Saturday, November 29, 2014

CHIANTI AT HOME: Roasted Butternut Squash Risotto with Chianti-Soaked Grapes

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As a Da Vinci Storyteller "alumni," I've been creating dishes that fit into this year's theme, "Chianti at Home," Ever since I returned to the States after the Storyteller Experience, this wine has become like an old friend to me.  Not just because Chianti happens to be my favorite "red," but because it keeps me connected to my beloved Tuscany, and all the hands involved in the loving process it takes to develop one bottle.

Over 2 years have passed since my unforgettable Experience in Vinci, Italy, and much like when you take a vacation, you begin reflect, and you try to relive your experiences through your memories and photographs. In Vinci,  so many experiences were condensed in a short period of time, so I keep returning to the wine and the feelings I had when we met the growers, and how much love they expressed for the land. These were not just grape growers, they had their own legendary fruit and vegetable gardens, and olive groves. As a gardener myself, I was so impressed by this. Tuscan's speak of the land as if it were a member of their own family, as if the land was a sacred ancestor. I loved this! It reminded me of my own Grandfather, how important gardening was to him, and I vividly remember our annual Autumn harvest.

Autumn has always been my favorite time of year with the changing of the leaves here in the Northeast, with all the breathtaking orange, reds, and gold hues. Driving through the Adirondacks in autumn is truly like driving through a painting, it is so picturesque. But, the harvest in autumn has always been my most treasured, with squash at the top of my list of fresh produce.  I'm always looking for new and creative ways to develop different squash recipes. My "go-to" formats are usually pasta dishes, or creamy, risotto dishes. They bring an elevated level to familiar comfort dishes that make it great for entertaining, or to present as a holiday dish.

My "Roasted Squash Risotto with Chianti Soaked Grapes" is a perfect autumnal first course for your holiday table. It calls for  Da Vinci's wines- Chianti to soak and roast the grapes, but also their crisp, Pinot Grigio to make the risotto, which gives the risotto a more complex layer of flavor, than if prepared without the wine. In fact, I always keep a bottle of Da Vinci Pinot Grigio when I make any risotto.  My recipe is simple, but elegant, with the addition of the Chianti-soaked grapes as a beautiful presenting factor. I feel as if the Chianti-soaked grapes are what really set the dish apart. In fact, they make such a statement and are so intense in flavor, that I have used these prepared grapes with other dishes, as well. Experiment with other recipes, and I guarantee, you will be hooked  ( cream)!

To check out more holiday recipes, and Da Vinci Wine's "Chianti at Home" favorites, head on over to the Da Vinci Wine Facebook Page page for tons of inspiration for this season and throughout the year!

Ingredients for the Risotto:
  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 medium onion, chopped fine
  • 2 cups uncooked Arborio rice
  • 6 cups chicken broth
  • ½ cup of  Da Vinci Pino Grigio
  • 1  cup of Da Vinci Chianti
  • 1 large butternut squash
  • 1 pound of dark grapes (Concord is preferred)
  • 1 cup of whole milk
  • 1/2 cup of Parmigiano Reggiano Cheese (grated), plus more for topping
  • 1 teaspoon of pumpkin pie spice blend
  • 1/2 teaspoon of kosher salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon of cracked black pepper

How to Roast the Butternut Squash and Grapes:

1.) Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
2.) Slice butternut squash in half lengthwise and rub with a little extra virgin olive oil. Place
on parchment paper-lined cookie sheet.
3.) Place grapes in a medium-sized, shallow baking dish, drizzle with extra virgin olive oil and pour Chianti over the grapes, and put both the squash and grapes in the oven.
4.) Roast the squash for about 35-40 minutes, or until very tender. Roast the grapes for about 25 minutes. Remove both and set aside to cool.
5.) Scoop out the squash into a large mixing bowl and add the milk, grated Parmigiano Reggiano Cheese, salt & pepper, and pumpkin pie spice blend. Using an immersion blender (stick blender) blend to a puree consistency (may leave a little chunky, if desired).

How to Make the Risotto: 
  1. Heat the olive oil in a large saute pan over medium heat.
  2. Add chopped onion and cook until soft.
  3. Add the 2 cups of rice all at once, add the Da Vinci Pino Grigio, stir and simmer for a few minutes (wine will absorb into the rice).
  4. Add the broth, 1/2 cup at a time, stirring the rice until the broth has been absorbed between each addition.
  5. Once the risotto is cooked and creamy, remove from heat, add the about 2 cups of the butternut squash puree and stir to incorporate.
  6. To plate, scoop risotto into a shallow bowl and garnish with Chianti-soaked grapes. Serve with additional Parmigiano Reggiano cheese, if desired.

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