After fretting and straining to think of a recipe to enter into the Student’s Can Cook bloggers for students competition a few months ago, I found that as the final deadline approached I actually I two ideas. The first, a recipe for Five Bean Chilli, can be found here, the second is this; BLP (Bacon Lettuce and Pea) Risotto.
I love risotto for a multitude of reasons. I love eating it, all comfort and warmth with its unctuous, buttery, flavoured carbs; as horribly twee and clichéd as it sounds it does feel like a meal that someone has loved and cared for, which if cooked right they have, continually stirring and adding the stock until the rice is just ready, gooey whilst retaining that little al dente bite. I love cooking it for the seemingly endless flavour combinations you can add to the basic recipe through a change in the stock, herbs, poached fish, smoked fish, roasted meat, slow cooked ragu, and roasted or steamed vegetables. I love basic recipes like that, things like quiche, frittata or soup where you can just look at what you’ve got left in the fridge and go with it. Leftover roasted chicken? Roasted chicken risotto. Smoked salmon or smoked mackerel? Pop them in a risotto. Tomatoes looking a bit wrinkly and past their best? Slow roast them and stir them in for a roast tomato risotto.
Once I made myself a salmon and leek risotto at 5am in the midst of pulling an all-nighter to get my undergraduate dissertation written. That may seem a little mad, and fair enough I had been awake for long enough straight that the delirium had started to set in, but it gave me a 20 minute mental break, something physical to do and an lovely comforting and sustaining meal at the end; you don’t get that with a pot noodle.
Of course just as there are countless combinations there are countless recipes to be found recommending them, all providing different variations on a theme; but there are also combinations to be found that may not at first seem so obvious and I suspect bacon, lettuce and pea may be one of them.
I can’t actually remember the first time I decided to try out this recipe, although I think it started out as poached salmon, lettuce and pea on the basis of a recipe I’d seen for fish with braised little gem lettuce and peas. For whatever reason I got it into my head that this would a good one to try in a risotto, and at some point later on decided that the saltiness of crispy smoked bacon would be even better; in my experience students will add and substitute bacon for almost anything so it may have been as simple as that.
Happily it worked and whilst back home for a holiday I cooked it up for my parents. They loved it and asked for the recipe and as a student cook there can be no higher praise.
Bacon Lettuce and Pea (BLP) Risotto
- 1 small onion or ½ a large onion finely chopped.
- 100g Arborio or other risotto rice
- 500ml hot chicken stock (the stock really makes a difference in a risotto so I urge you if you’re not willing to make your own to at least buy liquid stock rather than use powdered or cubed; although as a student I frequently used powdered instead I promise you it is nicer otherwise)
- A small glass of white wine (if you don’t want to open a whole new bottle you can miss this out but it does add to the risotto and if you buy one of those cheap bottle stops you can close the bottle up and keep the rest to be drunk over the following days)
- 8 rashers of smoked streaky bacon (I use streaky because I think the higher fat content provides more flavour but if you’re concerned about the fat just use leaner smoked back bacon instead)
- 1 head of little gem lettuce, leaves separated and sliced.
- A couple of handfuls of frozen peas.
- Some chopped fresh flat leaf parsley (optional; I threw this in because I had it in the house but if you don’t have any it isn’t vitally important)
- Some freshly grated parmesan
- A knob of butter
- Olive oil (roughly 1tbsp, I rarely measure oil sorry)
Leaving four of the rashers whole, chop four of the bacon rashers up into little strips; I find this easiest to do using a pair of kitchen scissors but it doesn’t matter how you do it.
Using a medium sized pan heat the oil and fry the bacon strips in it until they begin to crisp up (you may be able to see in the pictures I didn’t crisp them up enough at this point which wasn’t the end of the world but next time I’d wait until the fat started to go golden brown). Once golden remove the bacon bits from the pan using a slotted spoon and leave to rest on a plate lined with kitchen paper. Depending on the amount of bacon fat and oil left in the pan and your personal diet, you can choose whether to add a knob of butter to the pan at this point or not, I did.
Add the onions and gently soften over a low to medium heat until translucent but not coloured. Stir in the rice giving the grains a good coating in the fat then pour in the wine and allow it to bubble until mostly evaporated. Begin adding the stock a little at a time, stirring constantly but gently over a low heat so that the rice bubbles softly.
The rice will take about 20 minutes to absorb all the liquid so at this point depending on how you want to cook your remaining rashers of bacon you will need to pop them under the grill or into the oven on a grill tray. If you’d rather fry them you can wait 10 minutes or so and then do so in a separate pan alongside the risotto. Either way once crisped up take them out and leave on a plate lined with kitchen paper to be added at the end. You should also take the time at some point during the stock adding process to pour boiling water from the kettle over the frozen peas and drain them off to defrost them.
Keep adding until all the stock has been absorbed then stir in the defrosted peas and the lettuce. As it wilts down the lettuce seems to release its own liquid into the risotto so you’ll need to make sure the rice absorbs this too, don’t overcook it though, ideally you want to leave it when it’s still slightly soupy without looking watery. Finally take the pan off the heat and stir in the parmesan and the parsley if using, you can also season with salt and pepper at this point if you wish but I find the saltiness from the bacon and the stock is usually enough. Pop a lid on and leave it to rest for a few minutes.
To serve you can either crumble or break up the crispy bacon over the top, or just place it on like I did in an attempt to make it look good.