From the Chef's Kitchen: Asparagus & English-Pea Risotto with Pancetta & Mint Pesto

Exclusive recipes, shared only with Pittsburgh Magazine, from some of Pittsburgh's Best Restaurants and chefs. This creative rice dish comes from the kitchen of Piccolo Forno in Lawrenceville.

Asparagus & English-Pea Risotto with Pancetta & Mint Pesto

photo by laura petrilla


Mint Pesto
2 cups fresh mint, packed tightly
2 cups fresh basil, packed tightly
2 cloves garlic
1 cup extra-virgin olive oil
Salt and pepper, to taste

Place all of the ingredients in a small food processor or blender. Pulse contents until smooth; add more oil if desired to aid in the pureéing. Place aside when finished; this will be used to top your risotto.

2 pounds Arborio rice
1 pound pancetta, cubed small
1 bunch asparagus,
cut to size of peas
2 cups shelled English peas
1 yellow onion, diced
3 quarts (12 cups)
chicken broth, warm
2 sprigs rosemary, chopped
(2 tablespoons)
2 tablespoons sage, chopped
1 cup dry white wine
2 cups grated Romano cheese, plus garnish
1 tablespoon
extra-virgin olive oil 

Blanch peas in salted water for 5 minutes and then strain and place in an ice bath to cool off quickly. Once cool, strain and place aside to be used later.
In a medium-sized heavy-bottomed saucepot or Dutch oven, heat a thin film of oil over medium-high heat. Add the pancetta pieces and cook until crispy, 10 to 15 minutes. Once crisp, remove pieces from pan and place in a bowl to be used later.

Add diced onions and rosemary to the still-hot pan of rendered fat. Cook until very soft and caramelized, about 10 minutes. Add the rice to the onions and stir together, making sure all rice is toasted and coated with the oil in the pan.

Before the rice begins to stick, add the white wine to deglaze the pan. Stir well and allow the alcohol to cook out. Once absorbed, add some of the heated broth, just enough to cover the rice. Lower heat to medium and continue stirring so the rice does not stick to the bottom of the pan. When liquid is absorbed, add more broth, sage, rosemary and asparagus. These will cook along with the rice.

Continue stirring and adding broth, a ladleful at a time. Add the English peas, pancetta and Romano cheese to finish.  

(Reminder: The total cooking time for rice is 35-45 minutes — until rice is soft but slightly al dente. Risotto should be more creamy and moist, rather than sticky and dry. It is all right if you do not use all of the broth.) 

Divide risotto among the desired 6-8 individual portions. Place a spoonful of the mint pesto in the center on top, and grate some fresh Romano over it all.

Serves about 8.

Piccolo Forno
3801 Butler St., Lawrenceville; 412/622-0111, Read more in Best Restaurants 2016.

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