This is comfort food at its best. Ham and peas partner with pesto and risotto in this creamy, delicious dish.
I was with a friend not too long ago, and as I tend to do, I asked him one of my strange, random questions. In this instance, my query was along the lines of if he was trapped on a desert island for the rest of his life and had cases upon cases of one kind of cereal with him, which would he want it to be.
Considering the obscene number of varieties of cereal on our grocery shelves these days, I thought for sure he’d be thinking on his response for a while so I was shocked when he blurted out, ‘Cinnamon Toast Crunch’ almost immediately. It took me a bit longer, but I finally came up with Special K’s Vanilla Almond.
Another one of those questions that I ask people is which starch they most be willing to keep if they had to give up all others for the rest of their lives. I know that Doug would choose bread in a heartbeat. He adores the stuff. Me? I’m still wavering.
Potatoes … chipped, French fried, baked, mashed, au gratined and otherwise … have had my heart for so many decades, but …
But, then there’s rice. I’m happy and satisfied with is when made as a simple pilaf, but it’s so much more than simple. It’s perfect with almost all Middle Eastern, Asian and Near East foods. It soaks up sauces gloriously.
And, it makes risotto.
Even though there were three risotto recipes on page 60 of this Comfort Food Favorites issue of Food Network Magazine, I was drawn to this one because of the broth that was used. I loved the idea of using leeks to create the liquid instead of just opening a can of chicken broth. Yes, it took a bit more time to clean, slice and simmer the leeks, but it was worth it.
While the broth was bubbling away on the back burner, I got the rest of the ingredients ready since I knew I wouldn’t be leaving the stove once I added the rice to the saucepan. I measured out said rice, wine, Parmesan and pesto, thawed my peas, diced my ham and cut up my mozzarella. Finally, I removed the sliced leeks from the broth and cut them up.
With all that ready to go, added the butter to the pan, let it melt, then poured in the rice, stirring to coat it. I added the wine, inhaled the aroma for a second, then stirred everything for a minute. Next, the work started. I added two cups of broth and continued to stir until the liquid was almost all absorbed. I added broth and stirred two more times, until broth was absorbed. Next, I added the leeks and peas and another cup of broth and this time I stirred until the rice was just a touch chewy (al dente).
I stirred in the ham and a bit more butter, removed the pan from the heat and added the pesto, cheeses and salt.
As soon as I added the pesto and cheese, I was ready to take a dive into that pan of goodness. It smelled so amazing. Granted, risotto doesn’t require (and usually doesn’t have) cheese to make it creamy; the constant stirring takes care of that. But considering that this was in a comfort food magazine, I was very willing to forgive the cup and a half of the stuff in my dish because it was delicious.
We all know how well ham and peas go together, but just imagine them paired with pesto and Parmesan. It’s a match made in heaven.
That being said, if there was anything I’d do differently, I’d use a touch less pesto. It came really close to overwhelming the other flavors (which are pretty mild).
What I’d Do Different Next Time
I’d use a touch less pesto; maybe 1/3 cup instead of 3/4.
Arborio rice: $6.99
White wine: $7.99
Frozen peas: $2.39
Mozzarella balls: $3.99
Risotto with Pesto and Peas Recipe
- Kosher salt
- 3 leeks (white and light green parts only), thinly sliced
- 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 1 cup arborio rice
- ½ cup dry white wine (optional)
- 1 cup frozen peas, thawed
- ¾ cup diced ham
- ¾ cup prepared pesto
- 1 cup small fresh mozzarella balls or diced fresh mozzarella
- ½ cup grated Parmesan
- Make the broth: Bring 6 cups water and 1 teaspoon salt to a simmer in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Add the leeks and cook until tender, 3 to 4 minutes; remove with a slotted spoon to a bowl. Adjust the heat to keep the broth at a gentle simmer.
- Meanwhile, heat 1 tablespoon butter in a wide saucepan over medium-high heat. Add the rice and cook, stirring, 1 minute. Add the wine and cook, stirring, until almost evaporated, about 1 more minute.
- Add 2 cups of the hot leek broth to the rice; cook, stirring occasionally, until almost absorbed, about 6 minutes (adjust the heat to keep the risotto at a simmer). Add 1 more cup broth and cook, stirring, until almost absorbed, about 5 more minutes. Add the leeks, peas and 1 more cup broth and cook, stirring, until almost absorbed, about 5 more minutes. Taste the rice: If it is not fully cooked, add a little more broth and continue to cook, stirring, until al dente.
- Stir in the ham and remaining 1 tablespoon butter. Remove from the heat; stir in ⅔ cup pesto, the mozzarella and Parmesan. Season with salt. Divide among bowls and top with the remaining pesto.