A special springtime risotto dish using rosé Champagne

The spring risotto with mussels and asparagus at Imago Restaurant at the Hotel Hassler in Rome

Everyone knows that Champagne is wonderful all-year round, for all meals and courses and for any occasion.  Rosé Champagne is particularly enticing this time of year when the weather warms up and we’re entertaining outside.   Pink Champagne was the only Champagne category to increase market share in 2009 and 2010 and the US was a major reason for the growth.

But have you ever thought of cooking with it?  It may sound luxurious to do so, but one can find a good bottle of pink Champagne for $30-40 and for a special occasion – like seeing a good friend or for Mother’s Day – it’s a great idea.  Besides, you can enjoy the same wine while you’re cooking with it or serve it with the meal.   Rosés generally are some of the most versatile wines with food, especially with ‘difficult to pair with’ foods like asparagus and salads, so I was especially pleased to see this springtime risotto recipe being featured at the Michelin-star Imago Restaurant at the Hotel Hassler in Rome, by the Spanish Steps.

I also love it because the recipe uses a special rice from the Veneto, the Nano Vialone PGI (Protected Geographic Origin), one of the Veneto’s many unique products we know of here but probably never made the association (like Asiago cheese or Treviso radicchio).  Being an internationalist, I can’t imagine anything better than combining the best products of two great countries!  The recipe is courtesy of Chef Francesco Apreda.  I’ll bet it’s also tasty with shrimp.

Risotto with Asparagus and Pink Sparkling Wine, Peppery Mussels

4 1/3 cups Vialone Nano rice
6 1/2 tablespoons shallots
1 clove garlic
2 pounds mussels
1 bunch of asparagus
1 3/4 cups pink sparkling wine (try Champagne!)
6 1/2 tablespoons butter
1/4 cup grated pecorino cheese
Wild fennel
Salt, pepper and extra-virgin olive oil


  • Clean the mussels and steam in a lidded pot with garlic, a drizzle of olive oil, 1/4 cup of sparkling pink wine and a generous amount of pepper. As soon as they open, drain and filter the cooking liquid, keeping it to be used later.
  • Blanch the asparagus in salted water and then cool down immediately in water with ice. Cut and keep the tips of the asparagus aside (reserve for garnish). Cut half of the asparagus stalks into small pieces. Puree the other half in a blender.
  • Chop the shallots and brown in a pan with half of the butter and a drizzle of extra-virgin olive oil. Once wilted, add the rice and toast it with the remaining sparkling wine. Continue to cook, slowly adding the reserved mussel cooking liquid along with an equal amount of water. When the rice is half-way done (when half of the liquid has been absorbed), add the chopped asparagus. When the rice is almost done, add the asparagus puree and soon after the mussels (previously shelled). Remove the rice from heat and let stand for two minutes.
  • Add the remaining butter, grated pecorino cheese and minced wild fennel.

Sauté asparagus tips with oil, salt and a light sprinkle of pepper. Place over the risotto.