Spring is upon us out here in the African bush, which sounds ridiculous when you consider that our daytime temperatures move from mild to boiling in just a few weeks. Having lived (and gardened) in America and Europe for over a decade, where those first crocuses poking their noses out of frozen ground induced in me such a sense of wonder and relief, Spring in the Zambezi Valley is somewhat muted. No splashes of yellow or purple seen around here, I’m afraid, unless perhaps they are airborne. What is an indicator that winter is on its way out is an abundance of traditional Spring vegetables. Like peas!
I have had a love affair with fresh young peas for as long as I can remember. Whether eating them raw straight out of the vegetable garden, or steamed with fresh mint and melted butter, they foster tummy-rumbling memories from my childhood growing up on a farm in Zimbabwe.
In our garden here the mangetout have given and given this year. They have made a crunchy, sweet, colorful addition to one of our favorite dishes: risotto. No matter the country, peas and mint seem to be favored ingredients in a risotto, which to me makes complete sense. In this version, I decided to combine these two ingredients with spring onions and lemon zest, all of which grow in the ground beyond our house, and then bind them together with loads of farm butter and Parmesan cheese.
Many of my friends think risotto is a challenge to make. It isn’t at all. It just requires constant stirring once you start cooking–about 20 minutes of opportune forearm muscle toning. (The stirring is what creates a rich creamy texture.) Risotto is also an ideal vehicle for using so many of the vegetables we grow, as well as for wild food we forage, like mushrooms.
Most of the flavors in this recipe are delicate. Be sensitive when finding a balance between the mangetout and spring onions versus the mint and lemon zest. In addition, try to avoid using a full-bodied white wine to further enhance this dish’s utterly-bearable lightness of being.
Mangetout, Mint & Lemon Risotto
- 2 tablespoons butter
- 1 teaspoon olive oil
- 1/2 cup spring onions, white part only, finely sliced (keep the green ends for garnish)
- 1 clove garlic, minced
- 1 cup risotto rice
- 1 cup light white wine
- 5 cups chicken/ vegetable stock
- 2 large handfuls mangetout, halved
- 1/2 cup Parmesan cheese, finely grated
- 1 tablespoon mint, finely chopped
- 1 teaspoon lemon zest
- Salt & pepper
1. Bring the chicken/ vegetable stock to a low simmer in a saucepan, keeping it at this temperature while you cook the risotto.
2. Over a medium heat melt 1 tablespoon butter with the olive oil in a heavy-based saucepan.
3. Fry the onion and garlic until soft and translucent, about 5 minutes (do not let them go brown).
4. Add the rice, stirring and turning it to soak up the butter and oil, about 1-2 minutes.
5. Turn up the heat and add the white wine, letting it bubble up, all the time stirring until it is absorbed, about 3-4 minutes.
6. Gradually add the hot stock, one ladleful at a time, stirring continuously. Allow for the risotto to soak up each ladleful before adding more. It should take about 20 minutes for it to reach the al dente stage.
7. Fold in the mangetout, half the mint and half the lemon zest, ensuring the mixture is well-combined, about 1-2 minutes.
8. Turn off the heat. Add the Parmesan cheese, the second tablespoon of butter, and the remaining mint and lemon zest. Add salt and pepper to taste.
9. Garnish with finely-sliced green ends of the onions. Serve immediately.
Yield: Serves 2-4 people.