Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Celebrate the season: Spring Risotto w/ favas, morels, and pancetta

When you have raw materials as beautiful as those above, you don't want to muck them up in any heavy sauces. Risotto is one of the best ways to reward yourself for suffering through a long winter and the perfect place to showcase the bright, fresh spring vegetables bursting out of the produce stands and farmer's markets. And now, my favorite bit of spring is just peeking out of their pods, those legumes from heaven known as fava beans. I used to think of favas as a major pain-in-the-ass, what with the shucking from their fuzzy-on-the-inside pods, then par boiling, then careful peeling of their outer skin, all that before you are left with this tiny pile of beans as a reward for your efforts. Now that I think of it they are still a pain in the ass, but now that I actually know several ways to bend them to my will, I overlook their neediness and enjoy them for what they are. In pastas, whipped up into a dip, and in a risotto like this, their sweet-nutty character really adds tons of flavor interest. Plus the fact that they are around for such a short period of time makes them all the more precious.
This recipe pairs them with spring's other treasure, the heady morels that happen to be my favorite mushroom. Intensely earthy, they also hold a good chew through cooking. Here I mix them with some shiitakes and maitakes for even more complexity. This risotto comes together so easily, and is wide open to riffing. I could see adding a tablespoon of lemon zest, or leaving the pancetta out for a vegetarian version.....well, actually I couldn't see why you'd want to do that, but I know there are some special needs people out there. Bottom line is this is a great main course for 2 or 4, or a perfect first course at your spring dinners!
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Spring Risotto w/ favas, morels, and pancetta
an E.D.T. original

1 to 1-1/2# fresh favas in their pod
40 oz. chicken stock
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
4 oz. pancetta chopped to a 1/4" dice
3/4# morels, maitakes, shiitake, or other wild mushrooms, coarsely chopped
1 cup diced onion
1-1/2 cups arborio or carnaroli rice
1/2 cup white wine or dry vermouth
1 cup finely grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
Salt and pepper to taste

1- Bring water to boil in medium sauce pan. Remove favas from their pods. Drop shells (still with skins on) into boiling water and cook for 3 minutes. Remove from pan and drop into ice bath to stop cooking. When cool carefully peel outer skins and set peeled favas aside.

2- Put chicken stock into medium saucepan and bring to simmer. Add 1 tablespoon olive oil to medium sized sauté pan over medium heat. Cook pancetta until it is browned and slightly crisp. Remove pancetta into small bowl and set aside. Pour off all but 1 tablespoon of fat from sauté pan, add 1 tablespoon butter. When butter melts and foam subsides, add mushrooms and cook until softened, about 8-10 minutes. Remove from heat, and and pancetta back to this pan.

3- Add 2 tablespoons olive oil and 1 tablespoon butter to medium sauce pan over medium heat. When butter melts add onion and cook until softened, about five minutes. Add rice and stir for about 1 minute. Add wine and stir until almost fully absorbed by rice. Start adding chicken stock about 3/4 cup at a time, stirring constantly (Okay, you don't have to stir constantly, but at least 85%-90% of the time. It isn't that hard, I promise!). When rice is soft yet still with some bite (you'll know, I promise), add mushroom/pancetta to the rice. Stir for 1 minute. Remove from heat, add favas and 3/4 cup of cheese, stirring to combine. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Serve immediately with light sprinkle of Parmagiano.

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