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Green risotto, an enviable dish for a French starlet

Green risotto, an enviable dish for a French starlet
Green rice: Tony Jackman’s green risotto, made with peas, French green beans, celery and leeks. 6 May 2024. (Photo: Tony Jackman)

Juliette Binoche was not yet the grande dame she is now when I first laid eyes on her. In 1989, she and I were both green. She was a young actress with a handful of movies behind her, a starlet with a bright future. I was a young reporter covering the Cannes Film Festival. She did not know I was there.

There were stars, in the sky and on the ground. Some danced in the blue heavens, others strode effortlessly along red carpets. But of all of the stars in the sky, there was one that captivated me, Venus rising as surely as the sun would dip every evening in Cannes. And another star right there, only metres away yet as remote from me as the farthest galaxy. Mademoiselle Juliette Binoche.

Back in the future, there were peas, so many peas. And then there were beans, perky, slim and French, as mesmerising as a young Juliette Binoche posing for a photographer at the Cannes film festival. And there were leeks, the longest leeks you ever saw. Note that I did not say anything about Madame Binoche’s legs; that was in your mind. When my mind emerged from its little reverie in the vegetable store, the beans and the peas, the celery and the leeks, all amalgamated into a dish in my mind: green risotto.

I really did see the lovely Juliette once, and it was at the Cannes film festival, and she was posing for a photographer. Nobody else saw her. I was standing on a deck several storeys high at the Palais des Festivals, a ship-like building overlooking the yacht basin, and two storeys below a single photographer was snapping her in a black dress against the railing, with the sea and the yachts at moor below her. A sleek white private yacht cruised in the sea beyond. “David Bowie’s,” someone had said. I looked left and right and knew that I was entirely alone, but for the two strangers below. An intimate moment between starlet and cameraman, snapped in my mind. I see it now.

It does help to have a photographic memory when you cook as much as I do. I often see the completed dish even before I have assembled the ingredients. Like an artist painting a picture in his mind before brush touches canvas. Like a cinematographer picturing what the scene would look like in the cinema, just you immersed with the screen and its gilded story. 

The green for my risotto would come from the bright hues of the peas and the beans, with paler touches from celery and leek. But peas would predominate, as they would be blended into a purée as well as being round and whole in the rice.

The purée would need garlic and mint, too. A touch of lemon to set the colour. And crème fraîche for creaminess and for body, for the purée as well as the texture of the risotto. 

Being a risotto, it needs wine as well, of course, and stock. This would be vegetable stock, for simplicity. As of writing until this point, I haven’t begun cooking it as yet, I am only picturing it in my mind, but this is where we are headed. Let’s see how it turns out. With luck, it will be worthy of serving to Madame Binoche.

(Serves 2 | multiply if serving more people)

Ingredients

Olive oil, generously

1 medium white onion, diced

2 celery stalks, diced thinly

3 garlic cloves, crushed and chopped finely, for the risotto

2 large leeks, sliced thinly

250 arborio rice

A handful of fresh French beans (the slim ones), topped and tailed, veins removed

500 g frozen peas (250g each for the risotto and the purée)

3 mint sprigs, for blanching the peas

2 garlic cloves, crushed and chopped finely, for the purée

8 mint leaves, finely chopped, for the purée

250 ml crème fraîche

Squeeze of lemon juice

1 star anise

1.5 litres vegetable stock

500 ml decent dry white wine

Salt to taste

Black pepper to taste

Method

Have all your ingredients ready before starting to cook your risotto: Pour the stock into a suitable jug or bowl (I use a 2-litre jug) and add the wine. Have all the vegetables prepared and the olive oil to hand. 

Blanch the beans and peas before starting to make the risotto. 

Bring a big pot of water to the boil, lightly salted. Top and tail the green beans, strip away the veins. Plunge them into the rapidly boiling water and boil for about 2 minutes. Tip into a colander, run very cold or ice water through, and leave to drain. When cold, slice into 1.5 cm pieces. Ish.

Add the mint sprigs to the same water, return to a boil, tip 250g of the frozen peas in and bring it back to a boil. Cook for 2 minutes, tip into a colander, run cold water through, and drain. Discard the mint.

When cool, pour 250g of the peas into a food processor and add the crème fraîche, chopped garlic, a squeeze of lemon juice, chopped mint, salt and black pepper, and blend until it’s a rough purée. Not too fine, it needs a bit of texture.

Pour olive oil into a deep, wide, heavy pan (I use a Le Creuset buffet) and put it on a moderate heat. Add the onions, celery and garlic and sautée, stirring, until just softened but not coloured. Remove the contents to a side dish.

Add more oil and the leeks to the same pan and stir and cook for 4 or 5 minutes. Once the leeks have softened, scoop all of the contents into the side bowl with the onions in it.

Put the pan back on the heat and pour in a generous amount of olive oil. Add the rice and the star anise, and immediately move the rice around in the olive oil, using a wooden spoon or pliable spatula, and make sure that every grain of rice is coated. Add a little more oil and continue for a minute or two.

Fish out the star anise. It’s done its work.

Season the risotto with salt and black pepper. Continue adding more of the stock, then stirring gently while the rice absorbs it, until you have only about a half cup of stock/wine left in the jug. Keep this for later.

Add the leeks, onions, beans and remaining peas back to the risotto, and cook, stirring, for a minute or two or until it has heated through. Leave about 4 Tbsp of the pea purée for serving, and quickly stir the rest into the risotto. Add the last bit of stock, stir gently while it heats through, and serve immediately in bowls.

Spoon the remaining pea purée on top of the risotto, garnished with a mint sprig, the way you might serve it to a French starlet. (Keep leftover risotto to turn into arancini.) DM

Tony Jackman is Galliova Food Writer 2023, jointly with TGIFood columnist Anna Trapido. Order his book, foodSTUFF, here

Follow Tony Jackman on Instagram @tony_jackman_cooks.

This dish is photographed in a risotto bowl by Mervyn Gers Ceramics.

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