Given the choice of any bottle on the shelf, red wine is probably the last variety I would reach for when I want a drink. Why, then, do I keep buying it regularly, and sometimes even more often than my preferred whites and roses? Few ingredients can unlock such a wide range of flavors, transforming an average dish into something spectacular. Red wine is my secret ingredient for many savory recipes.
The science behind cooking with wine really is fascinating. The alcohol content is almost completely nullified, leaving behind great taste without the buzz. Much like salt, the alcohol itself doesn’t exactly add to the final flavor but instead helps other elements taste more like themselves. It adds acidity for brightness, and umami for greater depth and savory richness.
Although you shouldn’t cook with something you wouldn’t drink, the very best bottles are not great cooking wine, especially when it comes to reds. Your best bets are a merlot, cabernet sauvignon, or red blend, and should cost somewhere between $3 to $15 a bottle. Choose a young (not aged) wine with low tannins, since these can impart a bitter aftertaste.
The best red wine to cook with, of course, is whatever you have leftover! That’s where this simple, comforting, yet dazzlingly luxurious side dish comes in. Acini di pepe take center stage, which are really just a fancy way of referring to pearl couscous in Italian. The Translation means “seeds of pepper,” which makes a final flourish of cracked black pepper only fitting.
Balancing out these intense, robust flavors, candy cap mushrooms introduce an unmistakably sweet flavor, shockingly much like maple syrup with an added earthy undertone. The combination is complex, nuanced, and truly greater than the sum of its parts. Even if you’re not much for red wines either, you’ll want to keep some on hand to whip this dish up in 15 minutes flat.