This creamy risotto with crisp bits of pancetta and bright green peas will bring the flavors of Italy to your family’s dinner table. Easy to put together, and ready in under 45 minutes. Try it tonight!Jump to Recipe
I have always loved a good risotto. To me, it needs to be creamy without being soupy, and I like to be able to appreciate the individual grains of rice. Pancetta and peas are a classic combination, and go wonderfully in a traditional risotto recipe. Freshly grated parmesan cheese pulls it all together.
What is Risotto?
The word risotto comes from the Italian riso, or rice. The rice grains are toasted with a soffritto of onions sautéed in fat, then slowly simmered with white wine and flavorful stock until a creamy texture is achieved. Cheese, cream, or butter are stirred in at the end. The dish requires frequent stirring, so you need to be able to pay attention while making it, but fortunately it comes together pretty quickly. The actual risotto should take about 18 minutes, start to finish.
Saffron can be added to make the classic dish Risotto alla Milanese, or all kinds of meat, seafood, and vegetables can be stirred in to produce a variety of flavor combinations. I have a cookbook devoted entirely to risotto (Risotto by Judith Barrett and Norma Wasserman), and it even contains recipes for dessert risottos with fruit.
What’s the Difference between Risotto and Pilaf?
The main difference between the two is the type of rice used. Risotto always uses a short-grained, starchy rice – typically Arborio in the US. Pilafs use long-grained rice. Pilafs use much less liquid, and are cooked covered to minimize what is lost to evaporation. Risottos are cooked uncovered with frequent stirring, and use double the liquid for the same amount of rice. These differences produce an unctuous, creamy texture for risotto that is not present with a pilaf even if the other ingredients are the same.
What Kind of Rice is used for Risotto?
Arborio rice is the most common type used in the United States. It’s widely available, carried at most grocery store chains. It is a very short-grained rice, and like most in that category it is high in amylopectin. This produces the creamy consistency prized in risotto. It is also high in amylose, which allows it to stay al dente throughout the long cooking process. Other Italian rice varieties that share these characteristics – and may make an even better risotto – are Carnaroli and Vialone Nano. Whichever you choose, remember that you’re choosing the rice for its high starch content – do not rinse the rice before cooking risotto.
What Can You Substitute for Arborio?
If you can’t find Arborio, or it’s not in the budget, you are not out of luck. Sushi rice is short-grained and high starch, and is a reasonable substitute. As mentioned above, it also should not be rinsed. Farro is an interesting alternative as well. It’s one of my family’s favorite grains, and I frequently use a risotto method to prepare it. Cook’s Illustrated describes a farro risotto method here.
What Other Ingredients are Needed for a Traditional Risotto?
Traditionally, a large flat-bottomed pan is warmed over medium heat. A fat – either butter or olive oil – is added to the pan. Diced onion (or shallot) is cooked in the fat until they begin to soften. The rice grains are then added and cooked for a few minutes with a pinch of salt, until just barely translucent. A generous splash of white wine is poured in, and the rice is stirred frequently until the wine is absorbed. Warm stock is then added incrementally, with frequent stirring, until the desired consistency is reached. Other ingredients may be added during this process, and more fat – cream, cheese, or butter – is stirred in to finish the recipe.
Are Wine and Hot Stock Necessary?
Nope! If you’re out of wine, or unable to cook with it (even though the alcohol cooks off), you can still make risotto. Just substitute additional stock, and consider a tiny splash of a mild vinegar. Is it really necessary to keep the stock warm in a separate pan? Also no. All traditional Italian recipes will tell you it’s mandatory, but I honestly rarely bother with it. Kenji Lopez-Alt at Serious Eats agrees – you can save the pan. If you’re in a hurry to get dinner on the table, consider heating the stock – it will speed up your cooking time.
Pancetta for Pancetta Risotto
What is Pancetta?
Pancetta is an Italian cured salumi, made from pork belly, and not typically smoked. It is usually seasoned with juniper berries, thyme, garlic, and bay leaf during the curing process, then it is rolled and hung until it loses a certain percentage of its water weight. At this point it is usually cut and cooked before it is eaten, but if properly cured it can be safely eaten raw (at your own risk, of course).
What is the Difference between Pancetta and Bacon? Or Prosciutto? Can I Substitute?
Pancetta and bacon are similar, but not interchangeable. Bacon is also a cured pork belly product, although it is not rolled or hung, and is instead usually smoked after curing. Bacon may be seasoned, but it often cured with a simple mix of salt, sugar, and nitrites (learn the basics of bacon-making here). Bacon can be substituted for pancetta in this and many other recipes but the dish will take on a smokier flavor.
