One of the things I love most about risotto is how it feels right at home in any season. In the fall and winter you can load it full of hearty meats and chunks of root vegetables for a warming feast on a chilly day. In the spring and summer it takes well to a lighter hand, and shines when used with spring veggies and herbs. Given that we're just getting started with spring here in the northeast, this risotto straddles these two styles by combining a richness brought by roasted garlic and pancetta along with a lightness enhanced by the use of peas and baby spinach.
In addition to the dish's versatility, it's one-pot efficiency makes it a hit around here both with the cooking and cleaning crews. For those of you afraid of cooking a risotto because of the wives's tale you've heard over the years stating that you MUST stand with the pot, and stir the rice constantly while cooking…… relax, it's all hogwash. I've been making delicious risottos for years and have never once stirred it constantly from start to finish. You can't leave it totally unattended, but a few stirs after each addition of hot stock is all that is required to deliver the smooth, creamy result that has made risotto a favorite dish of so many.
For me, the best thing about risotto is that once you've come to understand the ratio of rice to stock, along with the basic technique involved in making the dish, the variations you can bring to the party are practically endless. Rifle through your pantry and fridge and find some favorite ingredients, roll up your sleeves and start cooking, a delicious any-season meal is just minutes away.
Cheers – Steve
Roasted Garlic Risotto with Pancetta and Spinach
- 1 pound Carnaroli or Aborio rice
- 8 cups low-sodium chicken stock
- 2 heads roasted garlic
- 1 cup onion, diced
- 8 ounces thickly sliced pancetta, cut into lardons
- 1/2 cup dry white wine
- 6 ounces ricotta salata cheese, grated
- 6 ounces parmesan cheese, grated
- 5 ounces baby spinach leaves
- 1 cup fresh or frozen peas, thawed
- 1/2 cup pine nuts, lightly toasted
- 2 teaspoons finely minced fresh rosemary
- EVOO (extra-virgin olive oil)
- kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
- Roast the garlic by cutting off the top of each bulb, drizzling it with EVOO and topping with a pinch of salt. Place the bulbs on a double thick layer of aluminum foil (or in a garlic baker, if you have one), and place in a 350℉ oven for 1 hour. Let cool to room temperature. Squeeze each head to extract the roasted garlic, discard skins. Chop the roasted cloves into a paste and reserve.
- In a large saucepan, bring the stock to a boil, then reduce the heat to low and keep warm.
- In a large heavy bottomed saucepan, heat about 1/4 cup of EVOO over medium heat. Add the onions and cook, stirring frequently until translucent. Add the pancetta, rosemary and roasted garlic and cook an additional 2-3 minutes.
- Add the rice and stir to coat each grain with the oil and garlic, cook for about 2 minutes, then add the wine and cook until it has almost completely absorbed. Ladle 2 cups of the hot stock into the rice, stir for a few moments and let cook until it has almost been completely absorbed. Continue this process with the remaining stock, adding it in 2 cup increments and stirring frequently.
- After 3 additions of stock (6 cups), add the cheeses and stir until melted, add the peas and spinach and stir until wilted. Check for seasoning, adding salt and pepper to taste. Then, add 1 cup of stock, stir and remove from heat. If the rice is done to your liking at this point you are ready to serve, if you still want to cook it a little more, add the final cup of stock and place the risotto over low heat for another minute or two.