I had just started cooking dinner the other night when Paul suggested that I take some photos and blog about it. The thought hadn’t crossed my mind. I looked down at the big pile of cubed Irish boiling bacon that I was about to put into the risotto and realized that I use Irish bacon all the time. So often that I don’t even recognize it as an “Irish” ingredient anymore. Friends who aren't Irish ask me what it is and how it's different from regular bacon. Like brown bread, I had never even heard of Irish bacon until I started dating Paul and celebrating holidays with his family. My father-in-law, Paddy, studs his with cloves and boils it for just the right amount of time. It puts the turkey to shame every Thanksgiving and I can never decide whether to eat more then and there or to hold off with the hope that there will be some left over. I think Paddy has caught on to my not-so-subtle clamoring for the leftovers so he often sets some aside for me when he makes one. I freeze it for fried rice, pasta, omelettes, sandwiches, pot pies, soup, you name it.
Bacon and pea risotto was actually a first in my household but I will definitely make it again. The kids loved it and Emmett, who had requested “plain noodles” for dinner ended up cleaning his plate. We were joking that we should have been wearing the “Half-Gaelic, Half-Garlic” T-shirts for this meal, but really, who doesn’t like bacon, peas and rice?
Bacon and Pea Risotto
1 fist-size slab of cooked Irish boiling bacon, cubed
1 cup frozen peas
1 shallot, thinly sliced
3 cloves of garlic, thinly sliced
¾ cup Arborio rice
⅓ cup white wine (optional)
1 tablespoon butter, divided in half
1 tablespoon olive oil
4 cups chicken stock or broth (This is more than enough. I heat up more than I need and use what's left for another purpose)
1 sprig rosemary
1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves (dried work fine as well)
Salt and pepper to taste
¼ cup Parmesan cheese plus more to finish
1 lemon for serving
Place chicken stock or broth in a small saucepan and bring to a simmer. While stock is coming to a simmer, prepare your shallot, garlic and bacon. Place a heavy bottomed pan on the stove and turn heat to medium high. Add half of the butter and the olive oil. Once the pan is hot, add the shallot and garlic and turn down the heat as necessary to make sure the shallot and garlic do not burn. Cook about five minutes, until shallot is translucent. Add the rice, rosemary and thyme and stir until all of the grains of rice are coated in oil/butter and begin (just barely) to toast. Turn the heat back up and add wine, scraping any brown bits from the bottom of the pan. Once wine is almost completely evaporated, turn the heat down to medium low and start adding the stock. I use a soup ladle and add a couple of ladles of stock at a time, keeping the rice-stock mixture at low boil and seasoning with salt along the way. Once the rice has absorbed most of the stock, I add more. After 10 to 15 minutes I start checking the rice to gauge how much longer I think it will take to cook through. Once it is just a little more al dente (15 minutes or so) than I would like, I remove the sprig of rosemary and add the bacon, peas, and a little more stock. I continue to cook until the rice is just cooked through. Try not to get distracted at the end because it can go from perfect to mushy quickly. When the rice is ready, I turn off the stove and remove the pan from the heat. Then I season the risotto with salt and pepper and stir in the remaining butter and Parmesan cheese. I serve it with lemon wedges, more Parmesan, and ground pepper on top.