Giving New Meaning to “Wine and Dine”

Barley RisottoHow to Enjoy a nice, vintage wine not just with your meals, but in them. Adding wine to cooking is no big trick – people have been using wine in meals for years. Think Coq Au Vin and you’re in the ballpark. I’m often asked what wines are best for cooking. If a recipe calls for a ‘dry white’ wine, which is best to use? As a rule of thumb, the better the wine, the better the outcome and flavor of the final dish. Using vintage wines will upgrade a nice and freshly prepared meal into something luxurious.

Wine has been around since the age of the Roman Empire, but in recent years wine has seen a steady increase in following, with vineyards popping up in countries far and wide. Reports by the Food and Agriculture Organization, an agency under the United Nations, show that 26,216,967 tons of wine were produced in 2012, with France pumping out the biggest volume of wine.

Having spent time in the UK this year, I've been on the hunt for a good place to pick up a bottle - something with labels or regions I know and love. Marks & Spencer is an upscale grocery here - my boyfriend buys his prepared meals at this shop (when I'm not here to cook, of course). I just learned that M&S winemaker Jeneve Williams recently introduced a range of wines from Turkey, Israel, and Georgia in the UK, and these wines are now quickly making rounds in the US. There is no end to the number of wine choices available to those who know where to look.

Wine, as if you needed an excuse, can be considered a health benefit. It is, after all, a fermented ‘food’ and I’ve taken to adding fermented foods into my diet to maximize gut health. In recent years, studies have popped up all over the place, discussing the health benefits that wine can offer. Food & Wine Magazine swears by wine’s abilities to promote longevity, lower the risks of heart attacks and strokes, and even cut the risks of developing cancer. Conveinently, just like chocolate.

The best part about wine is its versatility. The American Heart Association recommends enjoying four ounces of wine a day, but this doesn’t necessarily have to be drunk. Instead, part of this serving can be mixed into some great dishes that not only give off a comfort food vibe, but also feel sophisticated and classy.

For the holiday season, try this ‘risotto’ recipe for a hearty and healthy meal, wine included.

[This is a guest post, though all personal commentary and recipe is original content, written by me.]

Barley Risotto with Winter Squash & Mushrooms Excerpted from Fresh Pantry: Winter Squash eBook, Skipstone 2013

Serves 4 to 6

I love the idea of risotto but prefer to use a grain other than the traditional white rice. I’ve used farro in the UK and kasha in Croatia, both of which work beautifully. But pearl barley, a happy medium, is widely available in grocery stores across the country. Depending on the grain, you may need more or less stock for this recipe. Cooking this risotto takes some time, so plan ahead. I prep the squash and mushrooms on the side and add them to the finished pot of risotto just before serving. This way, each fresh ingredient stands on its own, rewarding you with big mouthfuls of texture and flavor.

1 teaspoon olive oil, plus 2 tablespoons olive oil 1 cup chopped onion 2 shallots, finely chopped 1 cup pearl barley 4 to 5 cups stock or water, warmed and held over low heat 1 tablespoon butter 1/2 pound squash cut into 1-inch cubes 2 cups whole button mushrooms (chopped if small) 2 tablespoons dry white wine or vermouth Salt and pepper Freshly grated Parmesan

Cover the bottom of a 5-quart stock pot with a thin layer of olive oil and set over medium-high heat. Add the onions, shallots and pinch of salt and pepper and stir, cooking until soft. Add the pearl barley and let sit, browning a bit, about 2 minutes more. Add 1 cup of the stock and reduce the heat to medium/medium-low. Stir until all the liquid is incorporated before adding another cup of stock. Continue stirring and adding stock, 1 cup at a time, until the barley is cooked al dente, about 40 minutes. (Cooking time can take anywhere from 30 to 45 minutes depending on the grain you choose.)

While the barley is cooking, cook the squash and mushrooms. Add the 2 tablespoons of olive oil and the butter to a sauté pan and set over medium heat. Once the butter has melted, add the squash, distributing it into a single layer in the pan. Do not move the squash; instead, cook one side at a time until brown, about 4 minutes. Once a side is brown, flip the pieces to brown another side, another 2 to 3 minutes. When all sides are brown, stir the squash only until it is golden and crispy. Add the mushrooms, stirring often until they start to release liquid.

Continue cooking the mushrooms until soft and cooked through, about 10 to 12 minutes total. When they stop releasing moisture, turn the heat to medium-high and stir continuously. When the pan seems dry and the mushrooms and are beginning to brown and stick, add the vermouth to deglaze, scraping up any brown bits. Cook the squash-mushroom mixture for another minute, then remove from the heat and set aside. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

When the risotto is cooked through and creamy, remove from the heat and portion out into shallow bowls. Add a spoonful of the squash and mushrooms to each bowl and shave over a generous amount of Parmesan. If desired, garnish with chopped fresh parsley.

PANTRY NOTE: Barley risotto holds very well covered in the fridge and should be eaten within four days. Many other grains work well using the cooking technique for risotto. Try this recipe with wheat berries, cracked wheat, farro, or even traditional Arborio rice, adjusting the amount of stock as needed for each grain.