Red Wine Risotto with Beans (Paniscia)

Intrigue and ambivalence in equal measure, that was my mind set when I first saw this recipe. Hailing from the Piedmont region in Northern Italy, Paniscia is usually enjoyed during the winter and around the holidays and consists of beans, sausage and vegetables. Beans in risotto? Never heard of such a thing, so you know I just had to try it. It is hypothesized that the name derives from panìgo, a poor variety of millet, with which this dish was cooked, before the spread of rice.

Making this deeply flavored, hearty, cold-weather specialty, is typically a lengthy process of combining a minestrone-like soup with risotto. However, the need to make two separate dishes is eliminated and simplified to make one hearty Red Wine Risotto with Beans (Paniscia). Sautéed pancetta and mirepoix make a strong flavor base to which tomato paste and garlic is added for more savory depth.

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In place of the hard-to-find traditional Italian salam d’la duja, use mild Italian-style salami, sautéing it with the Arborio rice before adding red wine and broth. It’s preferable to use a smaller, individually packaged, dry Italian-style salami such as Genoa or soppressata, but unsliced deli salami can be substituted. Near the end of cooking, add chopped cabbage and creamy canned pinto beans. The dish is finished with butter for even more richness, and red wine vinegar to brighten the meaty flavors.

The classic technique for making risotto calls for near-constant stirring for roughly 25 minutes. This accomplishes two things: It maximizes the release of starch from the rice to create a creamy sauce, and it ensures that every grain cooks evenly. Frequent small additions of hot broth are ladled in from a separate saucepan on the stove, which purportedly helps keep the cooking from slowing down.

But this recipe ditches the traditional rules by not bothering to heat the broth before adding it. When room-temperature broth hits the already-hot pot, it quickly comes up to temperature. And stir only occasionally because the rice is cooked in a covered heavy-bottomed Dutch oven over medium-low heat, which distributes the heat as evenly as does stirring, making every grain as tender as the next. A brief stir at the end of cooking followed by a 5-minute rest provides additional insurance that the rice will be perfectly al dente, from the top of the pot to the bottom.

And, although not traditional, incorporating a bit of grated Parmesan adds salty depth. Almost stew- or chili-like in consistency, this dish offers lots of taste with very little meat. After eating a bowl, I was no longer ambivalent, in fact, we are now both converts of Paniscia!

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Ingredients

  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 ounces pancetta, chopped fine
  • 1 onion, chopped fine
  • 1 carrot, chopped fine
  • 1 celery rib, chopped fine
  • Salt and pepper
  • 6 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 ½ cups Arborio rice
  • 6 ounces salami, cut into 1/4-inch dice
  • 2 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 1 cup dry red wine
  • 4 cups chicken broth
  • 1 small head green cabbage, halved, cored, and cut into ½-inch pieces (4 cups)
  • 1 (15-ounce) can pinto beans, rinsed
  • 1 cup hot tap water, plus extra as needed
  • 1 ounce Parmesan cheese, grated (½ cup), plus extra for serving
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 2 teaspoons red wine vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley

Directions

  1. Heat oil in Dutch oven over medium heat until shimmering. Add pancetta and cook, stirring occasionally, until beginning to brown, 3 to 5 minutes.
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  2. Add onion, carrot, celery, ½ teaspoon salt, and ¼ teaspoon pepper and cook, stirring occasionally, until vegetables are softened, 5 to 7 minutes.
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  3. Add garlic and cook until fragrant, 30 seconds. Add rice and salami and cook, stirring frequently, until rice grains are translucent around edges, about 3 minutes.
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  4. Stir in tomato paste and cook until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add wine and cook, stirring constantly, until fully absorbed, 2 to 3 minutes.
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  5. Stir in broth, reduce heat to medium-low, cover, and simmer for 10 minutes, stirring halfway through simmering.
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  6. Stir in cabbage and continue to cook, covered, until almost all liquid has been absorbed and rice is just al dente, 6 to 9 minutes longer. (I had to cook an additional 4 minutes here.)
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  7. Add beans and hot water and stir gently and constantly until risotto is creamy, about 3 minutes. Remove from heat, cover, and let stand for 5 minutes. Stir in Parmesan and butter.
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  8. If desired, add up to 1 cup extra hot water to create fluid, pourable consistency. Stir in vinegar and season with salt and pepper to taste. Sprinkle with parsley and serve immediately, passing extra Parmesan separately.

Recipe from Cook’s Illustrated test kitchen 

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