lOmbardy, where I come from, is probably the wettest region in all of Italy, so it’s quite fitting that England is now my home, if only for the familiar weather. Even at this time of year the area becomes a lot rain from summer storms but, unlike in the UK, that is accompanied by steady temperatures in the mid-20s C, creating a humid climate ideal for growing vegetables. After the rigors of winter, now is a time when we welcome the return of ingredients we couldn’t dream of until March, so it’s just common sense to make the most of it.
Insalata di fave e pecorino (broad bean salad with pecorino; top pictured)
Fresh fava beans are adored all over Italy and more often than not eaten raw from the pod. Here they are lightly blanched, peeled and put into a simple salad, topped with an ever-so-slightly crispy cheese crisp. The dressing here makes more than you need, so keep the excess in the fridge for another day
Preparation 10 minutes
Cook 15 minutes
For the dressing
1 pinch of salt
1½ tbsp red wine vinegar
2 tbsp white wine vinegar 1
100 ml extra virgin olive oil
For the salad
4 large handfuls of fresh peeled broad beans (about 320g)
100-120 g pecorinofinely grated, to taste
4 big handfuls of arugula leaves
Salt and black peppertaste
For the chips
50 g pecorinofinely grated
25g Parmesan cheesefinely grated
25 g flour
Make the dressing first. Put the salt in a bowl, add the vinegar and stir for a minute to dissolve the salt. Whisk in the oil and two tablespoons of water until the dressing emulsifies, then pour into a clean squeeze bottle or jar and refrigerate for up to a month (it will separate, so shake well before using).
Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil, blanch the fava beans for two to three minutes, drain and cool in ice-cold water, then peel off the outer skins.
To make the chips, mix the two cheeses and the flour in a bowl. Heat a few small non-stick pans and sprinkle a quarter of the cheese mixture over the bottom of each pan. Cook for about a minute, until the bottom starts to turn golden brown, then flip and brown for another minute on the other side. Transfer the chips to a plate and repeat with the remaining cheese mix.
Season the beans (the pecorino is already quite salty, so be careful with the salt), dress with a little vinaigrette to coat, then toss with grated pecorino to taste – you want the beans to be well coated with both dressing like cheese. Divide the bean mixture in a single layer in the center of four plates. Season and lightly dress the arugula, place on top of the beans and serve each portion with a cheese crisp.
If you can’t get nettles, which have the added benefit of being free, use baby spinach. In Lombardy, we probably like snails even more than the French, and I’d be tempted to add a few to this risotto at the end; the dish works just as well without them, but they do add a welcome, textural contrast. If you feel like giving them a try, fry 30 drained canned snails (find them in French and Italian delis, or online) in a few tablespoons of hot olive oil until almost crisp on the outside, stirring in a pinch of each. minced garlic and parsley, and sprinkle over the risotto once plated.
Preparation 10 minutes
Cook 25 minutes
2 large handfuls of young nettle leaves (plus a few extra to bake for garnish – optional)
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
2½ liters of good chicken stock
50 g butter
1 onionpeeled and very, very finely sliced
400 g carnaroli rice
125 ml dry white wine
75 g cold buttercut into small dice
100 g finely grated Parmesan cheese
Blanch the nettles in boiling salted water for 30 seconds, drain, place in a food processor and pulse to a puree; add a little water if the mixture is not loose.
Bring the stock to a boil and then put it on a gentle heat.
Melt the butter in a heavy-bottomed saucepan, add the onion and sweat gently, stirring, for about five minutes, until soft but not discolored. Add the rice, stir to coat with the butter and toast the grains, then add the wine and cook, stirring, until the wine has completely evaporated and the onions and rice are dry.
Add a ladle of hot stock and stir and scrape the rice. When the stock has almost evaporated, add another ladle and repeat, adding more stock and stirring for 10 minutes. Stir in the nettle puree, bring the risotto back up to temperature, then add another ladle of stock and repeat as before, stirring and adding stock for another five to six minutes, until the grains are tender but still al dente – the Risotto should not be too smooth or it will get sloppy when you add the butter and cheese later.
When the rice is done, lower the heat and let it rest for a minute. Now for the mantecatura (AKA, the final mix): Off the heat, beat in the butter vigorously, followed by the Parmesan, while shaking the pan vigorously. Season to taste and serve with a few fried nettle leaves, if desired.