The Beer Lover's Table: Gorgonzola Risotto with Caramelised Shallots and Radicchio and Elusive Brewing Sunset City American Barley Wine

Compared with the abundance of summer, February's menu can seem mean, lacking. It is the season of hardened root vegetables, unyielding and caked with earth. All those parsnips and swedes rolling around in barren larders. It is the season of the leek, my least-favourite allium. But if February has a saving grace, it is radicchio.

Phoenician-purple or dusty rose, feathered or curled into tight fingers, radicchio is deeply bitter – the way that February’s chill used to be – though it mellows when caramelised with butter and a splash of balsamic vinegar. I liked Natoora’s recent suggestion that we all gift bouquets of radicchio for Valentine’s Day this year – they’re both more sustainable than roses and, actually, no less beautiful.

And so I decided to make the most of February’s best crop with this risotto recipe. Shallots and pine nuts are cooked down with radicchio – I picked pink radicchio, its petals blowsy like a peony’s – which is a foil for the sweet, tangy cream of gorgonzola dolce. Together, they’re folded into a slow-simmered risotto that warms and nourishes.

And to complete the picture, there is barley wine – and I mean a really singular one, courtesy of Andy Parker at Elusive Brewing in Finchampstead. Made from a blend of six malts as well as Centennial hops, this beer pours the shade of burnished leather and brings with it toffee sweetness and brooding depth.

You could do worse than roll the liquid around in a snifter as you sit by the fire – it is 9% ABV, after all – but I would recommend having it with this risotto alongside, however you choose to savour it. Blue cheese and barley wine are, after all, a well-established love match. Together, they don’t just make the winter more bearable – they make February feel like an occasion worth looking forward to.

Gorgonzola Risotto with Caramelised Shallots and Radicchio
Serves 4-6

For the caramelised shallots and radicchio:
2 tablespoons olive oil
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
3 large echalion shallots, thinly sliced
4 small radicchio, stemmed and roughly chopped (I used pink radicchio)
Fine sea salt, to taste
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
50g pine nuts
Leaves from 6-8 thyme sprigs
2-3 tablespoons balsamic vinegar

For the risotto:
2-3 tablespoons olive oil
400g arborio rice
300ml dry white wine
1.25 litres (approx.) vegetable stock
300g gorgonzola dolce
Parmigiano Reggiano
Fine sea salt, to taste
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste

1. Begin with the vegetables. In a large frying pan, add the olive oil and butter, and place over medium heat. Once hot, add the shallots. Cook for approximately 7-8 minutes, stirring frequently, or until the shallots have softened; turn the heat down if they start to brown too quickly.

2. Next, add the radicchio and stir to combine. Season generously with salt and pepper before mixing through the pine nuts and thyme leaves. Turn the heat down to low and cook, stirring occasionally, for 20-25 minutes, or until the shallots and radicchio are caramelised and the pine nuts look toasted. Halfway through, add the balsamic vinegar and mix through. When done, taste and adjust seasoning if needed. Set aside.

3. As the vegetables are caramelising, begin the risotto. Add the olive oil to a large sauté pan and place over medium heat. Once hot, add the rice. Cook for 2-3 minutes, stirring well, until the grains are evenly coated in the oil. Next, add the wine in one addition, and turn the heat down to medium low. Cook, stirring frequently, until almost all the wine has been absorbed.

4. Next, add roughly ¼ of the vegetable stock and cook, stirring frequently, until almost all the liquid has been absorbed. Repeat this process, adding most of the remaining stock in small additions, and stirring consistently. (The amount of liquid your risotto will need will vary depending on the rice you’re using.) After roughly 25 minutes of cooking, start tasting the rice. It’s done when it’s mostly cooked through but still slightly al dente. (This process can take up to 40 minutes.)

5. Shortly before the risotto is done, add all the gorgonzola and mix through, and grate over a good amount of Parmigiano-Reggiano. Add the caramelised shallots, radicchio and pine nuts, and mix through. Taste and season with salt and pepper if needed. The risotto should look creamy and should be just liquid enough that it flows to fill the shape of the pan (rather than clumping up); add any more stock if you need to thin it slightly.

6. When the rice is perfectly done, divide between plates or bowls and grate more Parmigiano-Reggiano on top, before garnishing with additional thyme sprigs. Serve immediately.

Claire M. Bullen is a professional food and travel writer, a beer hound and all-around lover of tasty things. You can follow her at @clairembullen. For more recipes like this, sign up to our HB&B All Killer No Filler beer subscription - you'll receive Claire's recipe and food pairings, plus beer reviews and expert tasting notes with up to 12 world-class beers - like this one - every month.