Casey Barber is a food writer, photographer, and illustrator; the author of Pierogi Love: New Takes on an Old-World Comfort Food and Classic Snacks Made from Scratch: 70 Homemade Versions of Your Favorite Brand-Name Treats; and editor of the website Good. Food. Stories. Casey is also the founder of The Casey BarberSHOP, an online retail store for pop culture-inspired gifts. She's pretty much always sharing something on Instagram: @goodfoodstories
I don't know if it's the artist part of my brain that sees Italian cuisine as a playground for infinite flavor pairings, but it's most definitely one of the reasons I love cooking Italian food as much as I do. Myriad pasta shapes, rounds of charred pizza dough, creamy polenta—and today's superstar, chewy-tender risotto—these starches and grains are sumptuously blank canvases waiting to be enlivened by the colorful palette of ingredients I pick up at the market.
Risotto, in particular, is one of those dishes that can both bear the brunt of the mix-and-match leftover produce in the crisper drawer (half a head of radicchio? two strips of bacon? shriveled cherry tomatoes? perfect!) as well as become the star of a well thought-out centerpiece meal. Starting from a base of arborio rice, broth, a few aromatics, and always a ton of Parmigiano-Reggiano thrown in at the finish.
In this version, I'm combining both of these elements: my tried-and-true method of making anything I can into a carbonara-ish dish, and celebrating the beginning with aromatics that bridge the gap between the seasons.
First, the carbonara: even when there's nothing else to eat in the house, there's still going to be a few eggs and a wedge of Parmesan in the fridge, and a hunk of pancetta or guanciale in the freezer. With these ingredients, you'll always be able to turn out a comforting meal. In the case of risotto, the addition of eggs makes the full-bodied sauce created by the rice's starch and rich chicken broth even creamier without adding a drop of cream itself. (Remember, never put cream in your carbonara. It's vulgar.)
Second, instead of the traditional onions and garlic, I turn to other members of the allium family to bring in the first tastes of spring. Leeks are mellow and sweet, especially if they've been left in the ground all winter to deepen their flavor. Chives are bright and sharp, their thin stems some of the earliest peeks of green in the garden.
As the seasons shift, I'll change up my risotto repertoire with slim stems of just-picked asparagus and dayboat scallops, then real Jersey corn and tomatoes, then roasted squash and braised short ribs. But for now, it's spring, and it's time to eat.
Spring Risotto Carbonara
Prep Time: 15 minutes
Total Time: 1 hour
Makes 4 servings
4 cups chicken broth
4 ounces/113 grams finely diced pancetta
2 medium leeks, well rinsed and thinly sliced
1/2 cup white wine, at room temperature
8 ounces/227 grams (about 1 heaping cup) Arborio rice
2 egg yolks
1 ounce/28 grams freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano, plus more for serving
1 tablespoon minced fresh chives, plus more for serving
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
In a medium stockpot, bring the broth to a simmer, then turn off the burner and cover to keep the broth warm.
Add the pancetta to a large, heavy-bottomed saucepan or Dutch oven over medium-low heat. Cook, stirring occasionally, for about 10 minutes. The pancetta will slowly but surely render its fat and the cubes will become crisply browned.
Remove the pancetta from the pan and reserve.
Add the leeks to the pan. Cook, stirring occasionally, for about 8 minutes, until the leeks are very tender.
Stir in the rice, then cook for 1 minute without stirring to toast the grains. Stir, then toast again.
Stir in the wine and simmer until mostly evaporated.
Add 1/2 cup of the broth to the rice and stir lazily until most of the liquid is absorbed. Continue to add broth 1/2 cup at a time, continuing to stir and allow the rice to absorb most of the broth before adding more.
Once the rice has absorbed all but 1/2 cup of the broth, pour all but 2 tablespoons broth into the risotto and stir until thick and saucy.
Turn off the heat, but leave the risotto pan on the burner.
Whisk the remaining 2 tablespoons broth into the egg yolks, then stir into the risotto.
Stir in the Parmigiano-Reggiano, chives, pepper, and the reserved pancetta.
Garnish with additional cheese and chives, if desired, and serve immediately.