Pea & Broad Bean Risotto
This is one of my absolute favourite things to make, not just for the delicious result, but also for the preparation and cooking process. Fresh peas and broad beans require shelling, and, like all risottos, there is fine chopping – onions, celery, and in this case, leek as well, all in all, a fair bit of fiddly prep. And then, there is the actual cooking bit, all that stirring! A good 40 minutes or so stationed right by the pan, or pretty near by… I am not making this sound like much fun so far, but with this dish I think, it’s all in the attitude...
Think late summer, late afternoon, preferably somewhere picturesque or relaxing, maybe even somewhere with a shaded little outdoor table. My memories are nostalgically peppered with afternoons like this, sat sorting through the garden pickings with my Nonna, or Mum, tasked with shelling peas, but interpreting this as permission to put them straight into my mouth, (only the least fanciable peas ever made their way into the bowl). What can seem like a chore standing inside at the kitchen bench, under time pressure to get something to the table, takes on a whole new life if you approach things Nonna-style…
So, assemble yourself outdoors, knives, boards, bowls, everything, sit down, and preferably, gather some reinforcements (if any of these are children though, make sure you have extra peas!). On the other hand, depending on the number of adults, you may also need to sort out an extra bottle of wine… What could ever be onerous about preparing a dish whose ingredients include white wine and big crumbly chunk of Parmesan cheese? Even the stirring phase leaves a crucial hand free for wine drinking and cheese sneaking!
Omit the prosciutto topping for a vegetarian version
- 1 small brown onion – finely chopped
- 1 stick of celery – very finely chopped
- ½ a small leek – finely chopped
- 2 cloves garlic – crushed.
- 50g butter
- 2 tsbp olive oil
- 225g risotto rice (Aborio or Carnaroli)
- 250ml dry white wine
- 1 litre of good quality vegetable stock
- 150 g fresh broad beans (shelled weight)
- 150g fresh peas (shelled weight)
- 1 lemon, zest and juice
- Small bunch of mint – stalks removed, leaves chopped
- 2 tbsp crème fraiche
- Sea salt & pepper
- 50g Parmesan cheese – grate three quarters of it, leaving one quarter to shave at the end.
- 4 slices prosciutto or Parma ham, (pea shoots make a beautiful vegetarian garnish if available)
This dish can be made with frozen peas and broad beans, it’s still delicious, but does lose a little on the romance front…
Controversially, (or at least against conventional risotto wisdom), it can also be made ahead… kind of. Once the fresh things go in (so, peas, beans, dairy, lemon, and mint), the risotto needs to be served straight away. You can get the most time consuming bit done a little earlier though by getting the rice to the stage where all the stock has been absorbed and it is ready to take the other ingredients. By ‘earlier’ here, I mean, a couple of hours, max. And no refrigerator! That silky texture that you are after in a good risotto won’t survive a trip down to 4˚C.
Pour yourself a little wine, gather up your stuff and your people, and start shelling…
Peas into one bowl, beans into the other… Then chopping – onion, celery, and leek – all as finely as possible. Take a little extra care here to get the celery extra small as ideally this should almost melt away into the dish when finished.
Put a small pot of water on to boil. Blanch the shelled broad beans for two minutes, before draining, rinsing in cool running water, and finally, refreshing in an ice bath. This will stop the beans from getting squishy, make them easier to remove from their shells, and preserve their beautiful colour. Now, some more shelling…
Pop the beans from their skins by making a small puncture in the skin with your left thumbnail, while holding between the thumb and forefinger of your right hand and applying gentle pressure. The bean should pop swiftly out through the little hole you’ve created. If your fingernails are not up to creating a tiny hole, just squeezing between thumb and forefinger should suffice, but things could defiantly get fairly squishy! Pop the bowl of skinned beans aside when done.
Heat the butter and olive oil together over a low-medium flame in a large, heavy-bottomed pan. Add the chopped onion, leeks, and celery, and soften slowly without colouring, stirring occasionally to stop any sticking (approx.. 10 minutes).
While this is happening, warm the stock to a simmer in a medium saucepan positioned nearby the risotto pan.
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 stock, ladle, by ladle, stirring with a wooden spoon as you go, and avoiding letting the risotto dry out.
So, stirring… how much of it do you need to do, really? I think the answer is – some. 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. For me, this bit is pure kitchen luxury. Nothing much else to do, the hypnosis of the swirling movement, the very close proximity of an almost full bottle of wine… Likely though, not everyone is going to feel similarly on this point, and I will say that, if you keep the risotto on the wet side with plenty of stock, it can certainly stand more than a few moments inattention if need be.
After 30 minutes of stirring, pre-heat the oven to 200˚C, and lay the prosciutto slices out on a baking tray ready for later.
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 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. (If you are not planning on serving straight away, here is when the risotto can be covered and briefly put aside to return to when ready.)
Pop the tray of prosciutto slices into the pre-heated oven. Next, add the peas and broad beans to the risotto and stir these through, cooking for a further two minutes. Here, add the lemon zest, juice, and chopped mint. Stir through and then remove the pan from the heat. Now add the crème fraiche and grated Parmesan, stirring until these are incorporated. Pop a lid on the pan and let stand for a minute while you take the prosciutto from the oven. This should have crisped up to the extent that it will shatter or break into shards as you lever it off the baking tray with a spatula.
Ladle the creamy, green-flecked risotto into shallow bowls, or on to plates, topping with a little pile of the crisp prosciutto and scattering over the shaved Parmesan. Finish with a wide drizzle of extra virgin olive oil.
Then take these all back outside, to that shaded little table, along with a further (few) bottles of chilled white wine…