Spring is finally here! Is there any dish that’s more springlike than a simple combination of leeks and peas? It’ll get even better in about three weeks when the peas come from the garden instead of the freezer, but even this version feels like a celebration of renewal.
If you’ve never tried making your own risotto, here’s the deal. It’s important that you use a short-grain rice to produce the necessary starch. Arborio is traditional, but you can use any short-grain rice, including brown rice. They key is to stir frequently to release the starches and to add hot liquid in stages. Cookbooks will tell you that you need to stir “constantly,” but that’s not actually true. Just push it around a bit to make sure it’s not sticking and you’ll be fine. They tell me you can make a fanastic risotto in the pressure cooker, but since for me the whole appeal of risotto is an opportunity to read a book while I make dinner, I prefer the slow, methodical stovetop version. Once you get the hang of it, you can start substituting liquids, vegetables, and fats to fit your whims.
Pea and Leek Risotto
2 T butter (for vegan version, use more olive oil)
2 T olive oil
2 leeks, white parts only, cleaned and cut into thin strips
1 1/2 c. short-grain rice
approx. 5 cups stock
appox. 1 c. dry white wine, preferably unoaked
about 1 c. of fresh or frozen peas
1/3 c. or so aged cheese, like parmesan, pecorino romano, or gruyere, shredded
1) Heat up your stock in a small pan. Keep it simmering on the stove.
2) Melt your fats together in a thick-bottomed medium saucepan. Add the leeks and cook until they’re limp. Add the rice and stir until all the grains are coated. Cook for about a minute.
3) Start adding liquid in small batches. Start with 1/2 cup. Stir it in, and keep stirring until the grains have absorbed most of the liquid. When it starts to look dry, add more. Keep repeating this process until the rice is al dente. At some point, use the wine instead of the stock. The entire process will take about 45 minutes. In the end you’ll have something that looks sort of like oatmeal, only with rice.
4) When you’re more or less satisfied that the rice is almost done, add the peas. When the peas are cooked through, turn off and add the cheese. Stir until everything is well mixed. This is best served immediately.
Variations: A vegan version will be less rich, but still pretty good. Use olive oil for all the fat, use a vegetable stock for flavor, and add some additional vegetables. It may also need a little extra salt, since you won’t be adding any in the cheese.