Cooking with wine is an ancient practice that dates back to the Etruscans and Romans. Back then wine was mainly used as a meat preservative: when meat was marinated for a few days, it became more resistant to contamination and gained more flavor once cooked.
Wine, white or red, is still the basic ingredient for Brasati (braised meat). There are many regional recipes that include the use of local wines: in Tuscany we have the Cacciucco alla livornese which is a fish stew cooked in a tomato and Chianti DOCG sauce and Cantucci (biscotti) prepared and served with dessert wine Vinsanto.
In Lombardy the classic Risotto alla milanese is prepared adding water and Oltrepò Pavese DOC white wine; Brasato al Barolo is one of the most classic recipes of the Piedmont tradition, while the Saltimbocca alla Romana of Lazio cuisine are prepared with Orvieto Doc wines.
Cooking with wine is simple and also suitable for people who don't drink wine since both alcohol and sulphites evaporate when reaching 77 °C. The reason we use wine to cook is to accentuate and intensify the flavor of the food and not to mask or overturn the original taste.
As a general rule, the recommended wine quantities are:
2 tbsp wine/cup in soups and sauces
¼ cup /pound for meat to be roasted or braised
- Do not use wine you wouldn’t drink! It doesn’t have to be expensive but of good quality.
- Stay away from "cooking wines" because they are very salty and full of additives.
- Do not add the wine at the end of the cooking but let it cook slowly for at least 10 minutes: wine needs time to release its flavor but if added too late it will give rough and sharp notes. After adding the wine, wait at least 10 minutes before you taste and then add more if needed.
- Leftover wine can be used for cooking up to ten days if stored well in a refrigerator.
Going beyond the classic combinations red wine-red meat and white wine-fish, there are numerous recipes for sweets and vegetables that include wine.
Please check my Carote brille recipe for a simple and fast side dish, suitable for accompanying both delicate fish dishes and more robust meat recipes.