Lombardy, where I’m from, is probably the wettest region in all of Italy, so it’s rather fitting that England is now my home, if only for the familiar weather. Even at this time of year, the area gets a lot of rain from summer storms, but, unlike in the UK, that’s coupled with steady temperatures in the mid-high 20Cs, which create a humid climate that’s ideal for growing vegetables. After the rigors of winter, now is a time when we welcome the return of ingredients we could only dream about as recently as March, so it’s just common sense to make the most of them.
Insalata di fave e pecorino (broad bean salad with pecorino; pictured top)
Fresh broad beans are worshiped across Italy, and are more often than not eaten raw straight from the pod. Here, they’re lightly blanched, peeled and put in a simple salad topped with an ever so slightly cheffy cheese crisp. The dressing makes more than you need here, so save any excess in the fridge for another day
Prep 10 minutes
cooking 15 mins
For the dressing room
1 pinch of salt
1½ tbsp red-wine vinegar
2 tbsp white-wine vinegar1
100ml extra virgin olive oil
For the salad
4 big handfuls fresh podded broad beans (about 320g)
100-120g pecorinofinely grated, to taste
4 big handfuls rocket leaves
salt and black pepperto taste
For the crisps
50g pecorinofinely grated
25g parmesanfinely grated
First, make the dressing. Put the salt in a bowl, add the vinegars and stir for a minute, so the salt dissolves. Whisk in the oil and two tablespoons of water, until the dressing emulsifies, then pour into a clean squeezy bottle or jar and store in the fridge for up to a month (it will separate, so give it a good shake before you use it) .
Bring a large pan of salted water to a boil, blanch the broad beans for two to three minutes, then drain and refresh in ice-cold water, and peel off the outer skins.
To make the crisps, mix the two cheeses and the flour in a bowl. Heat a couple of small nonstick pans and sprinkle a quarter of the cheese mixture all over the bottom of each pan. Leave to cook for about a minute, until the underside starts to turn golden, then flip over and color on the other side for another minute. Transfer the crisps to a board, then repeat with the remaining cheese mix.
Season the beans (the pecorino is already quite salty, so go easy on the salt), dress with a little vinaigrette to coat, then toss with grated pecorino to taste – you want the beans well coated in both dressing and cheese. Spread the bean mix in a single layer in the center of four plates. Season and lightly dress the rocket, pile on to the beans and serve each portion topped with a cheese crisp.
If you can’t get nettles, which have the added benefit of being free, use young spinach instead. In Lombardy, we adore snails probably even more than the French do, and I’d be inclined 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 fancy giving them a go, fry 30 drained tinned snails (look for them in French and Italian delis, or online) in a couple of tablespoons of hot olive oil until almost crisp on the outside, stir in a pinch each of finely chopped garlic and parsley, and scatter over the risotto once plated.
Prep 10 minutes
cooking 25 mins
2 big handfuls young nettle leaves (plus a few extra to fry for a garnish – optional)
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
2½ liters good chicken stock
1 onionpeeled and chopped very, very finely
400g carnaroli rice
125ml dry white wine
75g cold buttercut into small dice
100g finely grated parmesan
Blanch the nettles in boiling salted water for 30 seconds, then drain, put in a food processor and pulse to a puree; add a little water if the mixture isn’t loose.
Bring the stock to a boil, then turn down to a bare simmer.
Melt the butter in a heavy-based pan, add the onion and sweat gently, stirring, for about five minutes, until soft but not colored. Add the rice, stir it around to coat it in the butter and “toast” the grains, then add the wine and cook, stirring, until the wine evaporates completely 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 ladleful, 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 more stock, for another five to six minutes, until the grains are soft, but still al dente – the risotto shouldn’t be too soupy or it will turn sloppy when you add the butter and cheese later.
Once the rice is ready, turn down the heat and leave it to rest for a minute. Now for the mantecatura (AKA, the final mixing): off the heat, vigorously beat in the butter, followed by the parmesan, shaking the pan energetically as you do so. Season to taste and serve, topped with a few fried nettle leaves, if you like.