Thursday, February 22, 2007

Italian wines in Santa Barbara

Traveling through the Santa Barbara region last week, we were delighted to find two wineries that are featuring wines from Italian varietals. If you want to try the risotto al Barolo of the previous post, here are two places to get those Piedmont grapes in the U.S.

One of the wineries is Palmina: Chrystal and Steve Clifton craft some very special and highly regarded wines from their Italian grapes. They do a Savoia -- a combination of Nebbiola, Barbera and Syrah, plus a Nebbiola and a Barbera by themselves. And lovely Dolcetto.

Mandolino, the other winery, is in Solvang, "Sideways" country, and they actually do a pinot nero, using the Italian name. Their wines can be found at www.LLwinecom. They do a beautiful set of varietals: Barbera, Sangiovese, Dolcetto, and a fine Nebbiola. Plus a lovely pinot grigio. We used their Dolcetto in the risotto recipe, and it was truly mouth-watering.

Perhaps Santa Barbara county is where Italian varietals might finally make their mark in this country.

The evening before the wine excursion, we had a lovely pasta dinner in Santa Barbara, at a small, charming trattoria, Bucatini. Located on lower Ocean in Santa Barbara, it is within a block or two of the ocean, and is well known, deservedly, for its fresh mussels. We had mussels and spaghetti in a tomato sauce: simple, perhaps, but the perfection and quality of all the ingredients made it memorable.

The mussels, as fresh as could be, were arranged in a circle, pointing toward the center, around the outer edge of the serving plate. The spaghetti and sauce, steaming, were in the center of the plate. The wonderful treat was that the tomato sauce was a sweet, buttery one, not a sharper marinara. It was the kind of sauce we call Marcella #3, and can be found at, under sauces. The buttery/sweetness seemed a perfect choice with the fresh, fresh mussels.

Give the sauce a try. And if you are in Santa Barbara you know where to find your pasta dish. And Italian wines.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

risotto al Barolo

This time of year one looks for and loves the warmth and comfort of a hearty dish. A risotto that takes this incredibly satisfying basic dish made with the arborio rice of Lombardy, combined with the deep and elegant Barolo wine of neighboring Piedmont, certainly solves this winter dining problem.

For a basic risotto al Barolo, one needs:

two cups of Arborio rice
five cups of meat stock
one small onion diced
three tablespoons of olive oil
one and one half cups of Barolo (or your red wine of choice)
one-half cup freshly grated parmesan chese
one tablespoon of butter
salt and pepper

(confession: this dish was popular probably before the price of Barolo, the most elegant of Italian wines, reached astronomical proportions. We substituted a lovely Dolcetto)

Bring the stock to a low simmer in a pan next to the risotto pan. In a thick-bottomed pan, (the risotto pan), over medium heat. add the olive oil. Add the onion. Cook until soft. Add the rice and stir until each grain is coated with the oil. Add a teaspoon of salt.

Now add the hot stock, ladle by ladle, only adding another ladle when the previous ladle of liquid has been absorbed. Continue stirring almost all of the time. After the second lable, add one cup of Barolo. Continue adding the ladles of stock and continue stirring until the rice is properly done: twenty minutes or so. Just before it is perfectly al dente (firm in tooth), add the remaining Barolo and continue stirring.

Determine proper doneness by tasting regularly. When your risotto is just al dente, with a little creaminess, it is ready. Take off the heat. Stir in the parmesan. Add the tablespoon of butter. Taste for salt. We let the risotto sit, covered, for a minute or two to gather in all the taste. Serve and enjoy!

We also have another risotto al Barolo recipe using herbs, pancette and ground beef to the above. To see this recipe, and also a detailed, illustrated guide to cooking risotto, go to