Risotto al Nebbiolo with Robiola
Risotto made with wine and cheese–does it get any better than that?
Although traditionally risotto is made with white wine, there is one exception to this rule. In Italy’s Northern region of Piedmont, they bend the rules and use their most prized red instead: Barolo. This dish is known as Risotto al Barolo.
A robust, burgundy red made from the Nebbiolo grape, Barolo only grows in a small area spanning 11 kilometers within the region. It must age at least 18 months in the barrel, plus an additional 12 months in the bottle–for a total of three years of aging–before release. Even after they’re bottled, most sommeliers agree that Barolos are best when aged five years or more. While lesser known than the renowned Chianti and bold Super Tuscans, Barolo is arguably one of Italy’s greatest wines, with most bottles starting at $60.
And for that it seems strange that one would cook with it. After all, shouldn’t this wine be enjoyed on its own, savored for all its tannic glory and notes of “rose petals” and “tar?”
Look, I won’t argue that Risotto al Barolo is a wonderful dish and an important one from Piemonte. But what I will say is that for the average cook at home, it’s not always practical to splurge on a $60 bottle of wine just to make a plate of risotto!
Which brings me to my variation on the classic Piedmont recipe: Risotto al Nebbiolo.
Yes, I am suggesting that you cook with a different kind of wine. There are many other Italian wines out there made from the Nebbiolo grape that retail at a much more budget-friendly price. A Langhe Nebbiolo, for example, is an excellent option that still gets you those rosey-tar flavors, often found at the equivalent of a Jackson.
You might scoff at the idea of breaking tradition and there is no doubt that Barolo is one beautiful wine that will produce an excellent risotto. If you’re feeling fancy and want to splurge on a true Barolo, go for it. It will be delicious. But for those of us who don’t have access to this kind of luxury, Risotto al Nebbiolo is a great alternative.
One last point about cooking with wine: many cooks argue that you should always cook with a wine that you’d want to drink. And I largely agree–don’t cook with cheap wine. My rule of thumb for buying decent vino to cook with (and drink) is this: stick to bottles in the $15+ range and shop at an actual wine shop where you can ask for advice (not at a supermarket).
There are a few ways you can dress this red wine Nebbiolo risotto up: Here I’ve used a dollop of robiola cheese for added richness but you could easily add sausage and beans for a heartier, stand-alone meal.
Serve alongside whatever Nebbiolo is remaining.
Risotto al Nebbiolo with Robiola Cheese
6 tablespoons butter, divided
1 medium onion, finely diced
1 ½ cups Arborio or Carnaroli rice
¾ cup Nebbiolo wine
6 cups vegetable stock
1/3 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese, plus more for serving
4 ounces Robiola cheese, for serving
In a medium saucepan, warm the stock over low heat, until steaming and just under a simmer.
In a wide, deep pan, add 3 tablespoons of butter and heat over medium, until melted and bubbling slightly. Add finely diced onion and cook until soft and translucent, about 10 minutes. Reduce heat to low and stir to avoid browning the onions.
Next, add rice and stir until lightly toasted and the rice has gone from white to opaque in color.
Add wine, and cook for a minute, letting some of it evaporate. Add in one ladleful of the warm stock, gently stirring the rice. Wait until the stock has been absorbed, then add another ladleful. Continue in this way, always allowing the liquid to be absorbed before adding more.
Cook until rice is soft and starchy, about 20 minutes. It shouldn’t be mushy, but rather al dente. During the last few minutes of cooking, add 3 more tablespoons of butter and grated parmesan cheese. Turn off the heat and stir the rice a few times to incorporate the cheese and butter. Let the risotto rest for 1-2 minutes more.
Spoon on to warm plates and top with a dollop of robiola cheese.
Risotto al Nebbiolo with Robiola Cheese
Prep Time: 10 Minutes
Cooking Time: 20 Minutes
Total time: 30 Minutes
- 6 tablespoons butter, divided
- 1 medium onion, finely diced
- 1 ½ cups Arborio or Carnaroli rice
- ¾ cup Nebbiolo wine
- 6 cups vegetable stock
- 1/3 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese, plus more for serving
- 4 tablespoons Robiola cheese