Montalcino may be best known for its splendid Brunello but it has some lesser known gems as well. Amongst its rolling hills fly amazing honeybees, silently working their magic amongst the vines. Each visit to my home there has me shipping cases of the nectar back to America. And once my treasured package arrives, it is play time! My most recent shipment contained deep dark chestnut (castagne) honey, gentle sunflower (girasole) honey, herb infused rosemary (rosemarino) honey – each flavor so different and exquisitely reminiscent of the plants and flowers that cover the land.
My favorite honey store in Montalcino is perched at the top of the village near the fortress. The shop is awash in jars of honey of all flavors and sizes. Tucked in between the jars are bottles of first press olive oil and award winning Brunello. All the products come from the wonderful vineyard, Villa I Cipressi, which is a short distance just outside the walls of the village. As much as I love my Brunello and olive oil, the lure of all those flavors of honey always pulls me in.
Shipping honey back to America translates to me getting to play with said honey back here in the States. Game on! The gentle sunflower honey is always a morning treat atop my crispy toast. For holidays, I love drizzling the bitter chestnut honey over sharp Pecorino. And the rosemary honey is a perfect match for roast pork.
With a rainy day here in Pennsylvania, time to get my cooking game on! Firstly I needed a libation to get those cooking juices flowing. A honey-infused cocktail was just the thing – vodka, lemon juice and honey syrup. Honey syrup is made exactly like simple syrup – a 1:1 ratio of honey to water. I didn’t want to make too much so I simply dissolved ¼ cup of honey with ¼ cup of water over low heat. Cocktail in hand, I then decided lunch was in order. The chestnut honey paired nicely with a simple risotto made with sausage and green apple. A few handfuls of grated sharp pecorino, a big drizzle of honey and a julienne of green apple was a marriage made in heaven. On a roll, I used sunflower honey to make a simple honey lemon dressing to drizzle atop some fresh crisp greens. Oh honey happiness!
So find some local honey with which to experiment – taste its flavor to pair it to perfection. Those little honeybees sure know how to work their magic. Buon appetito!
A simple risotto made with sausage, green apple and pecorino. A drizzle of honey infuses the flavors with a bit of sweetness!
- 1 pound sweet or hot Italian sausage
- Olive oil
- 2 medium green apples
- Juice ½ lemon
- About 6 cups chicken stock
- 3 tablespoons butter, divided
- 1 large onion, diced
- 1 ½ cups Arborio rice
- ½ cup dry white wine
- ½ cup grated Pecorino, plus additional for serving
- Freshly ground black pepper
- 1 tablespoon honey
- If the sausage is in casings, slit open and crumble the sausage into a heavy skillet or Dutch oven that will be used for the risotto. Add a drizzle of olive oil. Heat over medium heat until the sausage is cooked through and browned, breaking up any large pieces with a wooden spoon as it cooks. Remove the sausage from the pan.
- Prepare the apple: Peel the apples top to bottom, creating long strips of peel. Julienne (very thinly slice) the peels and place in a small bowl. Sprinkle with the juice of half a lemon. Remove the core of the apple and cut into ¼ or ½ inch dice.
- In a separate medium pot, heat the chicken stock over medium heat until it comes to a boil. Lower heat and keep at a low simmer.
- As the stock heats, add 1 tablespoon butter to the heavy skillet or Dutch oven. Heat over medium heat until the butter foams. Add the onion and apple and cook, stirring, until the onion is soft and translucent and starts to take on color, about 5 minutes.
- Add the rice and stir until well coated. Add the wine to the pot. Stir until all the wine is absorbed then reduce the heat to medium low.
- Begin adding half ladlefuls of simmering stock to the rice, stirring constantly and allowing each ladle to be absorbed before adding the next. Continue adding stock until the rice is tender yet slightly chewy, approximately 20-25 minutes. (Note: you may have stock remaining or should you need more liquid, use boiling water.)
- Remove the skillet from the heat. Add the cheese, sausage and remaining 2 tablespoons of butter to the rice and stir. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Drizzle with the honey.
- Serve immediately with additional Pecorino and topped with the green apple julienne.