saffron-and-champagne-risotto

This is essentially the classic Italian risotto alla Milanese, given a festive touch. Not only does it taste delicious, but the dramatic presentation I have suggested can be something of a party trick! Serve with steamed or roasted asparagus, or a spinach and avocado salad. It can also be eaten Italian-style as a first course. Serves 4.

2 pints/ 1 litre well-flavoured vegetable stock (ideally home-made)
4 oz/ 100g unsalted butter
2 tablespoons good-quality virgin olive oil
4 large shallots OR 2 small white onions, peeled and finely chopped
1 very small bottle champagne
14 oz/ 350g vialone nano risotto rice
¼ to ½ teaspoon top-quality saffron strands, crushed in a mortar
Salt and pepper
4 oz/ 100g vegetarian parmesan (or similar hard Italian cheese)
4 tablespoons single cream
2 tablespoons flat-leaf parsley leaves

To serve:
Gold leaf (optional)
1 normal-sized bottle champagne, chilled

1.    Bring the stock to a boil, reduce the heat to very low and keep it just below the simmering point.
2.    Meanwhile, melt the butter and oil together in a saucepan. Add the shallots and sauté for 5 minutes until soft but not brown.
3.    Add 6 tablespoons of the stock to the shallots, along with the contents of the small bottle of champagne. Heat until the mixture is reduced by half.
4.    Add the rice and cook on a medium heat for 5 minutes, stirring continuously.
5.    Add the saffron and seasoning. Then add the stock a ladleful at a time, stirring the rice between each addition. Make sure that the rice absorbs the liquid and that the liquid reduces in quantity before you add the next ladleful. This process takes patience as you have to constantly stand at the stove, stirring the rice as you go. Do not be tempted to tip all the liquid into the rice at the same time. The rice should take about 20 minutes to cook. The consistency should be soupy, and the grains of rice should be tender and mushy.
6.    Remove from the heat, and stir in the cream and some of the parmesan and parsley. Adjust the seasoning to taste.
7.    To serve the risotto: Working quickly so that it doesn’t get cold, pile the risotto onto a large, heated serving platter. (Use a black one for dramatic effect). Garnish the risotto with gold leaf, if using. Make a small ‘well’ in the centre of the risotto. Wipe the bottle of champagne with a dry cloth, and place it in the ‘well’. Then carefully uncork the bottle while it’s still standing on the platter, so that the bubbles drip down into the risotto beneath. Once your guests’ ‘oohs’ and ‘ahhs’ have died down, scoop the risotto into individual serving dishes and sprinkle with the remaining parmesan and parsley. Pour the remaining champagne into glasses and drink it with the risotto.

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