Sunday, November 21, 2010

Cooking with Big Red Wines @ Rialto

Reading though the daily Red White Boston email has become a highlight of my mornings. Getting the inside scoop on the Boston wine scene and participating in RWB sponsored contests has since lead to some pretty great opportunities, like the Port Tasting at Federal Wine and Spirits last month and a cooking class with James Beard award winning chef/owner Jody Adams of Rialto this past Saturday. A local celebrity chef, you might recognize Jody from her appearance on Season 2 of Bravo's hit TV show, Top Chef Masters. As instructed in the RWB email sent a couple weeks back, I submitted my favorite recipe using red wine and much to my surprise and excitement, won a spot at the Cooking With Big Red Wines class which includes a multi-course lunch with expertly paired wines valued at $125, free of charge. Saturday morning it was off to The Charles Hotel in Harvard Square, home of Rialto Restaurant + Bar where Chef Adams takes a regional approach to Italian cuisine using New England ingredients. The class began with a spread of coffee and some tasty orange scones. The scones were soft, delicious, crumbly bites of sweet orange coated in a sugary vanilla glaze. As people filtered in and I introduced myself to some of the women around me, I learned many of the class goers are regulars who have been attending these sessions together for years. They raved about what a treat me and some of the other newbies were in for. Chef began with an introduction, letting us know her classes are very informal and we should feel free to ask questions and interrupt at any time. It became clear right away Jody doesn't take herself too seriously, and even goes so far as to describe herself as immature; but I'd just call her fun. Her easy going, super laid back demeanor is evident in the way she carries herself, laughing often and cracking jokes with the class. Her wealth of knowledge combined with an openness to learn new things in the kitchen is refreshing. She is as unpretentious as they come. During the demonstration, with recipe packets to follow along, we learned to make dishes Chef would describes as unusual ways to use red wine. Normally "we" choose to cook with white wine (truth), so her idea to showcase reds was smart. I really appreciated her thought process behind choosing the wines - I go for wines that are available, nothing fancy or particular, but nothing too sweet, definitely something you'd want to drink. She also pointed out the flavor of the wine is altered dramatically after cooking, but to still pick something you'd want to drink anyways.
[Preface: I'm not going to list out the full recipes because I'd be here re-typing my packet all night long. (If anyone is interested in obtaining them, please let me know.) Instead I'll share tips and tricks on how to prepare, and interesting details learned about the ingredients Chef was working with.]

Course #1: Escarolle, Romaine and Prosciutto Salad with Anchovy dressing, Fried Onions and Red Wine Poached Egg.
She started by preparing the anchovy dressing. -Purchase anchovy fillets raw, salted and soaked. The paste has been cooked and pureed so go with the real thing.
-Create a garlic paste by dicing the garlic and mixing it with salt.
-Shallots are commonly used in dressing because they are sweeter, drier and more intense than onion. -An emulsion is created by suspending oil in liquid, adding a little bit at a time. Big flavors require more oil. Her standard ratio is 4:1 (olive oil to vinegar.)

-Normally when you poach an egg in water you would add vinegar. Using red wine takes care of the acid component, so no vinegar is necessary.
-Poach eggs at a simmer, not a roaring boil. 

Note: Chef's original red wine of choice was Woop Woop an Australian Shiraz (coincidentally a wine I enjoyed not too long ago!) We learned right along with Jody today, wines like Shiraz and Zinfandel have a high sulfur / sulfates content and cause the eggs to turn gray. Jody explained she tried this out earlier and thought it very odd when her egg turned gray, as this had never happened to her before. Once Tara, the wine expert, explained the issues poaching with wines high in sulfur, Jody switched to a Pinot Noir which stains the egg red and looks much more pleasant versus the gray counterpart. -The type of wine does matter. ;)
-Escarole tends to be really dirty, so wash it in room temperature water to remove the dirt (cold water only keeps the dirt sticking).
-Escarole was chosen because it is a hearty lettuce that holds up to the bold flavors of the umami lent from the anchovies in the dressing.

Course #2:
Red Wine Risotto with Figs and Radicchio.

-Onion in a risotto should melt into the background, so be sure to dice as finely as possible. Note: Watching a chef dice onions, shallots, garlic, etc will never get old. This is purely my opinion but I find it mesmerizing to watch, especially in person. Probably because this process takes me 5x as long and never looks as clean or seems to go as smoothly.
-Chef uses dried Calamara figs which are Greek. Turkish figs also work well. Mission California figs tend to be overly dry and mealy.
-The preferred rice is Canaroli for its short grain and its starchy consistency which allows it to absorb more liquid.
-If the onion browns before it is tender, add water to soften and continue cooking.
Jody explained as she stirred, risotto goes on the menu at Rialto only once a year because it is one of the most frustrating things to make and to make well. So many factors influence how the risotto behaves and you really have to do things slowly and carefully. Some restaurants cheat and add cream which speeds up the process, but this is no good. I have never made risotto, but all too often I read about how it is soo easy to make (and I'm always super intimidated) so hearing this perspective from a chef was rather insightful!
We learned so much more. We had a knife discussion (yes she brought her own to Top Chef, but isn't one of those chefs who has to have her own knives when she travels.) We discussed cutting boards, wooden spoons, induction burners (she loves them and they happen to be very energy efficient), olive oil (when to use what quality), even cheese grating techniques. All were very informal conversations sparked by audience intrigue and fostered by Jody's knowledge and willingness to share all she knows.

