Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Fresh pea and bacon risotto

This is a salute to the noble English pea. Out of respect, I refrained from taking pictures of any other ingredients. You know what raw bacon and rice look like, right? Use your imaginations. The peas were just too pretty to look at anything else.

The presence of fresh peas snuggled in their cute little shells is my official notification that Spring is here. I've planted some in the garden and I really hope they take off because I just love them. Peas are one of the few vegetables that are generally better frozen than fresh because of the high sugar content; they start losing their glorious sweet fresh flavor just hours after being picked as the sugar converts to starch (I had actually written "glorious sweet fresh pea-ness" but then I said it aloud... Backspacebackspacebackspace.) But if you can get fresh ones very very close to the vine, there is nothing better.

Yes, you have to shell and blanch them but it's a mighty wee price to pay for the *pop* of a perfectly prepared fresh pea. Find some (Texans, there are plenty at Central Market)!  Plant some! Eat some! Make me some!

Note that as written, this only serves one person so you'll need to double everything to serve two. Don't mess with the proportions though, the pea to rice to bacon ratio is perfect.

~ 2 cups low-sodium chicken stock
1 slice of bacon, diced
~ 1/2 tbsp unsalted butter
1 garlic clove, minced
~ 1 tablespoon shallot, minced
1/3 cup Arborio rice
1/4 cup dry white wine (like a Pinot Grigio)
~ 2 tbsp Parmesan cheese, microplaned or finely grated
1/3 cup fresh English peas, shelled, blanched in boiling salted water for 1-2 minutes, then shocked in an ice bath and drained (or, if it is all you can find, plain ol' frozen peas) (sadface)

In a small pot with a lid, bring the chicken stock to a simmer. I used the same pot that I had blanched the peas in (after dumping out the blanching water, of course).

Risotto time. I'm no cookware snob, but I have to say how much I love my Le Creuset 2 1/4 quart saucier for risotto. You get nice even heat from the cast iron and the smooth enameled interior ensures that nothing sticks. But of course, anything will work as long as you stir consistently and keep the flame low. Begin by sauteeing your bacon in the dry pan until it has rendered its fat and become crispy. Remove the bacon to a little bowl and add the butter, garlic and shallot to the fat left in the pan. Sprinkle with a little kosher salt (not too much - the bacon and Parmesan will bring a lot to the party) and freshly ground black pepper. Once the aromatics have softened a little, add the rice, set the flame to fairly low, and allow to toast for 2-3 minutes. Add the wine and stir until it has all been absorbed by the rice. Then, set a timer for 22 minutes.

Add the simmering chicken stock around a half-cup at a time and allow to be absorbed by the rice. You don't have to stir constantly, just every minute or so. But there really isn't anything else to do if this is all you're serving, so you might as well stand there and stir. Once your timer shows around 20 minutes have passed, give it a taste - it's probably still a little crunchy. Keep adding stock and tasting. Once the rice is done, stir in the Parmesan and peas. Serve in a large shallow bowl and sprinkle with bacon. Spring, yay!

Serves 1, takes half an hour.