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Apr 18, 2017
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WINE WITH…Orzo “Rissotto” with Peas and Pancetta

This is the season when Italians take advantage of the first spring peas and go mad for risi e bisi. Since our reinterpretation of the classic dish calls for orzo instead of rice, you might call it “faux risotto,” or perhaps “orzotto.” But whatever the name, we think you’ll agree that this makes a wonderfully tasty linchpin for a casual dinner, or even a first course for a more formal occasion. It is very easy to prepare, and requires a lot less stirring than real risotto. Furthermore, since orzo takes about half as much time to cook as rice, our “orzotto” goes from pan to plate in short order.

Orzo “Rissotto” With Peas and Pancetta

Makes 2 generous servings

Pancetta is usually sold in packets of little cubes or in very thin slices. Either works fine in this recipe, although we have a slight preference for the sliced version, which we cut into approximately 1-2 inch pieces with scissors.

Go ahead and use fresh peas if they’re available, but honestly, frozen peas are absolutely fine here.

3-4 ounces pancetta, chopped
¼ cup minced onion
1 cup peas, frozen or fresh
1 cup orzo
2 ½ cups water
Freshly ground pepper
¼ cup grated Parmesan, plus more to pass at the table

Cook the pancetta in a large skillet or casserole, stirring frequently until it begins to color. Add the onions and continue cooking, adjusting the heat as necessary, until the ingredients are nicely browned.

Stir the peas into the mixture and cook for a minute or two, then add the orzo. Stir it around in the mixture until it is fairly well coated with fat from the pancetta, and then pour in the water. Season with salt and pepper.

Simmer the mixture over medium-low heat for about 20 minutes, stirring frequently, to prevent the pasta from sticking on the bottom of the pan. If it seems to be drying out, add a little more water. When the orzo is cooked through it should still be a little soupy rather than dry.

Remove the pan from the heat, stir in the parmesian, and serve at once.

* * *

This is more of a white or pink wine dish than a red wine one, though a red with a soft texture and pliant tannins can work just fine. It tastes fresh and lively, so you’ll want to look for a wine that shares those same attributes. Keep aged treasures in your cellar. Opt instead for something young and vibrant. 

Connect  on Twitter:   @M_L_Thomas  and  @Wine_With_
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Approx. Price


Dry Creek Vineyard, Dry Creek Valley (California) Merlot



The one red we are recommending, this is a soft but smooth and supple wine, with bright red fruit flavors and subtle hints of vanilla from barrel aging. It comes close to being too powerful for this dish, but if you insist on opening something red, it will very pleasant indeed.

Edna Valley Vineyard, Edna Valley (California) Chardonnay “Fleur de Edna Winemaker Series”



A fleshy, buttery Chardonnay, made very much in a typical California style, this wine shows just enough acidity to maintain balance and retain freshness. It tastes luscious with this “orzotto.”

Martin Ray, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County (California) Sauvignon Blanc



Bright and energetic, this varietally true Sauvignon tastes richer and more substantial than most Kiwi renditions. It lacks the minerality of top Loire Valley ones, emphasizing instead its core of vibrant fruit—which is just what this particular dish wants and needs.

Murrieta’s Well, Livermore Valley (California) “The Whip” 2014


A slightly sweet and unconventional blend of Semillon (29%), Chardonnay (27%), Sauvignon Blanc (12%), Orange Muscat (8%), Muscat Canelli (8%), and Viognier (6%), this wine proved a delight when paired with our creamy orzo. Its sweetness might be off-putting with other dishes, but it enhanced the pairing with this one.

Presqu’ile, Santa Maria Valley (California) Rosé of Pinot Noir



Redolent of juicy strawberries, this dry rosé tastes light but is full of fresh fruit flavor. It seems to spring of spring, as does the dish it complements so nicely.