Kale & Pancetta Risotto


It is quite fashionable at the moment to consume kale raw, blended with other green things into frankly scary looking smoothies. I wish I could get enthusiastic about this sort of thing, but sadly for me I am doomed to prefer it cooked along with much less virtuous things, such as pancetta, rice, cheese, and cream. I suggest not reading on if you are in the smoothy faction!


(Serves 4)

  • 100g pancetta – cut into lardons (cubes)
  • 200g curly kale
  • 1 small brown onion – finely chopped
  • ½ leek – finely chopped
  • 1 stick of celery – very finely chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic – crushed
  • 2 small sprigs of rosemary – leaves finely chopped
  • 50g butter
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil ( + extra to drizzle)
  • 225g risotto rice (Aborio or Carnaroli)
  • 250ml dry white wine
  • 1 litre of good quality vegetable stock
  • Sea salt & pepper
  • 2 tablespoons crème fraiche
  • 50g Parmesan cheese – finely grated ( + some extra shaved flakes to serve)
  • Juice of one lemon


Pour the vegetable stock into a saucepan and heat to a boil. Meanwhile, strip the tough central stalks from the kale and then roughly chops in to strips about 1cm wide. Blanch the kale in the hot stock for a few minutes, until tender, then remove using a slotted spoon to drain in a colander. Keep the stock warm over low heat on the stove top while you prepare the other ingredients.

Heat the butter and olive oil together over a medium-high flame in a large, heavy-bottomed pan. Add the lardons of pancetta and cook until they begin to brown. Now turn the heat to low and add the chopped onion, leeks, celery, and half the finely chopped rosemary. Soften these slowly without colouring, adding a little more olive oil if necessary and stirring occasionally to stop any sticking (approx. 10 minutes).

When the onions are almost done, add the crushed garlic and stir through. Cook for a further two minutes, before, turning the heat up a little and adding the risotto rice. Stir this around for a further 2 minutes or so until it begins to look translucent at the edges, then slosh in the wine. Stir vigorously until all the wine is absorbed, (a further couple of minutes), then begin to add the warm stock, ladle, by ladle, stirring with a wooden spoon as you go, and avoiding letting the risotto dry out.

To get a beautiful creamy texture, you need to coax the starch from the fat little rice grains, and this is achieved via stirring as the liquid is absorbed – so don’t skimp on the stirring. If you are not keen on the idea of being stationed by the pan for the next 30 minutes though, my advice would be to keep the risotto on the wet side using plenty of stock. If the risotto is dry and in danger of sticking, you will need to stir a lot soggier, and you can get away with a little more inattention.

About half way through the cooking time, at the 15 minute point, stir in the blanched kale along with a ladle-full of stock, and continue to stir.

When all the stock is absorbed, do a quick taste check – is the rice still uncooked in the middle? If so, keep adding stock or water until it is cooked through – still with some bite is good, but grainy and uncooked is not. The texture of the risotto should be loose and creamy at this point, soupy almost, and no longer really rice-like.

Also check the seasoning. Depending on the amount of salt contained in the pancetta and stock, the risotto may be salty enough, if not, add the appropriate amount here, keeping in mind that there is Parmesan still to add. A little grind of pepper will likely also be helpful.

When the rice is cooked, turn off the heat and immediately add the lemon juice, along with the crème fraiche, Parmesan cheese, and the remaining half of the chopped rosemary. Stir everything together and then pop a lid on the pan and let it stand for a minute.

To serve, ladle the creamy, kale-flecked risotto into shallow bowls, or on to plates. Top with a scattering of some extra shaved Parmesan if your like, and finish with a wide drizzle of extra virgin olive oil.