This super simple, yet super elegant sweet pea risotto highlights one of the most delicate early summer veggies. Make it either with fresh or frozen peas!
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Every spring marks the exciting return of local, seasonal produce. I live in a northern country, and while it’s true that the vast majority of our produce is imported and available year-round, some vibrant, fresh local fruits and veggies simply have no substitutes. Rhubarb is one of the first evergreen stalks to emerge after the snow disappears from gardens, marking the imminent return of warmer seasons. Asparagus is the vegetable I’m most excited to see pop up at local produce stalls. And local strawberries are my absolute favorite: I devour basket after basket of them from June to October.
But fresh, sweet peas have long eluded me, mostly because their season is so short—it usually lasts a couple of weeks, from early to mid-June where I live. For years, I wasn’t aware enough to spot them at the market and would always wake up around the end of June thinking, “Hey wasn’t it supposed to be sweet pea season right about now?” And sure enough, when I’d ask at the market, I’d hear that I had missed the short season yet again.
So a few years ago, I decided to actually put a reminder in my calendar that recurs annually in early June. The reminder is short and, well, sweet. It simply says, “SWEET PEAS 🌱.” And though it may seem a little odd that I actually need to be electronically reminded to seek out sweet peas every year, my reminder has ensured that I haven’t missed out since—a delicious win in my book!
Sweet peas are delicate and can basically be eaten raw—they’re so fresh, crunchy, and sweet! If you use them in cooking, you want to make sure to apply as little heat to them as possible so that you can enjoy them at their bright green best. Whether I use them in a lunch bowl, a soup, a risotto, or this beautiful Sweet Pea Risotto—my favorite dish to highlight sweet peas—I make sure to throw them into the dish just a few minutes before serving. Sweet peas are a great veggie to boost the vitamin content of quick, weeknight recipes. I almost can’t think of any dishes that wouldn’t benefit from the extra green touch of sweet peas!
Make the most of sweet pea season while it lasts—and start enjoying them in this lovely, easy-to-make Sweet Pea Risotto. Don’t worry though: if you miss the season, you can absolutely make this risotto using frozen sweet peas—just be sure to use top-quality ones for the best flavor.
Check out my tips to make a memorable Sweet Pea Risotto right below.
Helpful Tips for Making Sweet Pea Risotto
Go fresh if you can, but don’t miss out if you can’t: Sure, this risotto is great when made with fresh sweet peas you shelled yourself, but if you missed the season—or simply prefer the convenience of ready-to-eat shelled peas!—simply use frozen sweet peas. Because the season is so short, sweet peas are often used in their frozen form. After trying many brands of frozen peas, I would highly recommend paying the few extra dollars to buy organic brands. When sweet peas are front and center in a dish—such as in this Sweet Pea Risotto—you want a flavor that’s as close to the fresh vegetable as possible. I find that mainstream non-organic brands package smaller peas that taste closer to canned peas than fresh ones—they have a sort of strong, earthy flavor instead of a sweet, mild one. In my experience, packaged organic peas are larger yet less uniform in size, making the product look, feel, and taste more natural. Try the different brands that are available to you, and you’ll soon find your favorite.
Create your own frozen sweet pea stash when you can: Keep your eyes peeled every June for packages of fresh shelled sweet peas in the produce section of your supermarket. Some producers make them widely available that time of year, and they’re often on sale, since they don’t have a long shelf life. This is a great opportunity to stock up and create your own stash of frozen peas: simply buy the fresh peas, spread them out over a baking sheet, and freeze until hard. Transfer the frozen peas to airtight bags or containers in portions, and use within one month if you keep them in a fridge freezer (peas are delicate, so their appearance and flavor will quickly be altered by a longer stay in a fridge freezer). If you have a chest freezer, you can pretty much keep frozen peas indefinitely—though they’ll taste best if you use them within six to twelve months.
