Last week, I posted a recipe for Scallops with Lemon Caper Sauce. It was part of a celebratory dinner the Elegant Baker and I recently shared. I told you in last weeks post that we paired the scallops with some risotto. This week, I want to share the recipe for Lemony Pea Risotto.
I think peas are wonderful in risotto. The bright green color adds a festive look, always. Like the risotto, peas are versatile as well. The go well in risotto with mint, asparagus, mushrooms, and shrimp among other choices. Here, I’m going with a Lemony Pea Risotto because I believe the lemony flavor will play nicely with the scallops.
This recipe works equally as well with fresh peas and frozen peas. I used some frozen ones I picked up at my friend Joe’s. You know — the famous Trader. But if you have access to some delicious, fresh garden peas go ahead and use those! Just take a few minutes to blanch them before adding to the risotto.
For the frozen peas, I rinsed them under hot water which both thawed them, and began heating them a bit. I didn’t want to put cold (or worse, frozen) peas in my risotto. I also chopped up a couple of spinach leaves quite finely. No need to cook this either. The heat from the risotto will cook them through when you stir them in at the end.
As for the lemony flavor, no surprise there. It comes from fresh squeezed lemon juice. You don’t need a lot to give the risotto a lemony flavor. I used the juice from half a lemon, and thought it just right. Feel free to use more or less lemon juice depending on how ‘lemony’ you want to get it. You may need to because some lemons are ‘stronger’ than others and can pack more of a punch. So that means sampling and tasting your risotto as you add the lemon to know when it is ‘enough’.
The Dark Arts And the British Wizard that Defeats Them
For many years, I thought risotto would be impossible to achieve in a home kitchen. Making risotto, I believed, was a special kind of Dark Arts. The only ones practiced in these arts were hidden away in the back of Italian restaurants. They sold their souls to make good risotto, and we were the richer for their sacrifice.
Then about ten years ago, eleven minutes of TV changed all that for me. I watched a show where the British Chef Jamie Olivier visits Venice Italy. Among the things he does in the show is make risotto. It starts off just as I imagined — tucked into the back of an Italian restaurant with a sacred master of the Dark Arts. But it quickly evolves into a “hey, if he can do this, so can I” sort of moment for me. The Dark Wizard doesn’t actually make the risotto, Jamie does. Then he retires to a beach (a BEACH) and demystifies the whole thing. The KEY TRICK I needed to know was right there on the beach. Add hot stock, a little bit at a time.
The other thing I picked up is that risotto is like a “Swiss Army knife” of foods (yes, I know. Mixed metaphors). You can make risottos into almost anything you want it to be. Tomato Risotto? Sure! Mushroom? You bet! Seafood? Easy as a clam. Add whatever you want! The risotto highlights that flavor while delivering its own creamy goodness as a supporting player.
So fast forward ten years. Now I make risotto quite easily. I can assure you I haven’t sold my soul or learned any Slytherin Sorcery. I’m not tucked away in the back of some Italian restaurant. I just straight up make, and find it pretty easy.
The Risotto Rules
I don’t strictly stick the recipe Jamie Oliver shared from his beach side. But I do stick to a handful of basic ‘rules’ for risotto, although most aren’t hard and fast. The rules are all there on the beach too
Start with an onion, garlic and maybe some celery (I don’t always uses the celery. I don’t for the Lemony Pea Risotto)
Add the risotto to coat with oil and cook with the onions for a few minutes
Use a white wine to begin ‘plumping’ the rice (Again, I don’t always do this)
Have some hot stock on hand. Usually chicken, but go for seafood stock if making a seafood risotto. Of course Veggie stock makes it Vegetarian. You want about four times as much stock as you have risotto
Add the stock to the risotto in small quantities and let it absorb before adding more.
Stir frequently, but it doesn’t have to be non-stop. You want to be stirring more than not, but if you step away for another quick task (say turning your scallops in the pan) its not a big deal.
Never use a metal spoon to stir the risotto. The hard, sharp edges can ‘break’ the rice grains. Use a wooden spoon (I don’t always do that, sometimes I use a silicon spatula)
When the risotto is creamy and has taken most of the liquid, remove from the heat and add your filling. Grated Parmesan is always welcomed too.
If your risotto sits too long, it will ’tighten up’. Add a little bit more hot stock or hot water. Just enough to loosen it up again.
The Right Rice for Risotto
That’s it. Less than ten ‘rules’ (guidelines). I suppose there is one more rule. For a great Lemony Pea Risotto, or any other risotto dish, you have to use the right rice. Not any rice will do for risotto. You need to use Arborio rice (sometimes called Risotto rice in US markets). There are other rices that will work in risotto, but good luck finding them outside of Italy.
Arborio rice is a short grained rice with a relatively high starch content. That high starch content is what gives risotto its creamy texture. As the rice grain takes on water and plumps, it ‘pushes out’ the starches, which combine with water as well to create the creamy texture. While the starch is being pushed out, the rice grain itself becomes ’softer’ and easier to enjoy. Arborio is grown in Italy, but also grown in parts of the US, which makes it relatively easy to find in this hemisphere.
Arborio is a bit more expensive than your standard parboiled, long grain white rice. But the liquid to rice ratio is much different (about 4:1 vs about 2:1 for long grain white rice) so you get a better yield. That means you need less rice (and more liquid) to feed the same number of people. By that measure, arborio is often a cheaper option. At the very least it costs about the same in the long run.
See the Clip That Changed it All
If you want to check out my ‘risotto changing’ clip from Jamie Oliver, here it is . It was the best version I could find on YouT, but it isn’t great. A bit grainy. The key part starts at 11:30, and runs until 21:40. If you have the time, I suggest you watch the whole video, not just the risotto part. I enjoyed this series very much when it was on. Jamie went to other places including Sweden, Greece, Spain, and Morocco as part of the whole series. Except for the episode about Sweden (which I enjoyed too!), the whole series takes place in Mediterranean locations. Very on point for this blog.
Lemony Pea Risotto
- 1 TBS extra virgin olive oil
- 1/4 cup shallot or red onion chopped
- 1 clove garlic minced
- 1/2 cup arborio rice
- 1/4 cup dry white wine
- 2 cups chicken stock hot (use vegetable stock for vegetarian)
- 1/2 cup frozen garden peas or fresh
- 1/4 cup spinach finely chopped
- 1/4 cup shredded Parmesan cheese or to taste
- 1/2 tsp lemon zest
- 1 TBS lemon juice from fresh lemon (or to taste)
- kosher salt to taste
- Fresh ground black pepper to tastes
- In a medium sauce pan, heat the olive oil over medium high heat
- Add onion and garlic and cook until softened and fragrant
- Add rice grains and stir around to fully coat with oil, onions and garlic, about a minute
- Add white wine and stir into rice to begin softening
- Add chicken stock about 1/4 cup at a time, stirring rice frequently. Wait until stock is fully absorbed before adding next portion.
- Rice will begin to get creamy and softer. Rice is ready when it is very slightly chewy (al dente). It may or may not take all of the stick to reach this stage
- Remove from the heat, and stir in peas, spinach, lemon zest and lemon juice.
- Add Parmesan cheese and stir in.
- Add kosher salt and fresh ground black pepper. Taste the rice and adjust seasonings as necessary.