Fri 02 May 2014

Spring Food Without Fuss: Good Enough To Eat


This recipe, while hopefully of use and interest to all, was written with the Spring 2014 selections of The Society’s Wine Without Fuss subscription scheme particularly in mind. Voted Best Wine Club by both The Independent and Which? magazine, Wine Without Fuss offers regular selections of delicious wines with the minimum of fuss. Why not join the growing band of members who let their Society take the strain, and are regularly glad they do?

Find out more about Wine Without Fuss in a short video on our website.

The notion that you should never put into the pot that which you wouldn’t put in your glass is fighting talk for someone who deplores waste. While it’s madness to use a corked wine, which gets even worse as it’s reduced, it’s equally daft to discard anything merely slightly oxidised, or just over the hill, but still in view. Life may be too short to drink it but marinades with herbs, spices, garlic and the like will quickly Botox any wrinkles. Also, some allegedly sound wines that I find far too acidic to drink do a grand job of tenderising meat!

Janet Wynne Evans

Janet Wynne Evans

However, I take no chances when it comes to the classic wine risotto, a brilliantly adaptable recipe for the variety on offer in our Wine Without Fuss selections, and a prime example of something that transcends the very simple sum of its parts. I will never forget my first taste of it, possibly because it was my reward for an even more than usually interminable Aida at the arena in Verona. Rain stopped play twice (but long enough neither for a refund nor a restorative glass of Prosecco in the Piazza Brà), the performance was middling and a very large German lady sat on my foot in the gradinate without as much as an es tut mir leid. I am a sucker for even a mediocre O terra addio! as the ill-fated lovers are predictably entombed alive, but we felt pretty much the same as Aida and Radames, so we escaped, while we could, to the Antica Bottega dei Vini for a late supper of risotto al Amarone and a nice drop of the same from the impressive by-the-glass list.

A wine risotto has just three main components, but they have to be perfect. Firstly the rice, which should be short-grain, preferably Italian and definitely in date, not the remains of a bag that has been deteriorating dismally in the back of a kitchen cupboard. This is important because proper risotto rice should absorb several times its own volume of liquid, while keeping a nutty bite, and it won’t if it’s senile. It will also taste stale. Secondly, good stock, well-seasoned but not too strong or it will dominate flavour. Lastly, the wine, which should have plenty of flavour and body. A little tannic grip is good, but avoid oak, which will boil down to essence of plank. This perfect instance of wine being eaten and drunk simultaneously is no time for ‘cooking plonk’. Call me extravagant (you won’t be the first) but that’s another good reason for providing more than one bottle of each of the wines that make up a typical Wine Without Fuss case!

In her labour of love Risotto! Risotto! (Cassell, 1998)) – essential reading for fans of this quintessential dish – Valentina Harris quotes the old Italian dictum that ‘rice is born in water, but it must die in wine’. Let the wake commence!

Janet Wynne Evans
Specialist Wine Manager


Risotto riceThe recipe below has evolved over many years’ experimentation with countless wine-spattered magazine clippings. Reducing the wine to boost flavour was an early inspiration, though I’m sure I wasn’t alone in concluding that a wine risotto should properly taste of the star ingredient. Tempting though it is to gild the lily, adding overly strong ingredients (pungent sausages, highly smoked fish, very wild mushroom, strong greens or even too much grated Parmesan) may dominate the vinous kernel and it will become a different kind of risotto. However, a subtle sliver of protein or designer vegetable served alongside, rather than stirred in, is another matter and promotes a starter dish to a main course. Some suggestions are given below to match the wines in our Spring Wine Without Fuss selection.

Serves 4 either as a starter or a main course accompanied by fish, meat or vegetables.

2 generous knobs of butter, about 50g
1 banana shallot, peeled and chopped
200g premium Italian risotto rice, such as arborio, carnaroli or vialone
Salt and freshly-ground black pepper
500ml well-seasoned chicken, game or vegetable stock
A bottle of red or white wine of your choice
A handful of Parmesan or Pecorino shavings, to serve
A handful of chopped parsley to garnish

• Pour the wine into a pan, bring to the boil and bubble it down to about 2/3 of its volume – about 500ml. Taste for flavour and concentration as you go.
• Heat the stock to simmering point and keep it gently bubbling.
• Brown the shallot in the first knob of butter until translucent.
• Stir in the rice and ensure that every grain is coated and glossy and season well.
• Now add a ladleful of the reduced wine to the rice, and stir well. Let it evaporate before adding the rest, a ladleful at the time, allowing the pan to get almost dry between additions, seasoning as you go with salt and pepper.
• Now do the same with the hot stock, adding and stirring until the rice is creamy but al dente. This will take a good 20 minutes, possibly longer. Don’t rush it.
• Lastly, add the remaining butter and check the seasoning one more time. Stir well, cover and let it settle for a minute or so while calling the faithful to prayer. Disown any guest who prevaricates.
• Serve in warmed bowls scattered with the herbs and cheese shavings.


