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The Honorable Mike Thompson
former United States Congressman, California
Grandma's Cabernet Risotto
Because of the long history of Italian immigration, risottos are a staple in many California home kitchens. U.S. Congressman Mike Thompson grew up in St. Helena, near the northern end of the Napa Valley. His grandparents lived nearby, and once a week during his childhood he went to their home for dinner. Sometimes he would help his grandmother prepare his favorite dish, a red-wine risotto flavored with sun-dried tomatoes - decades before they were trendy. Mike learned to make this dish by watching his grandmother cook it in a cast-iron Dutch oven; she never wrote down a formal recipe. She used a ladle to add stock, not a measuring cup, and she judged when the risotto was done by how it tasted. His advice on how to achieve the perfect consistency is, simply, "practice makes perfect." Mike strongly recommends that the red wine be cabernet sauvignon, but he says you can substitute a good zinfandel, if you insist.
Heat the butter and olive oil together in a large saucepan over low heat. When the butter is melted, add the onion and garlic, and saute until transparent, 7 to 8 minutes. Add the rice and stir with a wooden spoon until each grain begins to turn a milky white, about 2 minutes. Add the wine and continue to stir until it is completely absorbed by the rice. Keeping the stock hot over low heat, add the stock, 1/2 cup at a time, stirring after each addition until nearly all the liquid is absorbed. Continue to add stock and stir until the rice is tender but not mushy, a total of 18 to 20 minutes. Stir in the tomatoes and cheese, taste again, and season with salt, pepper, and if you like, more cheese. Serve immediately.
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