I worked last Saturday morning and thus sent my husband to the neighborhood farmer’s market (which is only held on Saturday mornings) to pick fresh, local vegetables for our week’s meals. He came home with several veggies, including a bag of lovely fresh, shelled peas. He had picked the peas rather at random, but peas are a harbinger of spring, so I was very happy to see them. Instead of just cooking them as a separate side dish or entirely smothering them in some casserole, I wanted to show off the peas. (If you’ve only had canned or frozen peas, you might hate them. I did. I love fresh peas, though.) I decided to utilize a risotto to show off the peas.
What goes with peas? Mint–something I happen to have growing quite profusely in a pot on my porch. What else means spring? Asparagus. (Though it’s not grown in Georgia terribly often, it seems, it does remind me of spring.) And hmmm . . . what else to add? Well, I knew I’d be eschewing dairy in the meal, and I wanted something rich, salty, and strongly flavored to replace the aspects that cheese usually provides. I’d picked up some Niman Ranch bacon not too long ago and stuck it in the freezer. That’ll work, I thought.
Tonight was the night. I got home from work a bit later than usual, due to a homeowner needing help and then traffic in the rain. (When it rains, many Atlantans panic. “It’s raining! RUN HOME!” . . . followed by speeding and driving erratically . . . and crashing into one another.) And I had my photography class tonight to get to in a few minutes, so I put on an apron right away and got to work on dinner as soon as I walked in the door.
In one sense, risotto is a difficult weeknight meal. It does require you to stand over it and stir it regularly. You can walk away from it for 2 or 3 minutes but not much longer than that—and while you’re making it, that standing and stirring may feel a bit tedious. But I think risotto is actually a great weeknight meal (or weekend meal, for that matter), because it takes about half an hour to create a creamy, marvelous, one-dish meal that tastes as if you slaved over it for multiple hours. If you can sustain yourself for the half-hour (or 40 minutes, if you add chopping time) it takes to cook risotto, you are rewarded with an excellent homemade meal (and one that can be fairly healthy, depending on what you throw into it).
We loved this particular risotto. It does show off the peas and asparagus, and the flecks of mint and rich, crisp bacon meld nicely with the veggies and rice. If you decide to make this vegetarian or vegan, I would add some finely chopped soy-sauce-soaked tempeh to give you some saltiness and a texture contrast. But for you omnivores, I do recommend you use bacon from sustainably raised pork. (Besides the reasons mentioned in that article, I recently learned that pesticides and hormones are concentrated in fat. So using bacon grease and bacon from factory-farmed pork would give you extra doses of things you really don’t want to be consuming.)
Serves 4-7, depending on serving sizes
6 slices organic/local/sustainably produced bacon
1-2 c. fresh (and only fresh!), preferably local peas, shelled
1 Vidalia onion, chopped
1 1/4 c. arborio rice (more or less)
3-4 c. broth/stock (I used organic beef tonight; I’ve used chicken, veggie, and mushroom before)
1 c. white wine
1 bunch asparagus, cut on the bias into 1″ pieces
4-8 mint leaves, finely sliced
In a large, deep, wide pan/pot (you’ll use it for the whole meal), cook the bacon on medium heat until mostly crispy. While the bacon is cooking, prep and measure the remaining ingredients. Remove the bacon to a plate. Leave the residual bacon fat in the pan on medium and add the peas. (If you are going vegetarian, I’d use olive oil for this . . . or take a different route and maybe try a bit of sesame oil.) Stir the peas into the oil, and cook 3-4 minutes. (Peas will still be relatively firm unless they are really super-fresh.) Using a slotted spoon, remove the peas to a bowl. Pour the rice into the pot, and stir it well to get it coated in oil. About a minute after you’ve started stirring, add 1/2 c. of broth to the pot. Stir it into the rice. When the rice has absorbed most of that liquid, add another 1/2 of broth. And so on. (Don’t walk away from the pot too long, but also don’t stress too much over the timing; it’s not rocket science, and your dish will be lovely, I’m sure.) After about twenty minutes of this process, add the peas to the pot again, and stir them in. Continue adding broth and stirring it in until the risotto, when bitten, retains a bit of nuttiness but also feels creamy in your mouth. (There is a range of acceptable chewiness; find what you like.) Add the wine 1/2 c. at a time and keep stirring. Meanwhile, heat an inch of water in a steamer pot; when it is boiling, put in the steamer basket with the chopped asparagus in it. Steam the asparagus for 3 minutes; then immediately rinse the asparagus with cold water to stop the cooking (unless your risotto is ready—if it is, move on without the rinse). When the risotto is ready, stir the asparagus into it to bring it back to hot. Ladle onto plates or into bowls. Crumble the bacon slices on top.
By the way, my husband and I take photos of nearly all our homemade meals, but I don’t always have the time and energy to blog them. I am going to start uploading all of our food photos to my Flickr food photography page, which you can visit by clicking the photo montage on the left. You can leave me comments there if you like, and if there’s a particular recipe you want to see on here based on the photo, you can let me know.