Serve these ingredients alongside, rather than in the risotto.

Roasted fennel
The sweetness of the fennel needs a complementary note in the wine, which can be found in abundance in Blind Spot McLaren Vale Grenache-Shiraz-Mataro (Buyers’ Everyday Reds). Use either vegetable or chicken stock. The fennel should be quartered (or cut into eighths if large), slicing through the root to keep the pieces intact, seasoned, tossed in olive oil and burnished in a hot oven for 20–30 minutes.

English Asparagus
Try this lightly steamed and criss-crossed reverently on a risotto made with Hilltop Corvinus Unoaked Hungarian Dry White 2013 (Buyers’ Everyday Whites) and vegetable stock. Try freshly-ground white pepper in this one.

A good bet for Beaujolais – Domaine du Coteau de la Ronze (Premium Reds) or for added power and depth, Fleurie, Domaine Gaidon (available only in the French Classic Reds case). Serve this with a grilled or roast chicken breast from the best beast you can find, or a mushroom-stuffed thigh.

An extension of the love-affair between goose and gewurz. Make up the risotto with chicken stock and Zarcillo Gewurztraminer (Buyers’ Everyday Whites). Make diagonal cuts in the fat of the duck breast, season well and add just a touch of five-spice powder for an oriental note. Fry breast-side down in a dry non-stick pan for about 15 minutes then flip over and give it another 5. Rest for 10 minutes. Slice on the diagonal and serve with the risotto on the side.

Mediterranean Fish
Make up the risotto as directed, but with fish stock and Calabria Bianco Terra di Gerace (only available in the Premium Whites case), and without cheese. Brush the skin of sea bream or red mullet fillets with olive oil and season well. Grill skin-side up for 6–8 minutes until the skin is crisp and the flesh opaque. Perch daintily on a mound of risotto.

Atlantic Fish
The contrast between the pearlescent flakes of a chunk of baked cod or halibut and a red-wine risotto is surprisingly good. Make up the risotto with chicken, rather than fish stock and Quinta de Sant’Ana, Lisboa (available only in the Premium Reds case). The fish should be very, very fresh and not overcooked. Dare I suggest the microwave? Seasoned and confident fish cooks may want to do it skin side down in a frying pan. Purists may omit the cheese but a modicum is fine if you use chicken stock.

Poached Salmon
You could pick any number of whites for this, notably Pouilly-Fumé, Domaine Seguin (Classic French Whites) but why not confound the conventional and embrace your inner Bond villain with La Grave de Bertin (Buyers’ Everyday Reds)? No cheese, please.

Categories : Wine Without Fuss


  1. Catherine Chetwynd says:

    I think the obviously Amarone substitute that will also probaby be within most budgets is Baccolo Appassimento parziale, Rosso Veneto 2012, which one of the Society’s esteemed scribes dubbed a ‘junior Amarone’, if I remember correctly. It will do both the meal ample justice, both in the risotto and the glass

  2. Ian Jagoe says:

    Enjoyed the article very much indeed, and although a keen oenophile (my favourite wine is Gevrey Chambertin, I do not have a wide knowledge of grape varieties, so perhaps ‘Baccolo’ does actually exit. Barrolo, of course I am aware of and know it to be a hearty red wine and an excellent substitute for Amarone! but not Baccolo. Please advise me if this is indeed what the Author intended to write. Many thanks, Ian Jagoe

  3. Chris Stray says:

    In the basic recipe, the amount of wine is given as ‘? of a bottle’, doubtless a Wynne Evans tease. I suggest ‘2/3’. Chris Stray

    • Martin Brown says:

      Many thanks for spotting the mistake! You are quite correct that 2/3 is the magic fraction, and we have amended accordingly.
      Martin Brown
      The Wine Society

  4. John Lavis says:

    I’m a sucker for your recipes – though it has to be admitted, more collected than cooked – but is there any chance of a printer -friendly version?

  5. Philip boughen says:

    Agree entirely with views of John Lavis re the lovely Janet’s recipes and also put in a request for a printer-friendly version. Is this possible ?

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