This feature was brought to you by Frei Brothers Reserve.
Although my current home is Portland, Oregon, I have always said my spiritual home is Amsterdam. There is just something special about enjoying a glass of wine or hot coffee while looking out over those shimmering waterways, the twinkling lights, and the stretches of corner cafes and quaint restaurants.
When Frei Brothers emailed me about their Places Worth Preserving contest, those wonderful canals came rushing back into frame: pushing bike pedals over the bridges, walking slowly and carefully alongside the waters, sitting by windows overlooking the views.
One of my favorite places to enjoy the Amsterdam canals is a tiny cornerside restaurant called Pastini, an ages-old Italian restaurant which has just the perfect, perfect view onto a canal intersection.
Those canals, and Pastini, inspired me to create this simple and yet luxurious two-course date night menu. (The Dutch are not known for romantic menus – but considering at one point their naval fleet stretched across the world, we’ll give them a pass.)
This meal, or either of the individual recipes, would be perfect to enjoy at your place worth preserving: maybe packed in a picnic and taken to the beach. Or cooked in a tiny cabin in the mountains. I’ve designed a meal that pairs nicely with Frei Brothers Reserve Pinot Noir, a grape common here on the west coast – the perfect blend between my old home and my new home.
Seasonal Risotto: Butternut Squash Risotto
One of Pastini’s specialties is seasonal risotto. One of my favorite Italian dishes to make (and eat) is risotto, and it’s a fantastic date night dish because you can customize it to fit whatever you’ve found at the farmer’s market that week. Because it’s squash season here, we decided to go with a somewhat spicy Butternut Squash Risotto.
- 1/2 whole butternut squash (peeled, seeded, & diced)
- 3 tablespoons butter, divided
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1/2 tablespoon sea salt
- Black pepper to taste
- 1/4 teaspoon chili powder
- 1/2 white onion, diced
- 1 1/2 cup arborio rice
- 6 cups (approximately) vegetable or chicken broth (low sodium)
- 1/4 cup heavy cream (less, if desired)
- 1/2 cup parmesan cheese shavings
Heat 1 tablespoon butter and olive oil in a large skillet over high heat. Add squash and sprinkle with salt, pepper, and chili powder. Cook for several minutes, turning gently with a spatula, until squash is deep golden brown and tender (but not falling apart). Remove to a plate and set aside.
In a separate saucepan over low heat, heat broth. Keep warm.
Add 2 tablespoons butter to your skillet over medium-low heat. Add onions and cook for 2 to 3 minutes, or until translucent. Add arborio rice and stir, cooking for 1 minute.
Reduce heat to low.
In 1-cup increments, begin adding broth to the skillet, stirring to combine and gently stirring as the broth is absorbed. As soon as the liquid disappears, add in another cup to cup-and-a-half of broth. Continue this process, stirring gently as the broth incorporates and the rice starts to become tender. Season with salt and pepper along the way.
Taste the rice after about 5 cups of broth have been absorbed and see what the consistency is. It should be tender with just a little bit of “bite” left to it. If not, Add another 1 to 2 cups of broth, as needed, to get the rice to the right consistency.
When the rice is tender, add in the cooked squash and stir it in gently. Add the cream and parmesan shavings and stir until it’s just combined.
Salt and pepper to taste.
Serve hot with a little bit more parmesan cheese on top, if desired.
Salted Italian Chocolate Tart
Another favorite of mine is Pastini’s desserts – true Italian classics. One of the easiest to make is their Salted Italian Chocolate Tart; despite being simple, it packs a powerful romantic punch. Make it beforehand, it does well as a nice end-of-meal surprise.
- ¾ cup graham crackers (approx 5 “sticks”)
- 3 tablespoons butter, melted
- 1 tablespoon sugar
- Pinch of sea salt (for filling)
- 2-3 tablespoons Himalayan sea salt (for topping)
- 1 cup heavy cream
- 1-1/2 cups semisweet or bittersweet chocolate (chips work just fine)
- 1 tablespoons cocoa power
- 1 tablespoon butter
- ½ teaspoon vanilla extract
Preheat oven to 350.
Put graham crackers in a food processor and pulse until finely ground. Add the butter, sugar, and sea salt – pulse until combined. Press onto the bottom of two 8-inch tart pans – I like to use the base of a glass to pack the crust in firmly. Bake 10 minutes and then leave to cool before adding your chocolate mix.
For the chocolate filling, combine the cream and chocolate in a medium saucepan and cook over medium heat. You don’t need to use a double-broiler for this, but do not leave your chocolate unattended! Use a wooden spoon to break up the chocolate bits at first, then as your mixture smoothes out, switch to a wire whisk to give the filling some airy texture. Once fully melted (the surface will start to look glossy), add the vanilla, cocoa powder, and butter; whisk until fully combined. Immediately pour the filling onto your crust, sprinkle generously with Himalayan sea salt and then put into the fridge for 2 hours before serving. If you plan on leaving the tarts for several hours or overnight before serving, pull them out of the fridge about 20 minutes before serving.
Optional: garnish with seasonal fruit, such as a couple of raspberries or a nicely sliced strawberry.
Frei Brothers Reserve was established in 1890 in Sonoma County’s Dry Creek Valley by Swiss immigrant Andrew Frei. Earth-friendly farmers and winemakers for more than 30 years, Frei Brothers Reserve believes in preserving natural resources without compromising the quality of their wine.
Do you have a place you think is worth preserving? Then you can win a trip to Sonoma County wine country (along wither other great prizes) by submitting a photo of your special place to the Frei Brothers Reserve Places Worth Preserving contest.