For The Other Kind Of Leftovers

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Like many cooks, I often make too much food for Thanksgiving, which I then pack up and give to my guests, because I’ve been living with components of these dishes for weeks by the time we sit down for dinner, and I don’t want to see them (the dishes, not the guests) again until next year. Also like many cooks, I make sure that I have plenty of wine on hand. These leftovers, however, I keep for myself to enjoy in the coming weeks.

Inevitably, there are a few opened bottles that require my immediate attention. Since it’s just me and my husband at home after several days of frantic cooking and entertaining, it isn’t always easy to drink all of the leftover wine before it goes bad. Over the weekend, I’ll make an effort to use some in my food, preferably to make a dinner that has zero resemblance to roast turkey.

In the past, I’ve steamed mussels in leftover Chardonnay, covered sautéed flounder fillets with a sauce made of Prosecco and butter, and braised short ribs in Cabernet. This year I’m expecting a surfeit of local McCall Pinot Noir, which I’ve bought in bulk. So I’m thinking of red wine risotto, with some sweet Italian sausage stirred in. Meaty, creamy, savory, and deeply hued, it’s very different in character from a brightly colored plate of lean turkey, candied sweet potatoes, crisp Brussels sprout salad, and tart cranberry sauce. And after a long night of dishwashing on Thursday, I’ll happy to make a one-pot meal on Friday.

Risotto is requires little in the way of technique. If you know how to stir, you can succeed. Keep your mixture at a lively simmer, and add broth in small increments, giving the grains of rice a chance to rub against each other and release their starches. Old school Italian cookbooks will tell you to stir constantly. But it’s ok to take frequent breaks, as long as you keep an eye on the pot and add liquid frequently enough to avoid scorching the rice at the bottom of the pan. Taste it frequently and remove the pan from the heat when the rice is still al dente and plump grains are suspended in a starchy sauce. Overcooked, risotto becomes porridge-like as the grains lose their shape.

The starchy, short grain Arborio variety imported from Italy will give your dish its characteristic creaminess. Long grain varieties like Basmati and jasmine have fluffy grains that stay separated when cooked, as does par-boiled or “minute” rice.

Will I seem crazy if I suggest how to use the leftover risotto that you’ve made with your leftover wine? I’ll risk it: Refrigerate it overnight, and then the next afternoon shape the rice into small patties, coat the patties with beaten egg and bread crumbs, and pan-fry them until golden on both sides. They make great little appetizers along with a glass of Pinot Noir.

Red Wine Risotto
Serves 4 to 6

4 cups low-sodium canned chicken broth
3 cups water

8 ounces sweet Italian sausage, removed from casing
1 Tbsp. olive oil

1 medium onion, finely chopped

2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 1/2 cups arborio rice

1 sprig fresh thyme
1 cup dry red wine

1 Tbsp. tomato paste
1 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese

1 Tbsp. butter

Salt

Ground black pepper

1. Warm the broth and water in a medium saucepan. Keep warm over low heat.

  1. Place the olive oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add the sausage and cook, breaking into small pieces, until it loses its pink color. Transfer to a paper towel-lined plate.
  2. Drain all but a tablespoon of fat from the pan. Add the onion and cook until softened, 3 to 5 minutes. Add the garlic and cook until fragrant, 30 seconds. Stir in the thyme and the rice and cook, stirring, for another minute. Add the wine and tomato paste and cook, stirring, until most of the liquid has been absorbed.
    4. Add 1/2 cup of the warm broth mixture and cook, stirring frequently, until the rice absorbs the liquid. Continue adding warm liquid in 1-cup increments, always stirring, until the rice is al dente. If you run out of liquid, heat up some water and continue to add it to the pot until the rice is done.
    5. Remove the pot from the heat and stir in the sausage, ¾ cup cheese, butter, and salt and pepper to taste. Divide among bowls, top each one with a sprinkling of Parmesan, and serve.

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