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Chef Cortellini untaps Prosecco’s gastronomic potential

Rising-star chef and Prosecco lover Danilo Cortellini talks to db about the food-pairing potential of Veneto’s most famous export.

Chef Danilo Cortellini was a finalist in the 2015 Masterchef: The Professionals series

With extensive experience in Michelin-starred restaurants in his native Italy and London, the chef’s most recent achievements include a finalist slot in last year’s Masterchef: The Professionals competition. Judge Monica Galetti has been full of praise of Cortellini, saying that he is “pushing the boundaries” of Italian cooking.

Now working as head chef at the Italian Embassy in London, Abruzzo-born Cortellini is an enthusiastic ambassador for Prosecco – and is convinced of its suitability to pair with a wide variety of food dishes.

“If you pair it with the right food it can go on for the whole dinner with no problem,” he told db.

“I love the dryness of the Prosecco, and if you go only with a meal rich in cheese flavour or fatty flavour as well, and you’re not very keen on red wine, the bubbles of Prosecco really help.

“Even with the kinds of food that you wouldn’t [pair with] a white wine, you would dare to do it with Prosecco because it has the acidity [and] it has the bubbles that always help to clean the palate.”

Cortellini, who has worked at the two Michelin-starred San Domenico in Imola and at the restaurant of renowned pasta specialist Giovanni Rana in Italy, as well as Zafferano and the three-star restaurant Alain Ducasse at The Dorchester in London, was recently recruited to produce a range of Prosecco-friendly dishes for visitors to the Prosecco stand at the Taste of London festival.

The chef made a new dish for each day of the festival, using Grana Padano cheese as a key ingredient and pairing the dish with Prosecco. One of his favourite dishes to pair with Prosecco is l’uovo in raviolo – a single ravioli filled with ricotta and spinach and a runny egg yolk, and served with butter and Grana Padano, or truffle.

Food for thought

The dishes Cortellini prepared at Taste of London – crispy (soft-boiled and breadcrumbed) egg, marinated mackerel with Grana Padano mousse; Grana Padano tortellini with tomato consommé, Grana Padano and Prosecco risotto – also provide a good idea of the types of food that complements Prosecco, a wine which, as Marco Pozzi of Prosecco producer Ca’ di Rajo explained during the festival, few people outside Italy would think of as anything more than an apéritif.

“Prosecco is an apéritif wine in the general idea of people, but I think that people are having more and more consciousness of the real quality of Prosecco.

“People start more and more to consider it a proper wine for pairing with food. So as long as we go into the consciousness of people, the more people will recognise Prosecco as the quality wine it is, and the more they will start to consider it for food for every occasion – for aperitif, lunch, dinner…

“This is one of the main secrets of Prosecco – being a wine for all occasions, including the main meal.

Echoing chef Cortellini, Pozzi explained that the most important attributes of Prosecco when considering food pairings were its bubbles and good acidity.

“One of the secrets of Prosecco is that it’s an easy wine, even in the flavour. So Prosecco is apple and pear on the fruit side, white flower and acacia, sometimes some lemon citric hints, and some minerality. That’s it. You don’t look for big flavours from fermentation or ageing; [rather for] easy, clean flavours for a food which is not too structured.”

Pozzi explained how Prosecco was especially effective as a palate cleanser after fatty foods – the Veneto region in which Prosecco is made is famous for its cured porks, especially sopressa, while Treviso is close to the Adriatic coast, providing high-quality fish for rich, regional dishes such as baccala mantecato, creamed salt cod, with which the palate-cleansing Prosecco is an effective pairing.

The region is also of course famous for risotto, whose fatty elements of cheese and butter call for a wine with cleansing acidity and freshness.

“The important thing,” said Pozzi, ” is that we are in Northern Italy, the part with the cold weather, so we have got a different tradition. It’s not much into the Mediterranean, into oil, it’s much more butter, and Prosecco, because of the sparkling side and acidity, is very good to pair with these foods.”

Danilo Cortellini’s risotto con asparagi e Prosecco (risotto with asparagus and Prosecco)

Serves: 4

Preparation time: 30 minutes

Cooking time: 20 minutes

Ingredients for 4 people

280g risotto rice (carnaroli)

1 large bunch of green asparagus

20g shallot chopped

20g of white onion

30g butter

2 glasses of Prosecco

1l vegetable stock

30g Grana Padano cheese, freshly grated,

Salt, pepper, olive oil to taste


To prepare the asparagus sauce, sweat the shallot in a casserole with a drizzle of oil and a pinch of salt until caramelised.

Trim off the bottom ends of the asparagus stalks, the woody part. Peel the asparagus with a potato peeler and boil in salted water for one minute. Cool them down in iced water to retain the green colour. Cut off the tips and set aside to use as garnish. Chop the asparagus left and stir in the shallot. Blend the sauce until smooth and season with salt and pepper.

Roast the rice in a saucepan on a low heat without adding any oil. The heat reaches the core of the rice grains faster and the rice roasts better.

Don’t let the rice catch on the bottom of the pan, so keep it moving. Quickly pour in one glass of Prosecco and add a good pinch of salt. Add the stock to the rice a ladle at a time, stirring for 12 minutes (the cooking time depends on the size of the rice grain). Do not turn down or turn off the heat while you are cooking. At half stage add the onion braised in the olive oil, and the asparagus sauce.

Once the time is up remove from the heat and add the other glass of Prosecco, butter and cheese. Stir well until it’s creamy and oozy. Be sure that you stir vigorously as it helps the rice to absorb air and become creamy.

Serve it hot and garnish with asparagus tips and fresh herbs.

Pairing recommendation: Ca’ di Rajo Prosecco DOC Treviso Brut 

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