When the seasons transition from fall and winter into spring and summer we talk at length about how we're craving asparagus and radishes and juicy red strawberries. Our bodies begin to change, and everything around us lightens up. The weather, our wardrobe, and even our kitchens. Also, our wine. There are plenty of irresistible wines that I can drink year round, including Sonoma Zinfandel (hello, pizza night), and Santa Ynez Pinot Noir, but in the spring something special happens at the vineyards, namely the release of their lighter varietals like Rose and Viogner that speak to the season we're all gearing up to enter.
Recently Andrew and I took a trip to Santa Barbara and it's surrounding wine country, an area we love to spend time in. We picked up a few of our wine club shipments, along with a reasonable amount of Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Viogner and Rose to prepare for the upcoming warm evenings where porch wine is exactly what we crave.
Along the way we tasted the 2007 Anacapa from Rusack in Santa Ynez, a blend that smelled like jalapeno and left a slight red pepper kick on the back of your tongue. After we bought a bottle Andrew and I started brainstorming about what might go well with it. Tuna immediately came to mind. I also wanted to play up the southwestern flavors without putting too much emphasis on spice, so jalapeno blended with fresh basil became an elegant solution. And the corn here is smoky but still sweet, a dish ideal for spring evenings. Eating it emitted an almost calming effect in our dining room, which was exactly what we needed to usher in this new, and very welcome season.
CORN RISOTTO WITH SEARED TUNA AND JALAPENO-BASIL OIL
Serves 4 to 6
4 ears white corn
1 jalapeno, seeded
1 cup loosely packed basil
Extra-virgin olive oil
6 to 8 cups chicken stock
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/2 small onion, diced
2 cups cannelloni rice
1/2 pound (approximately) tuna steak
+ Parmesan cheese, for serving
Heat a grill pan over medium-high heat and drizzle the corn with a little extra-virgin olive oil. Sear the corn, turning occasionally, until sufficiently charred on all sides and most of the kernels are caramelized and dark brown. Set aside briefly to cool.
Leave the heat on the grill pan and add the jalapeno slices. Cook for about three minutes, turning halfway through, until softened and bits of the skin have charred.
(While you're prepping ingredients, put the chicken stock in a pot and bring to a simmer.)
(Also, prepare the tuna steaks by seasoning both sides with salt and pepper.)
In a food processor, add the jalapeno and basil and pulse to combine. Sprinkle in a pinch of salt. Stream in extra-virgin olive oil and puree until it resembles the thickness of pesto.
Wipe out the food processor to use for the corn. Over a large bowl, carefully cut down each ear of corn, rotating your knife until all the kernels have fallen into the bowl. Put in the food processor and pulse until pureed but still slightly chunky. Season with a pinch of salt.
Now onto the risotto. In a large sauté pan, add 1 tablespoon each butter and oil. When the butter is almost melted, add onions and stir to coat. Season with salt and cook for 3 to 5 minutes, until translucent. Add rice and toast for two minutes. Add stock a ladle at a time, stirring frequently until most of the liquid is absorbed. This usually takes between 20 to 30 minutes. About halfway through the cooking process, add the corn puree and season again with salt. Continue until rice is cooked through and tender but still has a bite to it. (You may have stock left over, so be diligent about testing for doneness so you don't overcook the rice.)'
After the risotto has cooked for about 12 minutes, heat the same grill pan you used for the corn and jalapeno over high heat. Add a small amount of oil and when it starts to shimmer, add the tuna steaks. Cook for 1-2 minutes per side so that inside is rare. Rest on a cutting board for a few minutes, then thinly slice just before serving.
To finish the risotto, turn off the heat and quickly add the remaining tablespoon of butter and a handful of grated Parmesan cheese. Stir vigorously until the butter is nearly melted. Serve immediately with slices of tuna and a drizzle of the jalapeno-basil oil.