Duck, Duck, Radicchio

Valerie Stivers and Hank Zona are taking over the blog today to share a pick-of-the season autumn recipe to pair with Fanciulle wines. We are thrilled to offer their perspective on this fall pairing which brings together the best of seasonal Tuscan ingredients and our wines. Read on for their discussion of how each ingredient opens up the wonderful layers of the wines as the foods complement the delicate flavors. They paired Toscano 2020 and Vigneto Grande 2020 with this recipe.

Autumn Recipe – Grilled radicchio with duck breast, wild mushrooms and red currants

Recently, we got together at Valerie’s house on the Brooklyn waterfront with three bottles of Fanciulle wine and the mission to cook seasonal foods that would perfectly suit them. We are a food-and-wine writing team based in Brooklyn, NY and Maplewood, NJ, and we’re also home-cooks and frequent dinner-party hosts. We both appreciate the holy grail moment when every bite of a dish brings out another exciting element of the wine.

Ingredients for the duck recipe: duck, porcini, Pecorino, currants, radicchio
Fresh duck shot in southeastern Tuscany, crispy, garden-grown radicchio, the first porcini of the season, the last red currants and Pecorino from Pienza.

For us, that moment is best experienced in the comfort of home on a casual evening, when we can really discuss the wine pairings. Hank’s Instagram tag #whyieatanddrinkathome promotes this view of life, and we encourage our readers and friends to follow him.

To make the most of the Fanciulle wines on a fall table, we started with some ingredients that are known to pair well with Sangiovese—duck, radicchio, wild mushrooms. The particularity and painstaking process of winemaking at Fanciulle results in wines of unusual clarity and sophistication, with many layers, so we were looking for a more complex dish with multiple flavors. The duck would provide richness to balance out the acidity in the wine. The bitterness in the radicchio would bring out the wine’s fruit, and the mushrooms would showcase Sangiovese’s earthiness.

Our goal was to create flavors that would be complex and layered, but with straightforward cooking techniques — inspired by the Tuscan and Italian traditions of using great seasonal ingredients that are simply prepared. Our idea was to create a salad with grilled duck breast, radicchio, wild mushrooms and a pop of red currants and grated aged Pecorino.

We seared the duck breast on the stove-top and then finished it off in the oven, a surprisingly simple and fool-proof method for cooking perfect duck, as long as you are using breasts of a consistent size. And we grilled the radicchio, also on a stove-top grill pan, since we were cooking in a city apartment, though a charcoal grill outdoors would be great, too.

Grilled lettuces are a restaurant-trick that’s easy to do at home—quarter the radicchio, brush with olive oil, season with salt and pepper, and set it all in a cast-iron grill pan with the heat cranked up. Remove when you smell it burning.

We sautéed our mushrooms in a little olive oil and salt and whisked up a quick dressing of mustard, oil and Balsamic vinegar. The last touches were some grated aged Pecorino to dust over the assembled radicchio, a mushroom mixture to lend a high note and quick stovetop preserves to give the plate a pop of acidity—essential in a good wine and in a good dish.

We’ve been seeing aged Pecorino on restaurant menus recently and wanted to try this sharper and more pungent cousin to Parmesan. We had a half-pint of red currants on hand, which we put in a saucepan with a teaspoon of sugar to make a flavor-accenting jam (for a more readily available supermarket fruit we suggest using frozen cranberries).

Then we sat down to appreciate our kitchen creation. This was the moment! 

In addition to being a food and wine writer, Hank runs a wine-education events business where he curates wine for parties and then talks the guests through what they’re tasting. The Fanciulle wines, he said, are “sneaky.” They’re powerful and elegant, but not high in alcohol, nor overly tannic, oaked but not in new barrels that impart flavor.

He pronounced the wines “Sangiovese for grown-ups.”  Fanciulle’s restrained winemaking makes its bottles especially good with food—and it was especially good with the duck salad, which was rich, flavorful, and deep with umami. Each component of the dish found a note to strike in the wine. The cheese and the char on the radicchio cut the tannins in the wine, and the currants brought out the wine’s fruit freshness. We tasted notes of black cherry, ripe bing cherry, cranberry and some blackberry. The light hand with the oak created texture in the wine but didn’t overwhelm the fruit.

We were delighted! The hand-made, high-quality, precision-winemaking style of the Fanciulle wines is an exceptional match for good home cooking, and we hope people will try our recipe and tell us what they think.

See below for the complete recipe!

— Valerie and Hank

Duck, radicchio, porcini and Fanciulle wine

Valerie Stivers is a freelance journalist and the author of “Eat Your Words,” a long-running food column for The Paris Review that creates recipes based on food scenes in classic literature.

Hank Zona is a New York area wine event planner, consultant, speaker and writer.

Valerie and Hank are a food, wine and travel writing team whose work has appeared in The Wall Street Journal, Travel+Leisure, Food52 and Edible Jersey. They have an upcoming story in Eater and do events based on wine in popular culture. 

On Insta, follow Valerie @ivalleria and Hank @thegrapesunwrapped and stay tuned here for more of their beautiful food and wine pairings!

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