I love many things about cooking. I love that it can be precise, ingredients like puzzle pieces. I love that it can be experimental. It can be like a whirlwind, can’t-stop-won’t-stop, or it can be meditative, deliberate. It can be learned quickly, and yet is never completely mastered. It can create practical dinner dishes and fanciful spun-sugar dreams. To cook is to create of yourself, with mind and hands. I love that food is an easily understood, easily given expression of love.
To me, risotto embodies the meditative side of cooking. You prep, and then wait. You stir, and wait, again and again. You abide.
I had this on the list to cook on a Friday night. After a full day of work plus an evening meeting, I got home, looked at my list, and felt all the tension melt away. A peaceful hour surrounded by the warm scents of garlic and wine was a perfect way to let a long week go.
Spring Risotto with Bacon, Leeks, & Pea Puree
Risotto is one of those classic recipes that I am sure I will be perfecting until the end of time. That is to say, this one is good: but it’s not the ultimate. I don’t think there is one ultimate recipe for risotto. Not to mention the millions of variations.
This risotto celebrates the freshness of Spring, with bright leeks and a swirl of spring pea puree, and the rice and bacon are not heavy. You can top it with a lovely soft egg for added creaminess (I like these tutorials on how to make poached and fried eggs).
The traditional way to make risotto is to slowly add pre-warmed broth, a bit at a time. There are recipes that skip this, but the one time I tried it the results were not great. Some warn that you have to stir constantly; I’ve found that you can step away for a couple of minutes at a time.
I like to have all of the ingredients prepared ahead of time, but there is enough cook time that much of this could probably be prepped while the rice cooks. As written, this is an omnivore’s recipe, but you can easily remove the bacon and swap in vegetable broth for a vegetarian version. I swirled in the pea puree for a prettier look, but you could integrate it more by stirring it into the risotto right as it comes off the heat.
Although we usually eat this as an entree, it’s often served as an appetizer. Consider serving as a starter or side to a lovely, slow Easter dinner.
Even if you are a very fast cook, even if you prep quickly and the rice is perfect, this is at least a 45-minute recipe over a slow heat. Take the time. Inhale deeply. Embrace it.
5-6 cups chicken or vegetable stock
Optional: 8 ounces bacon, chopped
2 leeks, white part only, sliced
4 garlic cloves, minced
2 tablespoons butter
2 cups arborio rice
1 cup dry white wine
1 cup spring peas
1 cup grated fresh Pecorino Romano or Parmesan cheese
1 teaspoon black pepper
Optional: Poached or lightly fried eggs, one per serving
Additional pepper and salt to taste
Warm stock in a small saucepan. This should be kept warm enough to steam, but not hot enough to simmer.
In a large saucepan or skillet, cook the bacon over medium heat until crisp and fat is rendered. Remove bacon to drain on paper towels. Pour off most of the bacon grease, leaving about 2 tablespoons in the pan.
Add butter, leeks, and garlic. Cook, stirring occasionally, until leeks are soft.
Add rice, stirring to toast for 3-4 minutes, or until rice is just starting to brown. Add 1/2 cup of the wine, stirring until absorbed.
Turn the heat down to a low simmer. Half a cup at a time, stir in broth. Allow it to sit until the liquid is almost completely absorbed (until you can draw a spoon through the risotto and see the clean space on the bottom). Add the rest of the wine, a splash at a time, between splashes of broth.
Some time during this phase, put the peas in a blender or small food processor with a little chicken broth, salt, and pepper. Blend until smooth.
When the rice is al dente with a creamy, pourable texture, turn off the heat. Gently fold in cheese, bacon, and pepper.
Top each bowl with a swirl of the pea puree, extra cheese and pepper, and an egg if you swing that way. Serve with chilled white wine.