Prosciutto is also a cured pork product, but it comes from the leg of the pig. It is traditionally cured with salt only, then hung to dry for months or preferably years. It is thinly sliced and eaten raw, or it may be mixed into a cooked dish. As it’s from the leg, it is closer in flavor to ham (or Jamón Iberico) than it is to bacon. It will also taste good in this recipe, but it won’t have quite the same effect. If you use prosciutto, don’t cook it – stir torn bits of it in at the end along with the peas.
How to Make Pancetta Risotto with Peas
Cook the Soffritto and Arborio Rice
In a large, flat-bottomed pan over medium heat, cook a half pound of diced pancetta. As always, start with a cold pan. Once the pancetta has begun to get crispy, remove it to a paper towel-lined plate to drain. Add a diced onion to the bacon fat, and cook until just beginning to soften. Add a few cloves of minced garlic and a pinch of salt along with the arborio rice. Cook, stirring frequently, until the rice starts to get translucent.
Add Wine and Stock
Once the rice gets just slightly translucent at the ends, add a cup of white wine. It doesn’t have to be fancy, but it should be drinkable. Avoid “cooking wine” and anything sweet. A chardonnay or sauvignon blanc is a good choice. Stir frequently until all of the liquid is absorbed.
Now for the stock. I use chicken stock for this, but pork stock would work as well. You are welcome to heat it in a pan on a second burner, but I honestly rarely bother with that step. I do always add my stock slowly. A total of 3-4 cups will be needed, but add about a half cup to a cup at a time. Each time, stir frequently until the liquid is completely absorbed, and add a bit more.
This part is a bit labor intensive. You don’t need to stir constantly, but you do need to pay attention. Otherwise the liquid will all disappear and the risotto will start to stick to the bottom of the pan. There are recipes for making risotto in an Instant Pot or pressure cooker, and even for a rice cooker. I’ve never been satisfied with the texture, but if you have one you like, feel free to try it with pancetta and peas! Fortunately, I enjoy spending time in the kitchen. There is only about 15 minutes of active involvement while the stock is absorbed, so hopefully you won’t mind it either. I promise the results will be worth it!
Stir Pancetta and Peas into Risotto
After about 3 cups of stock has been added, start to taste the rice. If it doesn’t seem done, add another half cup to a cup of stock as described above. Once the texture is to your liking, stir in the cooked pancetta and the peas. Once well-incorporated, add the grated parmesan. Taste the dish again, and season to taste with salt and pepper.
Risotto is a dish that is best served immediately. Spoon it into a bowl for each diner, and enjoy!
What to Serve with Pancetta Risotto?
Pancetta risotto is filling enough to be the star of your dinner. We might have it with a green salad, or a roasted vegetable such as asparagus or Brussels sprouts (with bacon!). Zucchini pancakes would be nice as well. Risotto is also wonderful as a side dish, but I would avoid serving this with heavy meats. It complements seafood nicely, and would be delicious with grilled salmon or skewered shrimp. I’ve always thought risotto and scallops were a match made in heaven. For a real treat, try my bacon-wrapped scallops – if you click over, you’ll see a risotto hiding in the background of my photograph.
As always, please please comment below with any questions about the dish, and let me know how it went if you tried making it! If you follow me on Pinterest, you’ll always know when the next recipe comes out. I’d love to hear from you!
Pancetta Risotto with Peas
- 1/2 lb pancetta diced, may substitute bacon
- 1 onion diced
- 3 cloves garlic minced
- 1 1/4 cup arborio rice
- 1 cup white wine dry
- 4 cups chicken stock homemade or reduced sodium preferred
- 1/4 lb green peas frozen or fresh
- 1/2 cup parmesan cheese freshly grated
- salt and pepper to taste
- Add diced pancetta (or bacon) to large flat-bottomed pan, and place cold pan over burner turned to medium heat. Fry for 10-12 minutes, or until beginning to crisp and brown. Remove to paper towel-lined plate.
- Add diced onion to same pan with pancetta fat. Sauté 2 minutes, or until beginning to soften. Add garlic and arborio rice with a pinch of salt. Sauté an additional 2 minutes, stirring frequently, until edges of rice appear translucent.
- Add white wine. Stir often until liquid is absorbed. Add chicken stock in 1/2 to 1 cup increments, stirring after each addition until all liquid has been absorbed. Begin tasting the rice after adding 3 cups of chicken stock, or after about 12 minutes. Stop adding stock when the rice has achieved a creamy, but still chewy and al dente consistency.
- Stir in peas, pancetta, and parmesan cheese. Taste risotto again, and season to taste with salt and pepper. Serve immediately, and enjoy!