Course #3: Scallops with Red Wine Lobster Sauce and Chanterelles.
-The sauce uses the lobster body and legs. You don't usually eat the body but it proves useful to freeze. To use, cut it into chunks and sear. -Fish fumet = fish stock. Use a white fish. Note: At Rialto they make their fish stock in house.
-Chanterelles can be very dirty (hers were.) Scrape the outside dirt off as opposed to rinsing underwater. They are moist like sponges and will absorb the water which isn't a texture you want. - Jody used diver scallops from the deep colder waters which have a firmer consistency. Scallops found in warm water tend to be floppier.
-When cooking scallops don't wiggle them around or they will steam rather than sear. You want a golden crust and that is achieved by letting them stand still.
-Because the scallop is so simple it welcomes the intense reduction. You could substitute a white fish like swordfish, bass or halibut.

Once the instruction and demonstration portion were over we were invited into the back dining room for lunch. This is my kind of class - all the benefits, none of the work! Fresh rolls accompanied by olive oil and coarse sea salt were waiting for us as we chose our seats.
The first wine was poured to pair with the salad, as we got to know our fellow classmates and lunch companions. I sat across from Katrin, a researcher at the MGH Cancer Center who moved to the U.S. from Germany about six year ago. We just so happen to share a love of dining out at Boston restaurants, so we had a lot to chat about.
The first wine we drank was a Cannonau di Sardegna, Sella & Mosca, Reserva 2006. Tara described this as a nice bright wine with a light body, revealing rich ripe plumy flavors and intense scents of violet.
The salad offered an eclectic range of flavor and texture. You've got bitterness and acidity from the mustard and red wine vinegar in the dressing, saltiness from the prosciutto, a sweet crisp from the onions, a sharp bite from the pecorino cheese, creaminess from the poached egg and even umami (the fifth taste) from the anchovy. The purple red wine stained egg blends in so well, you could almost mistake it as a piece of dark colored lettuce.The second wine was an Oltrepo Pavese Rosso, Zaffo 2006. Indigenous to Northern Italy, the wine is light on the nose with sour cherry flavors and high tannins. The red wine risotto photographs simple but the taste is bold. The lusciously sweet figs compliment the slightly bitter radicchio flesh, topped with just a few crumbles of stinky blue cheese - this ended up being my favorite dish of the three.
I befriended a sweet couple celebrating their anniversary, Elle and Ford. Ford shared his secret talent - balancing wine in a glass on its side!
Our final wine pairing of the afternoon was a Cesanese del Piglio Colle Ticcio, Corte dei Papi 2008. In this wine deep sweet berry flavors prelude hints of tobacco. The finish is earthy and mineraly.The plump diver scallops had a nice golden brown sear just as Chef explained they should. Accompanying the scallops were wilted spinach greens and earthy chanterelles. The smooth red wine lobster sauce added intense flavors while chopped fresh tarragon lent some bright herbal notes. What a fantastic way to spend a Saturday. An engaging and informative class taught by an approachable, down to earth and talented chef; then enjoying a three course meal in a relaxed and tastefully designed setting. It doesn't get much better. Thanks so much to Chef Adams and the generous staff at Rialto for putting together a wonderful class and especially to Cathy at Red White Boston for offering me this unique opportunity.
Rialto on Urbanspoon


  1. It sounded like you had so much fun at the class and your photos look great! I'm a huge fan of Jody Adams and her cooking...I can't wait to pick up some tips from you!

  2. i've never done a cooking class! that would be so fun!

  3. What a fun event! I felt like I learned so much from your post, great recap. I love Rialto :)

  4. Sound like a great Saturday! I like the name woop woop for a wine. Ford needs to take his act on the road :)

  5. congrats on winning, looks like an interesting class. I have only used red wine in soups before, might need to try it out in other dishes

  6. What a fabulous experience! That red wine risotto looks so good!

  7. I really envy how thin you stay being around all this amazing food all the time....mmmmmscallops!!!


  8. Wow Daisy!!! So much to say! First, so amazing you won this special treat, it looks like a wonderful way to spend a Saturday. Jody seems really awesome and I love how she describes herself as immature. My friend calls me the "most immature mature person" he's ever met. I love people who don't take themselves too seriously. Second, I totally agree with jody about risotto. Since I've been cooking (about five years) I was totally intimidated by risotto. Recently I discovered it wasn't so bad as long as you can really dedicate the time and love into making it perfect. Its easy to grow impatient and cheat. In a busy restaurant I could see how hard it would be. Thanks for this recap- I loved reading it!!

  9. That's super cool! Wow! I do remember her. She was the nice one. =)

    Looks like you had a memorable day and got to learn so much from a master. Yay!

  10. wow, what an awesome opportunity!! very cool :)

  11. So cool! I'd be all over those scallops.

  12. Wow, what a nice event Daisy :-) Thanks for sharing it with us.

  13. I met Jody at an event at Rialto last spring and she was exactly how you described. Completely approachable, sweet and down to earth. Would love to see her cook. What a great opportunity!

  14. I've always wanted to go to one of Jody Adams' classes! This looks like a blast and the red wine risotto is to die for : ) :) Such a cute photo of you two!


  15. What a treat. It must have been amazing to watch and learn from Jody. Sounds like the perfect Saturday to me!

  16. congrats on being selected!! what a wonderful opportunity! i just learned so much from YOU so I can only imagine what you took in from Jody! thank you for sharing dear! :)

  17. This looks like so much fun!! Glad you enjoyed yourself. I love the picture of you and chef adams!

  18. Wow, the food all looks delicious! What a fun day. You should definitely try some of the recipes with a Malbec from Argentina, too.

  19. Also meant to mention that you might like to check out our recent blog post about cooking with Malbec:

  20. Great cost for rosé!

    Feel free to surf to my blog post ... old Champagne