Use the very best ingredients to make the very best risotto: As is often the case with simple, Italian-inspired dishes, using the very best ingredients you can get your hands on or afford makes the biggest difference in terms of the flavor of your final dish. In this very simple Sweet Pea Risotto, I encourage you to use low-sodium broth, or even use homemade broth if you have some on hand, as it most likely will impart a softer, milder flavor to the risotto. Also, use quality risotto rice for the creamiest texture—Arborio, Carnaroli, or Vialone Nano are all good picks—and please, please, please, only use Parmigiano-Reggiano as your cheese of choice. Learn why Parmigiano-Reggiano is my cheese of choice for any risotto, but especially this elegant Sweet Pea Risotto, below!
When you make risotto, don’t skimp on Parmigiano-Reggiano:Parmigiano-Reggiano has a sharp, nutty, salty flavor that lends a ton of flavor and an unforgettable creaminess to risotto. No need to add extra butter or cream to your risotto when you use the real stuff! Authentic Parmigiano-Reggiano is controlled under a Denominazione d’Origine Protetta (protected designation of origin), which means it has to be produced a specific way in specific regions of Italy to be awarded the name. Authentic Parmigiano-Reggiano has a stamped rind, is aged at least 12 months, and is usually labeled with its original Italian name (as opposed to just “parmesan.”) Yes, Parmigiano-Reggiano is more expensive than cheese products labeled parmesan, but you don’t need a lot to make your dishes extra special. Save it for recipes that make the most of its unique flavor, such as this sweet pea risotto!
Easily scale up the recipe to serve the number of guests you’re treating: Most risotto recipes serve 4 to 6, with ingredient quantities that are hard to split into halves or thirds. This has always annoyed me because I usually make risotto for 2 people. So I’m writing all my risotto recipes to serve 2, which means the math is easier to scale up the ingredients to serve 4 or 6 guests. Note that this sweet pea risotto recipe produces a generous 2-serving yield—you could stretch it to 3 servings if this dish is part of a more elaborate menu that includes appetizers and sides.
To prepare the sweet peas: Fill a mixing bowl with cold water, then add plenty of ice cubes to make the water ice cold.
Bring a small saucepan of water to a boil. Add the sweet peas and blanch for 1 minute. Drain and immediately transfer to ice water. Let cool for 5 minutes, then drain and pat dry.
Measure out 1 cup (250 ml) sweet peas and set aside. Using a hand blender, puree the remaining peas with the water and a pinch of salt. (You can also mash the peas and water together with a fork, then season it with salt and mix well. It’s okay if the puree isn’t super smooth.)
To prepare the risotto: Pour the broth in a medium saucepan. Bring to a slow simmer, then lower the heat, cover and gently simmer for 5 minutes. Lower the heat to the minimum, then keep warm.
In a large saute pan or a cast-iron braiser set over medium-low heat, melt the butter in the olive oil. Add the shallot and cook, stirring, until soft, 3 to 4 minutes. Add the risotto rice and stir for 2 minutes, until the grains are translucent around the edges. Add the wine and stir vigorously while the wine is bubbling up, scraping down the bottom of the pan to loosen the caramelized bits. Simmer until the wine is fully absorbed. Add 1 ladleful of the broth and simmer, stirring from time to time, until the broth is almost completely absorbed. Continue adding broth, one ladleful at a time, allowing each ladle to be absorbed before adding more.
When there's about 1 cup (250 ml) of broth left, stir in the sweet pea puree into the risotto. Add ½ cup (125 ml) broth, stir and keep cooking until the broth is almost fully absorbed. Stir in the grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese. Stir until the cheese is fully melted and incorporated. Stir in the blanched sweet peas. Season with black pepper, taste the risotto, and season with salt if needed. Stir in the remaining broth. The risotto should now be loose and super creamy. Cover and turn off the heat. The risotto can stand for about 5 minutes but should be served as soon as possible for the best texture.
SERVING: Serve the risotto in warm bowls, then garnish each serving with a drizzle of flavorful extra-virgin olive oil, fresh mint leaves, and some freshly ground black pepper, if desired. Serve immediately.
STORAGE: This sweet pea risotto is best enjoyed within minutes of being made. If you do have leftovers, refrigerate in an airtight container for up to 2 days. To reheat, transfer to a nonstick skillet, add a couple tablespoonfuls of broth or water and warm up over medium-low until the risotto is loose and hot. Serve immediately.
MAKE IT VEGETARIAN: Make sure to use vegetable broth.
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