Tag Archives: pesto

Mamma Mia! Pea Shoot Risotto

OK, mamma mia indeed.

I can imagine Italians out there rolling their eyes as yet another cook thinks this is a way to jazz up a risotto, and how odd to do it with an ingredient as English as pea shoots. I, of course, being Scottish, would be outraged at that suggestion. Just kidding! Bring on the creativity.

Now, let’s start by admiring the grace of the pea shoot. Very art nouveau, isn’t it?

The idea for this risotto came to me from seeing quite a few recipes recently for pea shoot pesto. Now, I flatter myself that I can make a pretty darn good risotto anyway, and I make a version with peas and mint that is usually very well received. So it was not much of a mental hop, skip and jump to combine pea shoot pesto and my risotto. Literally – make the risotto as usual, but stir in the pesto right at the end, so that the intensely fresh “pea” flavour of the shoots is retained.

I ummed and aaahed a little about how to approach the pea shoot pesto.

I had initial plans to make something involving olive oil, cashew nuts and Parmesan, but I did not want to detract from the delicate flavour of the shoots. So instead I added the pea shoots to a blender with a little water, and blitzed them to a puree. I left this mixture to drain in a strainer – the liquid that drained off went into the pot early to give the rice a jaunty green colour, and the now-slightly-drier puree went in at the last minute.

The result was a brilliantly green risotto – bring, fresh and very spring-like. A nice counter-balance to all those chocolate eggs and hot cross buns we’ve been eating of late.

To serve 4 (or 2, with lots left over):

For the risotto

• 25g butter
• 2 tablespoon olive oil
• 1 onion, finely chopped
• 1 clove garlic, finely chopped (optional)
• 250g arborio rice
• 1 glass dry white wine
• 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
• 1 litre vegetable stock
• 120g peas (fresh or frozen)
• 50g Parmesan cheese, grated
• handful of fresh mint, finely chopped
• 2 tablespoons cream

For the pea shoot paste:

• 100g pea shoots
• cold water

Start by making the pea shoot paste – rinse the shoots, then put most of them in a blender with some water (keep a few for decoration) and blitz until smooth. Transfer to a sieve and allow to train (reserve the liquid).

Next, start the risotto. Melt the butter and olive oil in a pan over a low heat. Add the onion and fry gently until translucent. Add the garlic (if using) and cook for another 30 seconds.

Add the rice, raise the heat to medium, and fry for 2 minutes, stirring all the time. Add the wine, and cook until most of the liquid has evaporated and the rice seems “oily”. Add the black pepper, the liquid from the pea shoots and the stock (one ladle at a time, stirring well after each addition). Add more stock when the previous addition has almost evaporated.

Once all the stock has been added, add the peas and cook the risotto to the desired consistency (some like it runny, some like it thick). Add the Parmesan cheese, stir well, and remove from the heat. Stir in the cream, chopped mint and pea shoot paste, then and allow to sit for two minutes with the pot covered.

Serve with a generous sprinkling of grated Parmesan and an artfully arranged pea shoot.

Worth making? If you are a risotto fan, this is a great version for spring time. The result is impressive and looks stunning on the plate, and all for not too much effort.

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Pesto Presto!

Yes, yes, pesto is sort of everywhere, but making it yourself – now that is a whole different thing.

Just to straighten things out, I’m taking about Pesto alla Genovese. This is the familiar green stuff, with pine nuts and cheese. I’m not a massive fan of the other types (most often, red pesto), so usually give them a miss. But I have seen a reference to a sauce made in Germany using wild garlic – I can see how that would work. Similar colour, but with a mild yet robust garlic flavour. Definitely one for the “to try” list.

Over the years, I’ve had great pesto and I’ve had lousy pesto. I adore the fresh stuff on plain pasta or bread (yum) and once, in a mousse with Thai vegetable chips and satay sauce (meh…not so good). For the past couple of days, I’ve had a bunch of basil sitting chirpily in my kitchen. With the window open in the increasingly warm weather, it has been fluttering its large, glossy leaves every time there was a breath of wind. Today, I caught a whiff of the aromatic, faintly aniseed basil leaves, and I decided it would make great pesto. I’ve read tales of Italian grandmothers who lovingly use a marble mortar and pestle to grind basil leaves, one at a time, to make a silky-smooth pesto sauce. However, as a modern chef, I throw everything into a mixer. Just basil, salt, pepper, Parmesan, pine nuts, olive oil and a little garlic, and after a moment or two, a rich emerald-green paste was mine.

I had this just with pasta, and my word – it was great. Much fresher than anything I’ve bought for a while, and as the leaves were not completely pulverised, the pasta was flecked with dark green while the oil took on a brilliant lighter hue. The garlic was also a good addition – I haven’t used it in the past, but it really works wonders and takes the heaviness off the final pesto.

Now I just have to work out how to grow a basil plant that does not mind being picked one in a while…

For the pesto (enough for past for four):

• 30g basil, leaves only
• 30g pine nuts, very lightly toasted
• 30g Parmesan cheese, grated
• 1/2 clove garlic, minced
• salt
• pepper
• 150ml olive oil (but use more or less, according to taste)

Put everything except the oil in a mixer and combine. Once roughly chopped, add the oil and work into a smooth paste.

Worth making? Fresh pesto is so much more vibrant – colour, aroma, flavour – than anything you buy. Really worth having a go at, and makes simple pasta with pesto into a real treat. The trick is to make sure that you don’t overdo the nuts or cheese, so that they balance the basil and don’t overpower it.

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Filed under Recipe, Savoury