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Tuesday, August 2, 2011

"Staying Cool Under the Tuscan Sun" with Tony Ventura!

I am very pleased to introduce you to Tony Ventura, a good friend and gifted wine writer who has kindly agreed to do a guest post for The Glamorous Gourmet!

Tony is the wine writer for Ciao Italia, a website devoted to creative Italian cuisine. I thoroughly enjoy his work and hope you enjoy his timely tips for "Staying Cool Under the Tuscan Sun!" This week I'm off to The Society of Wine Educators Conference in Providence, Rhode Island. I look forward to sharing lots of fun food and wine facts when I get back. Now, I give you, the fabulous Tony Ventura - enjoy!

Every Italophile romanticizes being Under the Tuscan Sun. Unfortunately, reality sometimes clashes with our dreamy meanderings…especially during our summer season.

We tend to seek the shade when the temperatures start interfering with our steamy Tuscan thoughts. We also tend to change the way we eat and drink during these summer months.

I recently thought of this subject while munching on some Polenta Squares with Mushroom Ragu (recipe below). These small bites seemed perfect for a warm summer afternoon…so did the wine with which accompanied these morsels.

If you’re dreaming about Tuscany, then you definitely should be drinking Tuscany. I ruled out some of the southern Tuscan wines that many people call the Super Tuscans. Many refer to these wines as “contemplative wines”.  Contemplating in the summer afternoon sun seemed like too much work for me!

I decided to guide my vinous thoughts a little further north in Tuscany. The Chianti region seemed perfect. Let’s forget the more serious Classico sub-region. I really enjoy the simple Chianti from the sub-regions of Colli Senesi, Colli Fiorentini, and Rufina. The fresh taste of berries is perfect for summer dining. You can even chill these wines for 20 minutes or so if you would rather have something cooler. I finally decided on Castello di Farnatella’s Chianti from Colli Senesi.

If you need a white wine, I wouldn’t hesitate serving Tuscany’s Vernaccia di San Gimignano.  Elisabetta Fagiuoli, a Tuscan winemaker in San Gimignano, says that Italy’s Vernaccia is “really a red wine that is made from white grapes.” This dry, nutty flavored wine is a perfect match for the Polenta Squares. I chose a new producer called Castello Montauto. I also like La Rampa di Fugnano’s Alata Vernaccia, which should be widely available in the States.

Polenta Squares with Mushroom Ragu
Courtesy of Giada De Laurentiis

  • 2 cups boiling water
  • 3 tablespoons butter, at room temperature
  • 1 teaspoon salt, plus more for seasoning
  • 1/2 cup quick-cooking polenta
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 8 ounces cremini mushrooms, chopped
  • 1/2 cup chopped onion
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, plus more for seasoning
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 3/4 cup dry Marsala
  • 1/2 teaspoon all-purpose flour
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh Italian parsley leaves
Bring the water, 1 tablespoon butter, and 1/2 teaspoon salt to a boil in a heavy medium saucepan. Gradually whisk in the polenta. Reduce the heat to medium-low. Stir constantly until the polenta thickens, about 5 minutes. Pour the polenta into a greased 9 by 9-inch baking pan, spreading so that it is 1/3-inch thick. Cover and let stand at room temperature until set, about 15 minutes.

Meanwhile, heat the oil in a heavy large frying pan over medium-high heat. Add the mushrooms and onion. Sprinkle with 1/2 teaspoon of salt and 1/4 teaspoon of pepper and saute until the juices evaporate, about 8 minutes. Add the garlic and saute until the mushrooms are golden brown, about 2 minutes longer. Decrease the heat to medium-low. Add the Marsala. Cover and simmer until the Marsala has reduced by about half, about 5 minutes. Stir the flour and remaining 2 tablespoons of butter in a small bowl to form a paste, then stir the paste into the mushroom mixture. Cover and simmer until the sauce thickens slightly, about 2 minutes. Remove from the heat. Stir the parsley into the ragu. Season the ragu to taste, with more salt and pepper.

Cut the polenta into 36 bite-size squares. Arrange the polenta squares on a platter. Spoon the warm ragu atop the polenta and serve immediately.


  1. I do something similar so will definitely try your polenta with mushrooms. The Super Tuscans are so pricey in MN. So wondering if they are worth it.

  2. I so enjoyed this post, Stephanie. Anything Italian! That's me. xx's

  3. Great combo for lunch or first course. Marsala is wonderful with mushrooms.
    I'm anxious to try your wine selection. Nice guest post!


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