So excited about fresh spring produce! Like the good old days, buy fresh peas, pod them and cook them all on the same day. (Natural sweetness turns to starch within hours of picking.)
Make sure you use lots of water to boil the peas as the chlorophyll reacts with the acid causing the peas to go a drab brown grey colour.
Here is one of my favourite pea recipes from Russo & Russo in Newtown which I like to serve with truffled chicken, barbecued meats or just on its own.
The chef of Osteria di Russo & Russo is quick to acknowledge that risotto has had a bad rap in the past. 'The old theory of standing over the pot stirring and adding the stock is actually a bit of a myth.' In this recipe, you don't need to stir until the end, but he does stress the important of not overcooking the rice and not putting too much stock in at once. 'The consistency at the end should be what the Italians call all'onda. It means 'of the waves', if you gently toss the dish, it should roll over like a wave.'
Saxby recommends carnaroli risotto rice for the best results.
80ml olive oil
1kg fresh peas (or 500g good-quality frozen peas), podded
salt flakes and freshly ground black pepper
100g (3 bulbs) fermented black garlic
50ml balsamic vinegar
½ small brown onion, very finely diced
2 garlic cloves, crushed
250g carnaroli risotto rice
100ml white wine
150g pecorino sardo, 50g grated, 100g finely shaved with a vegetable peeler
100g butter, diced and chilled
100g pea tendrils
extra-virgin olive oil, to serve
Mirepoix for stock
2 brown onions, cut into rough 2cm dice
2 carrots, cut into rough 2cm dice
2 garlic bulbs, cut horizontally
1 leek, washed thoroughly and cut into rough 2cm dice
To make the vegetable stock, heat a large saucepan over medium heat and add 1 tablespoon of olive oil. Add the mirepoix (you can add any fresh vegetable scraps, just not leafy ones, as they will make the stock bitter and cloudy) and sweat in the pan until softened but not coloured. It's important not to brown the vegetables, as this will make the stock and the risotto brown. Top with 2 litres of water and simmer for 30 minutes. Strain the stock, discarding the solids. This makes more than you need, but it's very handy to have around and will keep for 1 week refrigerated. You will need about 600-700ml of stock for the risotto.
Reserve about 80g of the peas and cook the remainder in 500ml of boiling salted water for 2-3 minutes. Strain the peas over a bowl to save the water. Add the peas to a food processor and blend on high speed until completely smooth, adding a little of the cooking water as necessary until a pourable consistency. Season to taste. Reserve about 250g of puree for the risotto.
For the black garlic puree, peel the skin off the garlic and add the cloves to a food processor with 50ml of water and the balsamic vinegar. Blend until smooth, adding more water if necessary. Set aside in a squeeze bottle or small container. Leftover puree will keep in the fridge for months and is great on just about anything, especially meat.
Add the stock to a medium saucepan and bring to a simmer.
Place a heavy-based saucepan over a medium-high heat and add 2½ tablespoons of olive oil.
Add the onion and garlic and swear until softened and translucent but not coloured. Add the rice and stir constantly until it is very hot to the touch. Add the wine, cook until mostly evaporated and immediately add about 100ml of hot stock while stirring. Keep adding a laddle of stock as the previous one is absorbed. Don't add too much at once, but never let it get too dry. The rice should always be just submerged in stock to ensure even cooking (rice not covered with stock won't cook, while the rice that is covered will, yielding an uneven results). While stirring occasionally, keep the rice at a fast simmer over medium-high heat - you want to cook the risotto quickly to avoid soft and soggy rice. Ideally, it should take around 12 minutes to cook the rice to al dente.
Meanwhile, heat a barbecue on high or a large frying pan over high heat.
When the rice is al dente and the last ladle of stock has almost evaporated, stir in the reserved fresh peas and at least half of the reserved pea puree. Taste and add more pea puree if it isn't bright green or of it doesn't taste like peas. Bring back to a simmer, remove from the heat and rest for 30 seconds. Add the grated pecorino and the diced butter. Stir vigorously until emulsified and creamy. You want the risotto to move like a wave when you shake the pan, so adjust accordingly with a splash of vegetable stock or pea puree and adjust the seasoning if necessary.
Meanwhile, toss the pea tendrils with the remaining olive oil and flash on the barbecue or in a frying pan. Season and remove from the heat.
Divide the risotto between serving plates and spread flat by banging the palm of your hand underneath the centre of the plate. A perfect risotto will spread evenly across the plate. Risotto should never be piled up, or dry enough that a fork will stand up in it. Drizzle some black garlic puree over the top, add the charred pea tendrils, scatter over some of the shaved pecorino, drizzle with extra-virgin olive oil and grind over some pepper. Serve immediately.