An apology is long overdue. For most of my life, I avoided you like the plague, because of your wrinkled, dull green appearance when cooked, and the bland, powdery-like consistency of your frozen counterparts when tossed with carrots and corns in a sad excuse for a ‘mixed vegetable‘ stir-fry. Your cousins, the Snow Peas, were just about the only fresh peas we got in Singapore, being more resilient and travel-savvy than you are. But their thick, rubbery skins yielded an intense crunch and notes of bitterness that were enough to convince me that my nutritional needs were better served by consuming other greens, like broccoli, for instance. How I ran from every mention of your name, embracing all other legumes on the planet, even preferring the unmistakable acridity of the Bittergourd over the mild nuttiness of your mature podmates.
Although it was M’s job that brought us to California, after last week’s dinner, I finally realized that, job or no, it was just a pretext for the agricultural gods to introduce me to what real food actually tasted like. Real tomatoes, real strawberries, real brussel sprouts, they each took their turn on our weekly visits to the Farmer’s Market, to induct this (relatively) unassuming consumer bred on imported vegetables to the joys of fresh, truly seasonal produce. You took your time to activate my Pea Karma – I can be a stubborn nut with preconceived notions about food that I dislike – and finally set the wheels in motion two weeks ago. M was your instrument, he of the French countryside who grew up with an intimate understanding of the joys of plucking your pods straight off the vine and tossing your little green marbles fresh into the mouth. No heat, oil, salt or pepper, just the soft crunch of freshly harvested peas.
You had me the moment M cracked open your pods, and you knew it. With your perfectly round, smooth surface, you were too adorable to dislike, or even to eat. You’re one photogenic vegetable that shines in simple preparations, with a subtle sweetness easily overwhelmed by excessive cooking and abrasive co-ingredients. After snacking on you like popcorn, I decided to feature you in this risotto, my all-time favorite dish, alongside some plump, juicy shrimp. It’s my way of saying ‘sorry’ for misunderstanding you all these years, and I hope we can be friends.
Your new-found fan xx
The art of the risotto is in constantly stirring the rice after each addition of broth. I find that leaving the rice on the stove to rest for a few minutes after stirring in the butter and Parmesan helps achieve the creamy, gooey texture of the dish that’s so addictive and comforting. If you’re new to risotto-making, check out this video on Risotto Basics for some handy tips.
In this recipe, the peas are barely cooked in oil with the prawns, then added to the rice for the last few additions of broth to avoid over-cooking them. You could omit the step of cooking them with prawns if you want to keep a slight crunch in the risotto.
Risotto with Peas and Prawns
3 tablespoons olive oil
4 cloves garlic, minced
¾ cup shelled peas
Half pound peeled fresh shrimp, with tails left on
Pinch of salt
5 tablespoons/ 70 grams unsalted butter, divided
2 shallots or 1 small white onion, diced
8 ounces/ 230 grams arborio rice
¾ cup dry white wine, like a Chardonnay or a Pinot Gris
2½ cups chicken or vegetable stock, kept warm
4 ounces/ 100 grams finely shredded parmesan
A handful of chopped fresh parsley, to garnish (optional)
Heat the olive oil in a skillet, and add the garlic, stirring occasionally until the pieces start to turn a light golden. Add the prawns (be careful they will sputter) and the salt, stir and leave covered on medium heat for 2 minutes. Add the peas and cook just until they turn a darker shade of green, then remove the peas from the pan. Return the prawns to the heat and let them cook until just pink, then turn the heat off and keep warm until the risotto is ready.
In a medium saucepan, melt 1 tablespoon of the butter, then add the onions and cook until translucent, about 5 minutes. Add the rice, stir to mix with the onions, then add the wine and let it bubble away until there’s no liquid left.
Reduce the heat to low, ladle the stock into the rice 1 to 2 scoops at a time, stirring with a wooden spoon to help the rice absorb the liquid. When all the liquid has been absorbed, add more stock, stirring constantly. Continue until a taste test yields a soft bite of the grain with no crunchiness, which should take about 25 to 30 minutes of constant stirring and repeated broth additions. After the rice has been cooking for 20 minutes, add the peas, mix, and continue to add the stock until you reach the desired consistency for the risotto.
When the rice is ready, turn off the heat, stir in the parmesan and remaining tablespoons of butter, mixing it into the rice until just incorporated, then leave the risotto, covered, for about 2 minutes before serving.
Scoop into individual dishes, top with the shrimp and serve, garnished with a few snips of parsley.