There’s a small window of time during the spring when fresh English peas are available. This bright, pretty risotto is the perfect dish to showcase them in all of their sweet glory, especially since you have to shell each pod individually. (In a pinch, this dish can be made with frozen petite peas, though with far inferior results.) The chopped herbs add another vibrant pop of green to this seasonal dish, which is substantial enough to stand on its own and also works beautifully to accompany Herbed Leg of Lamb. Be careful when adding the tarragon, as using any more than called for will overpower the dish. A lot of risotto recipes call for stock, but I like to use lightly seasoned water instead because I find that stock adds a meaty element you don’t necessarily want in this vegetable-forward preparation.
I feel strongly that risotto should be plated individually, not served family-style, because it needs to be eaten immediately. When people share food, there’s always a moment of hesitation over who’s going to dig in first, and in the meantime, your risotto is going downhill, absorbing liquid and thickening up by the second. A proper risotto is rich and ever so slightly al dente.
- Yield: 4 Servings
- 6 quarts water
- 4½ tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon salt, plus ¼ to ¾ teaspoon for
- 4 cups ice cubes
- 3 cups shelled English peas (from about 4 pounds)
- 3 tablespoons butter
- 1½ cups Carnaroli or Arborio rice
- ½ cup finely minced shallot
- ½ cup dry white wine
- 1½ cups sliced stemmed sugar snap peas, on sharp bias ¼ inch thick
- 3 tablespoons crème fraîche or sour cream
- 3 tablespoons ground Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
- 1 teaspoon lemon zest
- ½ teaspoon finely minced tarragon
- 1 tablespoon minced chives
- Freshly ground black pepper
- In a 4-quart saucepan, bring 2 quarts of the water and 2½ tablespoons of the salt to a boil. Set up a metal mixing bowl with 1 quart of the water, the ice cubes, and 1 tablespoon of the salt. Add 1½ cups of the English peas to the boiling water and cook for 3 to 4 minutes, until the peas are completely tender. (Reserve the remaining 1½ cups uncooked peas to use later in the recipe.) Remove the peas from the water with a slotted spoon or spider and transfer to the ice water for 1 minute to cool. Reserve the cooking water.
- Once the peas have cooled slightly, drain them, transfer to a blender, and purée until completely smooth, adding a few tablespoons of the cooking water to get the mixture to blend to a totally smooth consistency. Set the purée aside.
- In a large pot over high heat, bring the remaining 3 quarts water and 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon of the salt to a boil, then reduce the heat until the water is simmering. This is the liquid you’ll slowly ladle into the rice. Be careful to keep this pot over the very lowest heat so you don’t reduce the water too much and end up with a very salty risotto.
- In a large, deep pot, such as an enameled Dutch oven, melt the butter over medium-high heat. When it starts to bubble and sizzle, add the rice (don’t rinse it first; you want as much starch as possible to make a creamy risotto) and stir it frequently until it is a slightly golden toasted color but no dark spots have developed, 1 to 2 minutes.
- Add the shallot and cook until translucent, 30 seconds to 1 minute. Add the wine and stir frequently until absorbed, about 1 minute. Turn down the heat to medium and add ½ cup of the seasoned water. Cook, stirring very well and nearly constantly, until all of the liquid is absorbed. Add another ½ cup seasoned water and again stir until absorbed. With each addition of water, stir and wait until nearly all of the liquid is absorbed before adding the next ½ cup water. Repeat seven more times, which should take about 20 minutes total. At this point, the rice should still be very al dente when you bite into a grain but should not have a powdery interior. Continue adding the warm seasoned water, ½ cup at a time and stirring constantly, until the rice is tender but not too soft, another 4 or 5 additions and about 10 minutes.
- Add the reserved uncooked English peas followed by 1 or 2 more additions of seasoned water and cook, stirring constantly, until the peas are just tender, 3 to 5 minutes. When the rice is still al dente but not undercooked and feels very close to a texture you’d want to eat a whole bowl of, add the pea purée, the snap peas, crème fraîche, Parmigiano-Reggiano, and lemon zest. Stir to combine. Add the tarragon and chives. The grains should be just tender but not mushy and the rice should have a consistency like that of a very thick soup or stew, nothing like “rice” as you know it. Add enough water to make the consistency more soupy than you want it because the grains continue to absorb liquid and the risotto tightens up as you serve it. Finally, taste and adjust the seasoning—you may need to add ¼ to ¾ teaspoon salt—and serve immediately, sprinkled with pepper.