The SOMM Journal

August/September 2014

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{ }  55 Merrill Shindler: Does this dish exist in Italy? Luigi Fineo: Last time I saw something like this was in Italy 25 years ago. It was at my cousin's wedding. In Italy it's vanished. But I wanted to recreate it in California. It's a special occasion dish, for parties and weddings. It's like the timbale from The Big Night. You have to be a little crazy/obsessed to make it. You use a wheel of cheese? That really is crazy... We started with only half a cheese. Now we're up to two cheeses; soon we'll need three. It begins with a full 80-pound wheel of Parmigiano-Reggiano. We leave it at room temperature for three days. And then, we crack it with a cheese knife. Room temperature is the secret. We mark it outside the crust, crack it and it naturally snaps. This is an aged Parmigiano-Reggiano? I get each between 24 and 36 months. I use the "Red Cow" one which is even harder to find. The 36-month cheese is obviously more expensive—it's like going from a BMW to a Mercedes. At 36 months, it's a little saltier, a little stronger. Will only a Parmigiano- Reggiano work? We tried other cheeses, like Pecorino. But they weren't big enough. The Pecorino was good, but it's stronger. Parmigiano-Reggiano is mellow; it doesn't change the flavor of the risotto. Which rice do you use? We use Acquerello Carnaroli rice from the Piedmont region. It's grown organically, and you can buy it aged for one, three or seven years. Like the cheese, the more you age it, the more intense it becomes. It's aged for us in Italy. It's very expensive, but it's the best. What's the process for cooking the risotto? I have two people on the pasta station just for the risotto. It's like a baby; you can never leave it alone. You have to constantly stir it. And you can only do three portions in a pot, not four portions or it won't work in one pot. We start from raw. We begin with freshly chopped yellow onions for the risotto, always fresh. We chop the first batch before service begins, then a couple of hours later the second batch. The onions do not sit around. We caramelize the onions, then start the rice with a little butter, a little olive oil, a little white wine, and let the alcohol evaporate, then add chicken stock. It takes 18 to 20 minutes to make the risotto from start to finish. It's important to begin by toasting the rice for maybe four minutes. Then, stirring—always stirring. The risotto is 90 percent ready when it comes out. Do you use fresh porcini mushrooms? We use fresh-picked, fresh-frozen porcini from Italy. If they're picked on Wednesday, we have them in the kitchen by Monday. The Department of Agriculture doesn't allow fresh mushrooms to be imported. And American-grown porcini aren't the same. Italian porcini are very special. Dried mushrooms are too strong for me. I need a good amount in the risotto, and with dried I couldn't use as much. It's a balance. And the truffles? We use both black and white, depending on what's in sea - son. They aren't in season at the same time, so we go from one to the other. Truffles have gone from $1,500 to $4,000 a pound. But people love them; people come for them. How many times can you cook in a cheese? From one cheese, we get 25 to 30 risottos. Then, we retire it, and start with a fresh wheel. We hire extra people just for tableside. It's a commitment; it's an investment. I have a big wheel; it can cost $1,500—that's a big chunk of money sitting on the cart. It's a luxury. But it's worked well—people come just for the risotto in the cheese, it's worth all the effort. Shaving black truffle onto the finished risotto. The restaurant uses both black and white truffles, depending on the season. Q: Q: Q: Q: Q: Q: Q: Q: Q:

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