How to Eat: The Pleasure and Principle of Good Food
by Nigella Lawson
John Wiley & Sons 2000
It's been over 10 weeks since there wasn't snow on the ground and I am ready to crack. Growing up in Michigan, I am used to a real winter, but this has one truly has been brutal with more snow and more cold days than I remember since I was in elementary school.
I am sick of seeing only white and gray outside. I need some green. And if I can't see it outside, then maybe I can at least eat something green. The seed catalogs have been piling up and I just sorted and tabulated the seeds leftover from last year, so I have gardening on the brain.
Perhaps it is foolhardy to look at veggie catalogs and dream of tomatoes and zucchini that you will not be able to eat for 5 more months, but those catalog writers know what they are doing and they are torturing me.
In response, I have been craving spring vegetables including peas, asparagus, and artichokes. Having just seen Nigella Lawson wrapping up the latest season of the Taste, I remembered that she's a pea-lover and a fun and interesting read.
How to Eat is one of Nigella's more substantial books with no glamor shots of the author and a high text-to-recipe ratio. It is a primer of sort; she works seriously at getting readers to think about cooking as well as teaching basic skills. There are no photos of the food, which may be a detraction in a book for beginners, but it clearly didn't bother me as I didn't even notice the lack of photos until I sat down to write this.
She has several recipes that involve peas, and she points out how useful frozen peas are. I love Nigella, because despite the recent kerfuffle over her lifestyle with the thousand dollar dresses and the expensive drug habit, she really is not a snob at all when it comes to food. She's practical when she needs to be and indulgent when she wants to be.
While I have made her Peas and Avocado Salad before, this time out I made her Pea Risotto. What drew me to the recipe was the use of pea puree in the risotto as well as whole peas--it turns the whole risotto a pale green. Plus, I also happened to have some of the recommended ham stock on hand:
4 Tbs butter
1 cup frozen young peas
4 cups ham stock
2 Tbs grated Parmesean
2 shallots or 1 small onion, minced
1 cup Arborio rice
½ c. white wine or vermouth
Now, Nigella is a bit wordy in this book, and while I love reading that type of recipe, I don't enjoy typing it out, so I am going to paraphrase. If you are uncertain about risotto making procedures, then I encourage you to seek out the original recipe as she does a good job of walking one through the process. But here is the quick version:
Melt 1 Tbs of butter in a sauce pan and add the peas. Cook for 2 minutes. Remove half of the peas and reserve. To the remaining peas add a ladle of stock (about ½ c.). Cover and cook for 5 minutes until the peas are soft, but still green. Puree the mixture with 1 Tbs of cheese and 1 Tbs of butter, a little black pepper and a little nutmeg. Set aside.
In a heavy pan, melt 1 Tbs of butter and cook the shallots for about 4 minutes until softened. Then add the rice, stirring to coat with the fat. Add the wine and let the rice absorb it. After that, add the stock in ½ cup increments until the rice is cooked through, about 15-20 minutes--you may need more or less stock. Add the reserved peas and pea puree. Turn off the heat. Taste, add salt and pepper if needed (you may not if you use ham stock) and then stir in the remaining butter and Parmesean. I find all risottos benefit from a little 5-minute rest before serving.
Serves 4 as a side dish; 2 as a main dish if you are not greedy. The color is glorious and the taste is of spring. Not bad Nigella! Too bad we ate it all before I thought of taking a picture.