This is the season when Italians take advantage of the first spring peas and go mad for risi e bisi. Since our reinterpretation of the classic dish
calls for orzo instead of rice, you might call it “faux risotto,” or perhaps “orzotto.” But whatever the name, we think you’ll agree that this makes a wonderfully tasty linchpin for a casual dinner, or even a first course for a more formal occasion. It is very easy to prepare, and requires a lot less stirring than real risotto. Furthermore, since orzo takes about half as much time to cook as rice, our “orzotto” goes from pan to plate in short order.
Orzo “Rissotto” With Peas and Pancetta
Makes 2 generous servings
Pancetta is usually sold in packets of little cubes or in very thin slices. Either works fine in this recipe, although we have a slight preference for the sliced version, which we cut into approximately 1-2 inch pieces with scissors.
Go ahead and use fresh peas if they’re available, but honestly, frozen peas are absolutely fine here.
3-4 ounces pancetta, chopped
¼ cup minced onion
1 cup peas, frozen or fresh
1 cup orzo
2 ½ cups water
Freshly ground pepper
¼ cup grated Parmesan, plus more to pass at the table
Cook the pancetta in a large skillet or casserole, stirring frequently until it begins to color. Add the onions and continue cooking, adjusting the heat as necessary, until the ingredients are nicely browned.
Stir the peas into the mixture and cook for a minute or two, then add the orzo. Stir it around in the mixture until it is fairly well coated with fat from the pancetta, and then pour in the water. Season with salt and pepper.
Simmer the mixture over medium-low heat for about 20 minutes, stirring frequently, to prevent the pasta from sticking on the bottom of the pan. If it seems to be drying out, add a little more water. When the orzo is cooked through it should still be a little soupy rather than dry.
Remove the pan from the heat, stir in the parmesian, and serve at once.
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This is more of a white or pink wine dish than a red wine one, though a red with a soft texture and pliant tannins can work just fine. It tastes fresh and lively, so you’ll want to look for a wine that shares those same attributes. Keep aged treasures in your cellar. Opt instead for something young and vibrant.