But one of my favorite ways to enjoy fresh peas is in this lush, lemony risotto. The combination of sweet peas, lemon zest, and sharp pecorino blended together in a creamy risotto is nearly too good to be true. Plus I just love making risotto...I can unwind with a glass of wine while slowly adding in the broth and stirring the rice. Though it takes a bit of time to cook, it's an amazingly easy dish to whip up for a crowd, and in theory, you should have nearly all the ingredients already on hand (with the exception of the peas and the parsley).
I find that a lot of people are intimidated by the thought of making risotto, which needn't be the case. The basic method is very easy to follow, and once you master it, there are all sorts of variations and substitutions you can make. For example, instead of peas, try blanched asparagus or sauteed zucchini, or add some thinly sliced prosciutto for a heartier main-course risotto. Substitute the lemon zest for orange, or the parsley for mint. And of course you can use Parmesan if you prefer--I use pecorino because a) it's cheaper and b) I love its slightly sharper taste in this dish. Do what works for you--the idea is for you to enjoy yourself in the process!
SPRING PEA RISOTTO WITH LEMON AND PECORINO
1 cup shelled English peas (about 1 pound unshelled)
3 cups chicken stock or broth
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium onion, finely chopped
1 cup Arborio rice
1/2 cup dry white wine**
Zest of 1 lemon
Juice of 1 lemon
1/4 cup grated pecorino cheese (or Parmesan if you prefer) + more for serving
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons chopped Italian parsley (or mint if you prefer)
Salt and pepper to taste
Shell your peas and bring two cups of water to a boil in a medium saucepan. Add the peas and cook for one minute, until bright green. Drain and plunge peas into ice water to cool; drain again.
Bring your chicken stock to a simmer in the same saucepan. Meanwhile, heat the olive oil in a large heavy-bottomed saucepan (the wider the better) over medium heat. Add the onion and cook for five minutes or so, until translucent (but NOT brown!). Add the rice and cook for 2 to 3 minutes, stirring with a wooden spoon, until the grains are coated with oil and have nearly turned completely white. Toasting the rice at this stage gives it that nice firm bite that makes risotto such a study in textures: creamy and al dente all at once.
Add in the white wine and stir until the liquid has nearly all evaporated. Begin adding the stock, one ladle-full (or, if you don't have a ladle, 1/2 cup-full) at a time, letting all of the stock absorb before adding more. Continue adding more stock, stirring frequently (but not constantly!), until all of the stock has been added. The whole absorption process takes around 18 minutes.
The rice should look creamy and tender at this point. Stir in the peas, lemon zest, lemon juice, cheese, butter, and parsley, and season with salt and pepper.
Cover and let sit for 2 to 3 minutes, and serve immediately. I like to bring a hunk of pecorino (or Parm) to the table with a grater, so everyone can grate a little extra cheese over their risotto. Mmmm...
1 pound English peas ($3.99)
1 bunch Italian parsley ($1.99)
And in case you don't already have them...
1 box Arborio rice ($4.19 for 35 oz.)
1 chunk Pecorino ($4.99 for 8 oz.)
2 (14.5-ounce) cans chicken broth ($1.49 x 2 = $2.98)
TOTAL: $18.14 (roughly $3 a serving)
**WINE PAIRING: You want something crisp to cut through the creaminess of this dish, and something light and spring-like to pair with the peas and the lemon. I suggest the citrus-y S'Eleme Vermentino 2007 ($11) from the Italian island of Sardinia. Simple and fresh, this wine has a nice acidity that pairs well with the lush risotto. Use half a cup of the wine in the risotto, have a glass while making the risotto, and serve the rest with dinner.