Pasta Risotto with Peas and Pancetta

Pasta Risotto with Peas and Pancetta

Many years ago, I wrote a recipe (never published in book form) for what I then styled “trompe l’oeil risotto”, using rice-shaped pasta, called variously orzo, risoni, semi de melone or puntarelle. The version here is markedly altered, not least because rather than cooking the pasta and then dressing it in a creamy sauce so that it looks like risotto, here I actually cook the pasta much as I would if I were making a traditional risotto. But there are differences and they are all helpful ones. That you use less water to pasta than you would with rice probably doesn’t interest you enormously. That you don’t have to stir constantly and that the pasta takes only 10 minutes to cook are obvious benefits to the harried midweek cook.

You should also know that much as Italy respects its traditions, this way of cooking pasta – pasta risottata – is actually quite the new, cool thing, “sciccoso” as the recently coined Italian word (pronounced “chic-oso”), has it. When I’ve come across this way of cooking pasta in Italy, it’s not in fact involved orzo or other rice-shaped pasta; the “risottata” part refers to the method, not the pasta or the end result. Pennette or macaroni or other similarly small pasta would also work, though cooking times may vary a little. But I love the rice-shaped pasta here most of all: the orzo oozes its starchiness out into the sauce rather than being flushed down the sink via the colander and – what’s more – you need only the one pan. I advise that the pan be heavy-based: a small enamelled cast-iron casserole would be perfect although often as not I use a thick-bottomed saucepan.

Many Italian recipes don’t specify amounts of water, merely instructing you to cover the pasta, just. I feel it’s easier to begin with an idea of how much water you’ll need, but please regard this as a starting point only: you may need to add more if the pasta’s absorbed all the water before it’s cooked.

For how many? Serves 2 hungry grown-ups, or 4 small children

Ingredients

  • 2 x 15ml tbsp garlic oil
  • 150g pancetta cubes
  • 150g frozen petits pois
  • 250g orzo pasta
  • 625ml boiling water
  • salt, (to taste)
  • 1 x 15ml, tbsp (15g) soft unsalted butter
  • 2 x 15ml tbsp grated parmesan
  • pepper (to taste)

Instructions

Warm the oil in a heavy-based pan that will take everything later; a casserole or saucepan of 22cm diameter should be plenty big enough.

Cook the pancetta, stirring, until it becomes crisp and bronzed, then add the peas and stir for a minute or so until the frozen look leaves them.

Add the pasta and turn it about in the pance a and peas then pour in theboiling water; I use cup measures – 2 1⁄2 cups – for ease. Add salt (cautiously, especially if this is for children – the pancetta is salty, as is the Parmesan later); then turn down the heat and leave to simmer for 10 minutes, though check on it a couple of times and give a stir or two, to stop it from sticking and to see if you need to add a little more water from the kettle.

When it’s ready, the pasta should be so and starchy and the water absorbed. Beat the butter and parmesan into the pan, check the seasoning and serve immediately into warm waiting bowls.

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