Sunday, July 7, 2013

Pasta Risotto with Peas & Pancetta

I've been working my way through Nigella Lawson's newest cookbook, Nigellissima, which is a compendium of "easy Italian-inspired recipes." I borrowed it from the library and have renewed it once already. It's a lovely cookbook, full of interesting recipes and lots of great photos. I'm enjoying the book, for the most part. Nigella's writing, as always, is evocative and rich with detail. The only criticism I have is about the editing. I have noticed a few errors. This may be an issue with only the American edition (there is a UK and an American). I have been a fan of Nigella's for at least a decade and I hope she is not losing her touch as a writer. I'll assume she just got a bad editor for this cookbook and that she's going to keep writing beautifully forever.

Pasta risotto with peas and pancetta is the first recipe I've tried from the cookbook. This is not a true risotto, as it uses orzo pasta and therefore does not require the same cooking method as traditional risotto. As Nigella says, it only looks like risotto because it ends up with a creamy sauce and silky texture. She says she wrote a recipe "many years ago" (never published) for a dish she called "trompe l'oeil risotto," which has some similarity to this one. But she also says this one has been "markedly altered" from that old recipe. I wish I could see the old recipe.

In any case, this dish was simple and delicious. The finished dish was very smooth and risotto-like, and the pancetta gave it a mildly porky flavor which worked nicely with the nutty Parmesan. The peas tasted fresh and a little sweet against the saltiness of the pancetta and Parmesan. And the texture was indeed silky. I did make a couple of very minor changes to the recipe (not because I think I know better than Nigella, just matters of convenience/budget), which I discuss below.

Pasta Risotto with Peas & Pancetta (from Nigellissima; my notes follow)

Serves 2 hungry grownups, or 4 small children

2 tablespoons garlic-flavored oil
6 ounces cubed pancetta
1 1/4 cups frozen petits pois
8 ounces orzo pasta
2 1/2 cups boiling water
Salt, to taste
1 tablespoon soft butter
2 tablespoons grated Parmesan
Pepper, to taste

Warm the oil in a heavy pan that will take everything later; a Dutch oven or saucepan of 10 inches diameter should be plenty big enough.

Add the pancetta and cook, 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 pancetta and peas then pour in the boiling water. Add salt (cautiously, especially if this is for children - the pancetta is salty, as is the Parmesan later); then turn down the heat and let simmer for 10 minutes, though check on it a couple of times and give it 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 soft and starchy and the water absorbed. Beat the butter and Parmesan into the pan, check the seasoning, and serve immediately into warm waiting bowls.

The changes I made were very slight. The first had to do with the oil used in the recipe. I don't usually have flavored oils in the pantry, delicious though they are. Instead of garlic-flavored oil, I used regular extra-virgin olive oil warmed with two small crushed cloves of garlic. I think it achieved a similar effect but you do want to make sure the garlic begins to cook a little so that it loses the sharp flavor it has when raw. The other change was the amount of pancetta, which I find to be a bit expensive. I used 4 ounces instead of 6, because that's the amount I can find in a package here; buying two packages would make this very simple dish a bit too expensive for my grocery budget. I think the smaller amount of pancetta worked well, actually; I find it can taste a bit gamey, for lack of a better word. This amount seemed right to me in the finished dish.

We will definitely have this again. It was very quick; I had left dinner-prep down to the wire the night I made it. We had been entertaining my friend and her little boy at our house all afternoon, and my friend and I were talking each other's ears off, as we do. We looked up and saw that it was 5:30, and we both realized how close we were cutting it to dinner time. She left and I got to work. For a first try with the recipe, crunched for time, it came out very well and everyone enjoyed it.


  1. Looks great! Thanks for a chance to try the recipe before buying the book. I'll look for it at Sam's Club.

  2. Looks yummy, I have a hard time finding pancetta here and I usually replace it with ham. I think I will try this recipe though. Looks really good.

  3. Looks great Jennifer. We may have to try this. We really enjoy looking through our cook books and creating a new dish. Thanks for sharing.

  4. I have this book and it was also the first recipe I tried from it! It's a great dish which we all enjoy - I have made it a few time times now, it has become a favourite. Gorgeous photos as always Jennifer.
    Marianne x

  5. That looks just delish! We'll have to try it. I think your photo is better than the one in her cookbook! ((hugs)), Teresa :-)

  6. This is something I would definitely like, risotto dishes are a big favourite for me. I totally know what you mean about the flavoured oils, they are far too expensive. And pancetta too! I always find it too salty, so I would use less too. Your photos are great and look like they should be in a cook book! Xx

  7. Thank you for sharing. Some shelled peas made their way into my shopping basket this morning. Wondered what I could do with them, now I know.
    S xx

  8. This looks wonderful and very fresh with the green peas... perfect meal for a summer evening! I think this dish would go over very well in our house.

  9. Well now I've never come across orzo pasta before - intrigued that it looks just like rice! Risotto is one of my favourite dishes and this one sounds just the ticket for tomorrow night's tea. Thank you! Jane x

  10. I have never made orzo pasta...I think I should!
    Love the peas in there...
    Good job, Jennifer...that is why your in-laws LOVE you so much!
    You take such good care of your little family..

    Linda :o)

  11. Never tasted before but I'm absolutely sure that with these ingredients it must be delicious especially for the kids!
    Thank you Jennifer once again!

  12. Looks delish! Must try some of that orzo pasta x

  13. That looks so good! Once I get a library card after we move I plan to check the new Nigella book out of the library.

  14. I love, love, love pancetta! It is great in so many things. This looks yummy :)

  15. Pancetta can be replaced by streaky (or another cut) bacon. It wouldn't be as meaty as the pancetta, but kinder to the budget! It looks a nice, quick, easy recipe and very Nigella. I've got several of her books and her cheese star biscuit recipe is one that's always gone down a storm.

  16. I've never made a risotto with orzo but yours looks really good. I love pancetta - we usually have some in the fridge and use it often especially in pasta dishes. I very little goes a long way I find as the flavour is strong. x

  17. Hi Jennifer,Mmmmm!!!!Ymmmmy!!!!Guess what we having for supper tonight!!!Thanks for the recipe!!!Have a super happy week!!!

  18. Looks just divine...putting it on my 'to do' list thank you for the inspiration......

    Bestest to you and yours

    Daisy j

  19. This looks amazing! Going to have to whip this one up in my kitchen. The fact it's picky-kid friendly is another plus. There's nothing in there my picky eater won't eat!!!! Thanks for sharing, Jennifer.


  20. I love risotto its one of my favourite meals x

  21. Risotto are so good! That looks just amazing! <3 definitely going to try it out.

    The Forest Elf's blog

  22. Wow that looks so yummy! Thanks for sharing this - I love risotto hehe xo

  23. I love Nigella and have been meaning to get this book from my library...thanks for the reminder! (and lovely blog!)

  24. Your risotto looks delicious!!! I am a huge Nigella Lawson fan, all her recipes always turn out amazing! I don't have this book yet, I've been wanting to get it too! This looks fabulous, thanks for sharing!!! :)


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