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Pasta Risotto with Peas and Pancetta

Here, Nigella Lawson cooks pasta much as she would traditional risotto. While Italy respects its traditions, she explains, this way of cooking pasta—pasta risottata—is actually quite the new, cool thing. When Nigella has come across this way of cooking pasta in Italy, it’s not in fact involved orzo or other rice-shaped pasta; the “risottata” part refers to the method, not the pasta or the end result. Pennette or macaroni or other similarly small pasta would also work, though cooking times may vary a little.

She loves the rice-shaped pasta here most of all: the orzo oozes its starchiness out into the sauce rather than being flushed down the sink via the colander and—what’s more—you need only one pan, which should be a heavy one. The amount of water specified here is a starting point only; you may need to add more if the pasta’s absorbed all the water before it’s cooked.

Ingredients:

  • 2 Tbs. garlic-flavored oil
  • 6 oz. cubed pancetta
  • 1 1/4 cups frozen petits pois
  • 8 oz. orzo pasta
  • 2 1/2 cups boiling water
  • Salt, to taste
  • 1 Tbs. soft butter
  • 2 Tbs. grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
  • Freshly ground pepper, to taste

Directions:

Warm the oil in a heavy pan that will hold everything later; a Dutch oven or saucepan of 10 inches diameter should be big enough. Add the pancetta and cook, stirring, until it becomes crisp and bronzed, then add the peas and stir for a minute or so until the frozen look leaves them.

Add the pasta and turn it about in the pancetta and peas, then pour in the boiling water. Add salt (cautiously, especially if this is for children—the pancetta is salty, as is the Parmigiano-Reggiano later); then turn down the heat and let simmer for 10 minutes, though check on it a couple of times and give a stir or two, to stop it from sticking and to see if you need to add a little more water from the kettle.

When it’s ready, the pasta should be soft and starchy and the water absorbed. Beat the butter and Parmigiano-Reggiano into the pan, and adjust the seasoning with salt and pepper. Serve immediately in warm bowls. Serves 2 hungry grown-ups or 4 small children.

Adapted from Nigellissima, by Nigella Lawson (Clarkson/Potter Publishers, 2012).