1.01.2005

New Year's Amarone Wine Feast

Although my favorite wine purveyor - Evan at Corks and Curds, 13 Commercial Ally in Portsmouth, NH - was horrified at the idea, I knew I was going to be cooking with Amarone wine for the holiday. And drinking it, too.

I had never even heard of this wine from Italy, but it started popping up a couple months ago after reading a recipe involving Egyptian onions and Amarone in the Arrows cookbook. Then, as such things often go, it started popping up over and over. When I first brought it up to Evan, hoping he could order some, he said, "Amarone? Of course. It is wonderful. But I would never cook with it. It is too good."

He's partially right. The wine is too good. It's like drinking velvet. So luscious. So rich. Nothing acidic or tongue-puckering about it, which is often what I don't like about dry and dryish reds. It is a smooth, seductive wine. What wine should be - endlessly interesting, totally drinkable, and unapologetically great. But for me, food can be as great as wine, and on occasion, expense be damned. Fantastic ingredients make for fantastic food.

Amarone is made from raisins, which for me explains the extraordinary richness - concentrated flavor. Evan ordered Santa Sofia's 1998 Amarone della Valpolicella Classico, retailing at $43.50 a bottle. Yes expensive, thus the holiday drinking/cooking choice. Supposedly you can substitute Barolo or Barbera wines in recipes calling for Amarone. I might give this a try, saving all the Amarone for drinking, although the food was totally incredible.

The Menu:

First course: (my own recipe, so it will appear at the bottom)
Roasted Beets with Ricotta Salata and a Honey-Balsamic Vinegar Sauce

Second course:
Pumpkin Rissotto with Amarone wine sauce
(I based this off of Tyler Florence's recipe, available at Food TV)

Third course:
- Flank steak cooked hot and fast with salt pepper and olive oil in cast iron
- Cippolinnes roasted with Amarone wine, rosemary and bay leaves (about 400 F for 40 minutes or so). Unfortunately, I couldn't get my hands on the Arrows cookbook when I needed it, so I was flying blind. But they were amazing.
- Barely wilted arugala with unfiltered olive oil and balsamic vinegrette

For Dessert:
A few bites of good quality chocolate and a few glasses of a tolerable port, not worth mentioning here

The Recipe:

Roasted Beets
serves four as a significant first course

4 large beets
2 tbl olive oil
1 tbl coarse sea salt
1 tbl freshly ground pepper
12 oz Ricotta Salata
1 cup honey
2/3 cup balsamic vinegar

Preheat oven to 400 F. Trim and scrub beets, then toss with olive oil, salt, and pepper. Roast, covered with foil, for about an hour. Remove from oven and allow to cool; make the sauce. Warm the honey and balsamic vinegar together in a saucepan over very low heat, whisking to combine. Keep the sauce just warm while you peel the beets. For great presentation, you can julienne the beets, or simply chop them coarsley. Coarsely crumble the ricotta salata, and barely combine with the beets - you don't want the cheese to become too broken up or too red. Drown each portion in honey balsamic sauce and serve warm.

With such a bare bones ingredients list, quality is everything, especially for the honey-balsamic sauce, which is the thing that makes this recipe great. Really, this whole recipe is an excuse to eat that sauce. I used raw Tupelo honey from the Savannah Bee Company ($16 for 20 oz) and Elsa Aged Balsamic Vinegar of Modena (I don't recall the price, but not cheap, not the most expensive, either). Both are available at Philbrick's Fresh Market if you live in the seacoast of NH. The honey is really the best ever, really worth it if you care about honey and available directly from the company at www.savannahbee.com. Good balsamic vinegar is richer and smoother and just more flavorful than the cheap stuff. Yeah, it's hard to spend money on vinegar, but it is worth it to have a good bottle around for just such recipes.

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