When I want to enjoy the produce of spring-time, whether its beets or asparagus, I’ve found I follow something of a trend: I make risotto. So with the arrival of fresh English peas and garlic scapes, well, what other options did I have?
Risotto is like my snooty version of comfort food. Rich, just slightly al dente grains of rice swimming in a creamy, luxurious sauce never fails to provide a canvas upon which to brush some incredible flavors. In this case, the focus was delicious, fresh peas–puréed into the sauce and bedecked whole throughout the rice leaving a tinge of varying shades of green throughout. These are countered with equally distinct but gentle flavors such as leeks and garlic scapes, all elevated with a touch of lemon for brightness. In more stark contrast for an unctuous bit of crunch is some pan-fried pancetta.
Words wouldn’t effectively capture this dish. For all the richess, this dish is light and just screams spring-time. The real short version: I will definitely be doing this one again.
- 1 lb pancetta
- 3 leeks
- 3-5 garlic scapes
- 1 bunch Swiss chard
- 3 cups fresh English peas
- 2 cups arborio rice
- 1 cup white wine
- 6 cups chicken stock
- handful fresh thyme
- 1 lemon (zest and juice)
- 1/2 cup parmigiano reggiano
- salt (likely unnecessary–wait til the end!)
Before you begin, have your chicken stock in a pot warm and ready to go.
Somewhat finely cube the pancetta and brown this in a large pan on high heat with a touch of butter. The goal is to render out the fat and to develop some nice crispy texture. Once the meat has browned some, remove from the pan.
Finely dice the stems from the chard as well as the garlic scapes and pale green parts of the leeks. Your pan will likely have a 2-3 Tbsp of fat from the pancetta, but if less, top it off with a little butter. Sauté the chard stems for 7 minutes and then add half of the leeks and garlic to the pan. Sauté for 2-3 minutes further.
Add the rice to the pan and stir constantly for 2 minutes to prevent burning.
Deglaze the pan with the white wine and scrape up any brown bits. Reduce the heat to medium-low and stir the rice with some frequency as it absorbs the wine.
Once the wine has largely been absorbed, now begins the usual risotto process: add ~1/4-1/2 cup of warm stock to the rice, stirring periodically, and once its all been absorbed, repeat. In total, this should take you somewhere around 20-30 minutes. Don’t let the rice stick or burn–keep working that pan.
While this goes on, purée 1 cup of the peas with 1/2 cup of the warm stock. Set this aside along with the zest and juice of the lemon, chopped chard leaves, and the remaining fresh peas.
When you estimate that you have 5-10 minutes left of cooking the risotto (guess based on roughly how much stock is left in your pot), start using the purée from earlier to cook your rice and add in all of the remaining produce (lemon, chard, peas, and what was left of the leek and scapes).
Once you’ve used up the last of the stock, add the grated parmesan and the remaining 1 Tbsp of butter. Give things a good stir to integrate and season the dish to taste with salt (I doubt you’ll need any on account of the pancetta and the cheese) and pepper.