Firstleaf Cooking Wine
Drinking wine is a part of any traditional Italian feast. And sometimes wine is part of the food itself. Wine is literally cooked into many Italian dishes, adding and complementing the flavors of the food.
Firstleaf, a wine subscription service, has created a new comprehensive guide for home cooks: Cooking Wine and Cooking With Wine.
With the guide you'll have a good understanding of the basics. Let's talk about how wine is used when cooking Italian food.
Why Red Wine and Italian Food Are a Natural Match
Wine is part of the fabric of Italian history and culture. During the height of the Roman Empire, it was actually illegal to produce wine anywhere else. Every region of Italy had its own grapes that grew the best in that area, and thus their own regional type of wine.
For hundreds of generations, Italians honed the flavors of their local wines. Through this process, they became indelibly paired with the food of the area. The people naturally wanted their wines to taste good with the food that they ate — both when drinking it and cooking with it.
Wine in Italian Sauces
All sauces start as a mixture of spices, aromatics, vegetables and/or meat, and liquid. Cooking the sauce unites the flavors of the different components, and reduces the liquid.
The liquid used in a sauce can be water, broth, beer, milk — and of course, wine can be a part of the liquid for a sauce as well.
Take a classic tomato-based pasta sauce. A dry red wine can be added to the liquid. This will add depth of flavor to the sauce, plus additional acidity. The additional acidity is especially helpful in a ground meat sauce, or ragu, to help cut through the fattiness of the meat. The alcohol in the wine will evaporate during the cooking process.
Some cooks also add white wine to their pasta sauces. White wine typically has notes of fruit, and will make the sauce taste slightly sweeter.
Wine in Italian Braised Meat Dishes
Braising meat means to cook it in a covered pot with a few cups of liquid. The air in the pot gets hot, which cooks the meat, and the steam from the liquid helps keep it tender.
Chianti, a robust and savory Italian wine, is an ideal choice for braising beef. Over the hours-long cooking process, the acidity and fruit notes of the wine flavor the beef and the cooking liquid itself.
Wine in Italian Pan Sauces
Thin cuts of meat like chicken thighs, pork tenderloin, and veal, are often cooked in a saute pan or skillet, and served with a white wine pan sauce.
The white wine is typically used after cooking, while the meat rests. The wine is added, and helps the cook loosen bits of meat and fat that have adhered to the pan — a process called deglazing. Then additional items are added to flavor the sauce, such as butter, mustard, shallots, or others. After a few minutes, the flavors are developed and the sauce can be poured over the meat.
Pinot Grigio is an excellent Italian wine for use in pan sauces.
Should I Use Cooking Wine?
Generally, cooks recommend using wine that's made for drinking when cooking with wine. Cooking wines are heavily fortified so that they will last longer, and have very strong and potentially unpleasant flavors. It's not bad to use them, but you might get better results with a wine that you'd also drink.