Having had a recent meat-and-potatoes dinner derailed by the appearance of local peas, Jackie and I were prepared for a pea-centered meal on the next market day. Well, “prepared” is a strong word: We knew we were going to eat peas but were without a clue about how we’d eat them.
Or perhaps we had too many clues: We wanted them every which way. We wanted them with egg pasta (noodles or, even better, spatzle); we wanted them with rice, in a lightly flavored risotto finished with a spring-onion puree; we wanted them just as we’d had them a few days before (a la francaise, as it’s called, with onions, bacon and lettuce).
Largely because the spring onions at the market looked so perfect, we chose the second option. In advance, I sliced the onions’ white bulbs and just a little of their tops, where they were just starting to turn pale green. (The remaining tops went into the fridge; we’ll see what, if anything, happens to them.) I sweated the onions, nicely salted, in butter until tender. The small bunch yielded 3/4 cup of cooked onions, and I set these aside until I was ready to make dinner.
I pureed half of the onions, with a little cream, using an immersion blender; the rest went into the risotto pan. They had already been cooked with butter, but I added another half tablespoonful — see how yours look and use your judgement on this. When the onions were hot, I added rice (the carnaroli variety), stir-cooked it for a couple of minutes and proceeded to make a plain risotto: white wine reduced/absorbed to nearly nothing; more white wine, again reduced; then progressive additions of a light stock in which I had infused a couple of sprigs of fresh mint, stirring, swirling and checking for salt repeatedly.
A note on stock: For most risottos, I now use vegetable stock, almost pallid in flavor, but I was fresh out. So I used chicken stock diluted with twice its volume of water, and even that seemed intrusive by comparison. Using vegetable stock was a lesson learned at our friend Angela Hartnett’s London restaurant, Murano. With a very light stock, you so clearly taste the onions, the wine, the rice itself and any other ingredients you’ve included.
When the rice was nearly cooked, I added peas, plenty of them, and when they and the rice were done, I stirred in the onion puree and finished the risotto with fresh slivered mint leaves. Because of the creamy onion puree, the dish needed no butter, and I did not add any grated Parmesan either: I tried a little on one spoonful, and it proved almost unpleasant.
Rice and peas is one of those bulletproof combinations: plain boiled rice with plain boiled peas is perfect for days when you don’t feel like eating much of anything. Venetian-style risi e bisi is another story, and a charming one: This can be a substantial dish, even though traditionally the peas are cooked far longer than we’re used to. And one of the best variations on Chinese-style fried rice is made with abundant peas. All these things are hard to stop eating.
Our risotto brought together two concurrent early-summer stars: juicy young onions and, of course, peas. Using the puree not only lent a sweet onion flavor to every spoonful but also gave creaminess to the dish: It was a real pleasure to eat. This would be great with fava beans, too.