Italy is Europe’s leading rice producer. Italy produces 50 varieties of rice, each suited to a particular dish or cooking method.
Risotto is one of those dishes that seems elusive to most home cooks, but it couldn’t be easier to make. Just slowly stir it every few minutes; it’s almost a Zen-like experience. There are hundreds of ways to vary risotto once you know the basic cooking technique.
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Italians tend to focus on one ingredient, to concentrate and highlight that single ingredient’s taste. Risotto alla Milanese, a dish from Milan, for example, is mainly seasoned with saffron. Risi e bisi is a Venice classic that relies on the delicate flavor of spring peas.
But one of the most festive, whimsical risottos I’ve ever had was in Piedmont, a region known for fine wines like Barolo, Barbaresco and Asti Spumante. In this northern Italy region, they make an impressive risotto seasoned with a sparkling wine like Asti Spumante or Prosecco. The bottle is placed into the risotto, which causes the wine to overflow into the dish. Although a classic in Italy, this dish is virtually unknown here. A great way to toast to the New Year!
Asti Spumante Risotto
Recipe courtesy of Wes Martin
Prep time: 5 minutes
Cook time: 25 minutes
Total time: 30 minutes
Yield: 6 servings
A fabulously festive dish. Pop the cork and let the fun flow!
5 to 6 cups homemade or canned low-sodium chicken broth
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
1 medium onion, finely chopped, about 1 cup
1 1/2 cups Arborio rice
2 split bottles (187 millileters) Asti Spumanti or Prosecco, at room temperature
3/4 cup Pecorino cheese, plus more for serving
1/2 teaspoon sugar
1. Heat the chicken broth until just below a simmer; keep warm.
2. In a large heavy saucepan, melt butter with the olive oil over medium heat; add onion and cook, stirring frequently, until very soft but not brown, about 10 minutes. Add the rice and cook, stirring, until translucent, 4 to 5 minutes.
3. Increase heat to medium-high, add 1 bottle of sparkling wine and cook, stirring, until liquid is absorbed, 3 to 4 minutes. Add 1/2 cup of the hot broth and cook, stirring, until absorbed. Continue adding a broth, a little at a time, until done, but still very firm.
4. Stir in the cheese.
5. Set the remaining bottle of unopened sparkling wine on a wide, shallow serving platter with a high rim and surround with the rice. When ready to serve, hold the bottle in place and remove the cork; the wine should bubble up over the risotto, if not, just drop a pinch of sugar into the bottle to release the wine.
6. Spoon large scoops of warm risotto with champagne onto plates and serve immediately.
Main photo: Asti Spumante Risotto is a simple dish that makes a great addition to a festive occasion. Credit: Stephen Murello