By M.D. Walters
Now that you’ve learned how to make our feature recipe – a delicious kale and butternut squash risotto, here are some helpful tips I learned during my Tuscan adventure.
TIP: Better Sauces
My local host, Chef Andrea Anichini, shared a nifty technique for preparing great sauces for risotto or pasta. Separate out one-third of the cooked ingredients and blend until it is smooth using an immersion blender. Then return the blended portion back into the larger portion. This technique gives you varied consistency that adds texture and flavor, and keeps your sauce components from separating.
TIP: Pasta Cooking Made Easier
Chef Andrea’s pasta pot with a built in strainer is made by Bialetti. It’s an indispensable tool in his Tuscan kitchen where all his pasta noodles are made from organic ancient grains grown and milled locally. It’s great for veggies too.
TIP: Healthy Squash Goes a Long Way
Don’t toss out the squash seeds after they are removed – there are lots of uses for them. They make a nutritious snack, or you can sprinkle them into salads, use as a garnish on top of a hearty fall soup (such as pumpkin, squash or tomato) or top your avocado toast.
- Preheat oven to 275 degrees.
- Separate seeds from any remaining pulp, wash them in water and pat dry.
- Place seeds in a bowl with a tablespoon of olive oil and a big pinch of salt.
- Spread the seeds in an even layer on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Place in oven and roast for about 15 minutes or until they just turn toasty brown.
- Let cool.
TIP: Chiantis – Classico, Reserva and Gran Selezione
I tasted at least 20 different wines as I roamed about Tuscany, which has about 600 wineries in the region. I drank some nice whites and a couple Pinot Noirs that even the locals acknowledged don’t stand up to our Oregon Pinots. But, Tuscany is land of the Sangiovese grape and Chianti is its pride and joy. These definitely were not those thin-tasting Chiantis in bottles surrounded by straw baskets (called a “fiasco,” in Italian, by the way) that we emptied and made into romantic drippy candle holders back in college.
These were mostly dry and medium-bodied and many that I sampled had a lovely floral fragrance and cherry flavor notes. As the wine flowed, so did our conversations about the 300-year history of Chianti winemaking, the grapes, techniques, patrons, regulations and disagreements in the region.
Not the most knowledgeable imbiber, I did ask a really common question: “Is there a difference between ‘Chianti Classico’ and just ‘Chianti’?” “Definitely,” according to various official organizations and local residents.
My take away was that “Classico” is produced only in a sub portion of the region between Florence and Siena. At least 80% of Chianti Classico must be made from Sangiovese grapes. Makers of Classico blend other grape varieties – such as Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot – for the remaining percentage, but standards dictate that no white grapes may be used. Regular Chianti can have a slightly lower percentage of Sangiovese and a wider range of blended grape varieties.
A treat is Chianti Classico Reserva, which is barrel-aged for at least 24 months and in the bottle for three. Arguably, the pinnacle of Chiantis is the “Gran Selezione,” typically aged longer and made from the grapes of a single vineyard. As luck would have it, I shared a bottle of a lovely, ruby red 2015 Chianti Classico Gran Selezione. It was impressive and even better, they ship to the United States.
M.D. Walters is a lover of all things Chicago, a lifelong foodie, and a global culinary explorer.