ONCE UPON A TUSCAN CHRISTMAS WITH RED WINE RISOTTO AND ELK ROAST –
If you have followed this website and my newsletter in the past few weeks, you will have “journeyed” all over the map of Italy, experiencing Christmas traditions and dishes from many regions. You’ll note the differences but feel the similarities in that Christmas in Italy is a time for family. It is said “Natale con i tuoi, pascqua con chi vuoi?” The idea behind this quote is – you have Christmas with your family and Easter with anybody else! Tuscan tradition offers the Italian example of enjoying one’s family through its celebratory holiday dishes. We will herald one such dish, RISOTTO AL VINO ROSSO, (Red Wine Risotto), meatless by itself, but often served with game. Here I have paired this flavorful risotto with an American game favorite, ELK ROAST- much as the Tuscans might do with their native fruits of the hunt.
The Christmas season in Tuscany coincides with the hunting season so prominent in this region. Tuscans are well known throughout Italy and the world for their superb game dishes. The holiday season is a time when these dishes appear front and center – often at the Christmas lunch or Cenone. You’ll find game birds of all kinds like pheasants, guinea hens, etc and rabbit, as well as venison or the famous wild boar. The roast is often the thing at this meal! When it’s not game, it might be porchetta. This is the time when families showcase their best at the table.
Accompanying the game or roast, you might find boiled meats, savory cheeses, pickled vegetables and olives for antipasti. The best of the Extra Virgins and Tartufi (truffles) make the scene. Soup is served in the form of minestra or pasta in brodo. The meal lasts for hours ending with fruits, nuts, Panettone, Pandoro, or the famous Panforte di Siena along with Vin Santo. Chianti or Brunello di Montalcino are often the choices for wine.
The RISOTTO AL VINO ROSSO is a most lovely example of Tuscan cuisine. The color of the rice derives its color from the wine used to make it and appears to take on a lovely pink or almost reddish tone. The flavor of the wine permeates the rice, giving it greater depth than the your usual risotto. I suggest using a full bodied red wine like perhaps Chianti Riserva ( with its oaky nature), Brunello, Amarone, or Salice Salentino for this dish. The more full and lusty the wine – so goes the risotto. It is a beautiful dish as well as amazingly delicious. To me, it cries out for fresh sage, if you have it. While I have paired it with the meat, it is also lovely served on its own without any meat.
The perfect accompaniment for this risotto is a robust meat – like the ELK ROAST that I have chosen. It is typical of the game roast the Tuscans might choose. Elk is not as strong tasting or lean as venison. It has a beautiful lighter flavor and doesn’t need an intense infusion of fat like the deer meat. I was so fortunate to have been the recipient of a great New Mexican elk roast from the recent hunting trip of my daughter-in-law’s father, Bill – a true Southern gentleman, great hunter and lover of the wild. It was just meant to be that this roast and this wonderful risotto would and should be featured as our Tuscan Christmas dish.
For the preparation for ELK ROAST, I decided to treat it as I might cook a pot roast. Elk, I understand, fares best under the conditions of long, low, and slow cooking. You could use a slow cooker for the dish, although I did not here. When elk is cooked at too high a temperature and for too long, it will dry out. I remembered my recipe for Carbonade di Valle D’Aosta , a pot roast style beef dish from the Italian Alpine region and thought this might be just the right ticket. It was a correct assumption, I think, as the elk meat was tender and took well to the spices in the cooking liquid. It was really superb with the risotto. Keep in mind though – that while not everyone has Bill to bag an elk for them – a nice beef chuck roast would suit the recipe as well!
Here it is – a Christmas afternoon Cenone in the Tuscan hills – fit for the holiday, but suitable for any time!
RISOTTO AL VINO ROSSO AND ELK ROAST
First: The Risotto Al Vino Rosso (Red Wine Risotto)
(can be served without the meat)
Prep: 10 minutes
Cook: about 25 minutes
6 cups Chicken Broth (warm)- can use vegetable stock
3 Tbsp. Butter
3 Tbsp. Olive Oil
1 Onion – chopped
2 C. Arborio Rice
1 1/4 c. Red Wine (full bodied wine preferable)
1 c. Parmigiano-Reggiano Cheese- grated
2 Tbsp. Butter
(Fresh Sage is a good garnish)
Keep the broth warm in a pot. You always add warm broth to risotto.
Cook the onion in the oil and butter – about 4 minutes.
Add the rice and stir well for about another 4 minutes at medium high heat.
Now add some wine and a ladle full of broth. Stir constantly, as the rice absorbs the liquid. Do not let the rice dry out – but when the liquid is absorbed, continue with adding some wine and the broth by the ladle until you use all of it, letting the rice absorb the liquid before adding more. The process takes about 25 minutes.
Your risotto, when finished, should be tender, but slightly firm to the bite.
At this point, turn off the heat and stir in the Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese. Then add the butter. Stir until melted and incorporated.
Serve immediately and garnish with fresh sage if you like.
(Can use a beef chuck roast)
Prep: 15-20 minutes
Cook: about 3 hours until tender
3 1/2 lb. Elk Roast (can substitute venison or beef – If venison add more salt pork than directed)
3 Tbsp. Olive Oil
2 Cloves Chopped Fresh Garlic
1 Onion sliced thinly
3 oz. (1/4 lb) Salt Pork – chopped
2 Bay Leaves
3 Sprigs Fresh Thyme
2 Sprigs Fresh Rosemary
3 Whole Cloves
1/2 Tsp. Allspice
2 Tsp. Brown Sugar
1 Large slice of Orange Peel (Rind)
1 C. Red Wine
1 C. Beef Broth
Several peeled baby carrots – as many as you like.
1 Stalk Celery cut in a few pieces
Salt and Pepper as needed
In a large pot or Dutch oven, cook the salt pork just a few minutes to render the fat. Then add the onions and garlic.
Cook 3-4 minutes, and add the roast.
Brown it on all sides.
Now add the Bay Leaves, herbs, cloves, allspice, brown sugar, and orange peel.
Pour in the wine and broth. Stir and turn the roast in the liquid to coat.
Add the carrots and celery.
Cover, bring to boil, reduce heat, and simmer on top of the stove for about 3 hours – until the roast is very tender. Turn the roast in the liquid several times during the cooking process.
Let it sit about 15 minutes before carving to seal in the juices.
Remove the bay leaves and discard before serving.
Strain the juices and reserve the carrots for serving.
At this point you can make a gravy in the usual way by making a roux or a paste of flour and butter and adding it to the juices, OR you can serve the roast in the strained pan juices, which is the way I like it. Serve this meat with plenty of the cooking liquid, as it helps to keep the meat moist.
Don’t wait for holidays to serve this wonderful meal of RISOTTO AL VINO ROSSO AND ELK ROAST. It is just too good to have once a year!
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