Risotto with Peas and Basil & Mint Pesto

Risotto with Peas and Basil & Mint Pesto

I had quite a bit of pesto left over from the Sea Bream (see this post for pesto recipe) I cooked and decided the next evening to make a risotto and use it as the main flavouring. I picked this idea up from Jamie Oliver’s Italy book but thought I’d add some peas too. I like peas. I know they are such a basic, and some might say, ordinary vegetable but I like their sweetness, their bright green colour that brightens a meal and they are also good for you being full of important nutrients and some protein. To top all this though, piselli are used a lot in Italian cooking and quite often appear in risottos so I can also claim a bit of authenticity here.

Basil & Mint Pesto

My delicious basil and mint pesto was ready, of course, from the previous evening so I just had to make the risotto. Take some Real Chicken Stock Cubes from the freezer – enough to heat through and make about a cup or a little more of stock. This is definitely a time when you need real stock and those sticky little cubes sold in supermarkets really won’t do. Have the stock warm and ready to add to the rice. Cook a few peas and have ready to add at the last minute.

Now, finely chop a small onion and gently fry in olive oil and a little bit of butter – with a little garlic too if you like – till soft but not browned. Turn up the heat a little and add about half a cup (enough for one) of risotto rice and continue to gently fry, stirring to cover each grain of rice with the oil and butter. This stage is called insaporito and gives the rice its flavour. I used Vialone Nano rice but Arborio is good too. Now, add a splash or so of dry vermouth or, if you have some open, a little white wine. Keep stirring and allow the rice to soak up the wine. Then, start slowly adding the hot stock, a little at a time and keep stirring to release the starch and get the nice creamy consistency you want for a good risotto. This is the part of risotto making that I love: that slowing down and taking it easy; you can meditate on risotto making – though I usually settle for some gentle music in the background and a glass of wine to hand.

The rice should be al dente – retaining a slight bite. When you think your risotto is done, check by tasting a few grains. If you don’t have quite enough stock, just add a little hot water instead. When ready, stir in the cooked peas, check the seasoning and add salt if needed (the stock will have had some salt) and black pepper, pop a lid on the pan and leave for just a minute or two to rest while you get a plate ready and chop just a little extra basil and mint for decoration. Now spoon the risotto onto a plate and press a little bowl in the centre with the back of a spoon then add some of your lovely pesto. Drizzle a little extra olive oil over the top, sprinkle some chopped fresh basil and mint, maybe some extra toasted pine nuts (to highlight flavour of those in pesto) and grate over some Parmesan. Serve with a nice green salad on the side. As you eat, stir the pesto into the rice. The flavour is sublime, a wonderful rich mix of textures and flavours.

Any extra pesto you have will make a brilliant simple lunch or supper served with just some pasta and Parmesan; or try grilling or griddling a breast of chicken and coating in pesto to serve.

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A lifelong lover of good food and travel; writer and book editor

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