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Not quite summer yet: Risotto with peas and pancetta

Remember that post where I talked about Italian secondi the unsung heroes of Italian cuisine that are a tad overshadowed by the ever-popular pasta and pizza? Well, I’d like to add another dish to that category: risotto!

While the Spanish have paella, the Chinese have fried rice and the Mexicans arroz con leche, risotto is rice done the Italian way. It is arborio or carnaroli rice that is slowly cooked with white wine and broth and finished off with a healthy dose of parmesan cheese. If you’re not Italian, I’d guess that you’ve probably had risotto a few times in restaurants, but actually never made it at home.

Risotto with peas and pancetta (photo ©Francesca Bruzzese)

Risotto with peas and pancetta (photo ©Francesca Bruzzese)

“All that stirring!” a friend of mine said when she learned I was publishing this recipe next. “It’s too complicated!” This is, to a certain extent, true.

Risotto is a needy dish, the equivalent of a fussy toddler who requires coddling and a bit of extra attention. It calls for a cooking time of at least 30 minutes, during which broth is slowly added to the rice and stirred until completely absorbed. This process is certainly more complex compared to the quick boil time of pasta. But the slow stirring process is what releases the starch in the rice and gives the dish its signature richness, making the end result well worth the bit of extra effort.

Besides being a nice change of pace from pasta, risotto is also comfort food that is still fancy enough for company, and it is extremely versatile. Once you have the basic recipe down you can add any other ingredients you want.

The recipe I’m sharing with you in this post is for risotto with peas and pancetta, which I thought was a Spring-ier version of this dish and maybe a good option for a primo when the weather still isn’t too hot. However, risotto with pumpkin, saffron (otherwise known as risotto Milanese), mushrooms, shrimp, or lobster (if you wanted do something really special) would be delicious, too. Use your imagination! Happy eating!

Ingredients:

  • 6–8 cups chicken broth
  • 3-4 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 medium onion, finely chopped
  • 4 ounces pancetta, finally chopped
  • 1 1/2 cups carnaroli or arborio rice
  • 2/3 cup dry white wine
  • 1 cup peas (frozen is fine)
  • 1/2 cup freshly grated parmesan, plus more for serving

Directions:

Put the chicken broth in a medium saucepan and bring it to a simmer over low heat.
Next, heat the olive oil in a large saucepan. Add the onions and cook until they are softened and translucent. Add the pancetta and sauté until crisp. Stir in the rice and let it toast for a few minutes in the pan. Add the white wine and cook until the liquid is absorbed, stirring often (this will only take 2–3 minutes).

Begin to add the broth to the rice: add 1 cup of hot broth and simmer over medium-low heat
until it is absorbed (about 5 minutes) stirring often. Continue to cook until the rice is just tender and the mixture is creamy, adding more broth by the cup and stirring often. This will take about 30–40 minutes. Mix in the peas and stir until they are heated throughout. Then add the parmesan, season with salt and pepper to taste and serve immediately* with extra parmesan cheese on the side. This recipe makes enough for 4-6 people. Enjoy!

*Note that risotto is a dish best eaten right away. It does not take well to reheating and isn’t nearly as good cold (I warned you it was fussy!). Leftover risotto, if there is any, is great for making supplì though!

Risotto with peas and pancetta (photo ©Francesca Bruzzese)

Risotto with peas and pancetta (photo ©Francesca Bruzzese)

About Francesca Bruzzese

Francesca Bruzzese is an avid cook and baker who has been living in Rome, Italy since 2011. A Rhode Island native with Italian roots, you can usually find her in the kitchen making dolci to bring to her colleagues at work, developing new recipes to add to her repertoire, or planning her next dinner party. In addition to contributing recipes and articles to Eating Italy Food Tours, she also has a food blog, Pancakes and Biscotti (www.pancakesandbiscotti.com).

One comment

  1. hi Francesca,
    I’ve known you since you were a little girl! Your mom and I are Junior League friends, and I love what you wrote about risotto! Would love to follow your other work too.

    I am leaving Wed. to arrive in Rome Thurs, until Sat. Then we leave for Assisi for a week, then end in Florence. Your mother thought you could give me some restaurant suggestions while in Rome — nothing fancy, just good, not rip-off or phony touristy ones! (p.s., we don’t speak Italian though). I would appreciate a few minutes from you to send along some “musts” in Rome, remembering we’ll only be there Thursday afternoon until Saturday afternoon. We have a guided tour of the Vatican scheduled for Friday afternoon — otherwise… free to explore on our own. Our first time over — THANKS!!!!