Even though risotto is a simple rice dish, I associate it with special occasions.
A northern Italian rice dish cooked in broth to a creamy consistency, risotto is most often served as a first course. But in the U.S., we serve it as a side or a main course.
It most always includes butter, onions and wine. I have made white wine risotto with spring peas and crab meat and red-wine risotto with caramelized shallots and mushrooms. But I never thought about making Champagne risotto until my friend and fellow chef, Bob Blumer mentioned it to me. I immediately knew that Champagne risotto would have to become my New Year's Eve staple — it's comforting on a cold night and easy to prepare while talking and drinking with friends. And it's the perfect choice for an at-home New Year's Eve celebration.
Bob makes his risotto with asparagus which is out of season right now. I opted to make mine with my one of my favorite ingredients, mushrooms — any kind of mushrooms work, or a mixture of wild mushrooms. The combination of garlic, shallots, butter, Champagne, Parmesan and thyme is so rich that this recipe is excellent with button mushrooms and only gets better with more interesting mushrooms. My favorite two mushrooms are meaty morels and chanterelles. And since it is New Year's Eve, why not spurge with Champagne and chanterelles!?
The key to risotto is setting up two pots, one for the chicken stock and the other for making the risotto itself. Keep the chicken stock warm so that it is absorbed quicker and doesn't "shock" the risotto as you stir it in, little by little.
Servings: 2 dinner portions or 4 side dishes
Start to finish: 45 minutes
2 large shallots, chopped (about 1/3 cup)
2 large cloves of garlic, chopped
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
4 tablespoons butter, divided
4 ounces mixed chopped mushrooms (A generous cup of cooked mushrooms)
1 cup Champagne
32 ounces unsalted chicken stock
6 sprigs of fresh thyme, divided
1 generous cup Arborio rice
1 generous cup Parmesan Cheese, grated
In a heavy-bottomed medium-size (about 6 quarts) pot over medium-high heat, add olive oil and 2 tablespoons of butter. Immediately add shallot and garlic and stir for 3-4 minutes, or until the shallot is translucent and beginning to brown around the edges.
Add rice to the shallots and garlic and stir vigorously for about 30 seconds until all of the rice grains are coated in oil. Let rice toast in the pan for about 3 minutes, stirring frequently.
In a medium saute pan, add the remaining 2 tablespoons of butter and let melt. Season butter with salt and add mushrooms. Let cook down until lightly sauteed and set aside.
In a second pot (about 4 quarts), warm chicken stock and 1/2 cup of Champagne over medium-low heat. Add about 4 whole sprigs of thyme to infuse the stock.
Add Champagne to the rice mixture and reduce heat to medium. Add in the sauteed mushrooms. Stir for 2 to 3 minutes, until most of the liquid is absorbed.
Use a ladle to add 1/2 cup of the hot chicken stock to the rice. Stir frequently. Each time the stock is almost fully absorbed, add another 1/2 cup. Continue stirring and adding stock until rice is creamy yet still a little firm to the bite. (It may not be necessary to use all of the stock.) The total cooking time, once the rice has been added, should not be more than about 25 minutes. To keep the rice slightly creamy, don't wait until the last ladle full of stock is totally absorbed before pulling it off the heat and serving.
Remove from the heat. Stir in the reserved thyme (leaves only) and the Parmesan cheese. Continue stirring until the cheese is completely melted. Season with a touch of white pepper and salt if desired. You shouldn't need to use much salt, if any.
Serve in flat bowls with a sprig of thyme.
Nutrition information per serving: 343 calories; 174 calories from fat; 19 g fat (8 g saturated; 0 g trans fats); 37 mg cholesterol; 475 mg sodium; 31 g carbohydrate; 2 g fiber; 4 g sugar; 12 g protein.
EDITOR'S NOTE: Elizabeth Karmel is a barbecue and Southern foods expert. She is the chef and pit master at online retailer CarolinaCueToGo.com and the author of three books, including "Taming the Flame."