemon wedges for serving

Lightly coat a skillet with cooking spray and heat to medium. Crumble the sausage into the skillet, discarding the casing. Stir frequently, breaking up an large pieces, until cooked through. Remove to a bowl and set aside.

Wipe out skillet with a paper towel and reduce heat to low. Add 1 tablespoon of the oil and 1 tablespoon of the butter. When the butter is melted, add the onions and toss well to coat. Season with salt and pepper to taste and cook, stirring occasionally until very soft and sweet, about 15 to 20 minutes. If onions start to brown too quickly, check that the heat is low enough and add a bit of water to moisten skillet. Add onions to the bowl with the sausage.

Meanwhile, heat the chicken broth (do not boil) in a medium saucepan and keep warm over low heat.

In a large saucepan or soup pot, heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil and 1/2 tablespoon of butter over medium-low heat. Add the shallots and cook until soft but not browned. Add the garlic and cook, stirring constantly for 1 minute. Add the rice and stir constantly for 2 to 3 minutes until all the grains are slick and slightly opaque. Add the wine and simmer until almost completely absorbed.

Add two ladles full of broth to the risotto and bring to a simmer. Season with a bit of salt and pepper. Keep the risotto at a steady simmer, stirring continuously until the broth has absorbed almost completely. Add one ladle full of broth, stir until it is nearly absorbed, then add another ladle full. Continue simmering and stirring, adding broth as necessary, for about 20 to 24 minutes or until the rice is creamy and cooked al dente – firm to the bite, but cooked through. When the risotto is 1 or 2 minutes from being finished, add the arugula and stir until just wilted. Add the reserved sausage and onions; stir until just heated through. Remove risotto from heat and serve with shaved Pecorino Romano cheese and lemon wedges.


Rachel said...

It looks lovely! I've been in a risotto mood lately.

Kim said...

My husband's (mushroom and red bell pepper) risotto traditionally uses red wine; lately we've been using white because we've been drinking more white than red and usually have that about. Also, for things like seafood or butternut squash risotto, white looks better. But I think I prefer the more assertive flavor of red.

Robbie said...

I made this tonight and it was fantastic. Thanks for the idea! I made a couple variations you might try. I added about a half t of fennel seed to intensify the sausage, but what really finished it perfectly was a red wine simple syrup drizzled on and around. The sweetness really completed it. I'll definitely be adding this to my regulars :)

Julie said...

Hey Robbie, thanks for letting me know how it turned out! I love hearing feedback on recipes. The fennel seeds are a great idea--I can imagine how well they'd complement the other flavors, and the red wine simple syrup is just a cool idea. Personally, I like all the peppery and savory flavors, but...hmmm, a little extra sweetness underscoring the caramelized onions could be really nice.

Robbie said...

I found this recipe before I left work today to use up what I had leftover from making your (fantastic) recipe.. it couldn't be a better fit of the perishable ingredients remaining! It's pretty simple, but could be a good way to use up the sausage, arugula, etc.

William said...

Making red wine as an ingredient for that kind of dish is definitely a great idea. Thanks for sharing your insights.

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Adam Wertz said...

Any wine makes any dish more than edible. This has always something to do with modern winemaking. I tasted various brands of wines already, make it red or white, and what tops them is the sort of sweet wine. It affects flavor in food so I suggest not those too sour ones.