I learned this dish probably two dozen years ago from Laura di Collibiano, the woman who’s helped to revive the production of the terrific olive oil Tenuta di Valgiano estate in the western part of Tuscany. She makes it, she said, whenever she has “leftover champagne.” You can of course also let some sparkling wine go flat overnight just to make the risotto—the flatness is important—if the sparkling wine is still freshly opened the heat of the alcohol will dominate the dish.
Risotto, I should say, has long been one of my favorite cold-weather dishes to make. In northern Italy, people eat risotto as often as folks in the rest of the country eat pasta. And, although it can understandably feel intimidating to make risotto if you didn’t grow up with it, it’s actually not very hard to do. If you have a copy on hand, the chapter on Italian rice in Zingerman’s Guide to Good Eating will walk you through the whole process in a great deal of easy-to-understand detail.
4 cups chicken broth (you may not end up using it all)—we sell great housemade bone broth at the Deli. You can also use vegetable broth to make the dish vegetarian.
2 1/2 cups flat champagne or flat sparkling wine
Rind pieces from Parmigiano Reggiano cheese (optional)
2 tablespoons butter, plus more to taste
1 small onion, peeled and finely chopped (about 3/4 cup)
1 cup Italian rice, preferably Carnaroli or Arborio
4 ounces Parmigiano Reggiano broken into 1/4-inch chunks
2 tablespoons finely chopped Italian parsley—rinsed and squeezed dry
Freshly ground Tellicherry black pepper
1/4 cup grated Parmigiano Reggiano, for serving
Combine the chicken broth with 2 cups of the champagne. If working with an unsalted broth, add sea salt to taste. If you have some Parmigiano Reggiano rind on hand, put a piece into the liquid. Bring broth and champagne mixture to a boil, reduce heat only slightly, and simmer for about 10 minutes. Reduce heat slightly again.
Melt 2 tablespoons of butter in a large saucepan over medium-high heat. Sauté the onion in the butter until soft and golden (don’t brown or the onion will become bitter).
Add the rice and stir well. Sauté for a couple of minutes until the rice is very hot and shiny. Add the remaining 1/2 cup of champagne. Stir until it’s been absorbed by the rice. Add 1/2 cup of the broth-champagne mixture. Stir until absorbed. Repeat the process over and over again until the rice is tender but still firm.
The risotto is done when the rice is al dente, about 18 minutes from when it first went into the pan. Add a touch more butter and one last 1/2 cup of the broth-champagne mixture. (If you’ve used up all the broth you can use hot water at this stage.) Stir, yet again, then remove from the heat.
Add the parsley and Parmigiano pieces and mix well. The cheese should still be in chunks—don’t let it melt into the dish. Let stand for a minute. Add salt to taste.
Serve in warm bowls. Top with the additional Parmigiano Reggiano cheese and a generous dose of black pepper atop each bowl. Serves two generous main courses or four appetizers.
The whole dish can be made in under half an hour and you can probably play with your kids or read your emails while you’re stirring! The result is a great dinner! Because the two featured ingredients here—Parmigiano Reggiano and bubbly—are already so special, it’s a great way to impress company or convey the importance of any event (such as New Year’s Eve!), or in truth, just to make another otherwise remarkable mid-winter evening into some special. I like to celebrate every day as if it were a holiday—cooking this dish for two on a Tuesday evening is a wonderful way to enhance the quality of any relationship! Cheers!