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Renee Comet for USA WEEKEND.
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Sidedish

Judge at first bite
March 12 is the season finale of Lawson’s popular TV series The Taste — a show on which a dish’s merits are judged by a single bite in a blind tasting. “However hard it might feel,” says Lawson, “I do think that there is an honesty about it, as the palate doesn’t lie.”

Pea sized?
The English pea variety known as “Mr. Big” was introduced in 2000, named for its 4- to 6-inch pods — the largest on the market.

Carb Loading
When it comes to pasta, Italians have us beat, forks down. The average American consumes 19.4 pounds each year, while the average Italian twirls 57 pounds. That’s a lotta pasta.

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Nigella Lawson’s “pasta risotto” recipe just so happens to be the favorite dish of her teenage children. “It’s risotto, without the stirring,” says Lawson, a native of England who has at times lived in Italy. “This is food even teenagers can cook.”

Indeed, the recipe is simple. But it’s also elegant enough to dazzle at a dinner party. Still, Lawson is the first to point out that “pasta risotto” is not exactly steeped in tradition (although it is somewhat of a trend in Italy right now). “I wanted to pay homage to Italian food in this cookbook, but not pretend to be Italian,” she explains. “Even though, inside my heart, I still in many ways feel like I am.”

Pasta Risotto with Peas & Pancetta

2 Tbs. garlic-flavored oil (or add a peeled garlic clove to regular olive oil and cook until golden; discard garlic, use oil)
6 ounces cubed pancetta (or diced, thick-cut bacon)
1 1/4 cups frozen petits pois (petite peas)
8 ounces orzo pasta
2 1/2 cups boiling water
• Salt, to taste
1 Tb. soft butter
2 Tbs. grated Parmesan
• Pepper, to taste

Warm the oil in a heavy pan that will take everything later; a Dutch oven or saucepan of 10 inches diameter should be plenty big enough. Add the pancetta and cook, stirring, until it becomes crisp and bronzed, then add the peas and stir for a minute or so until the frozen look leaves them.

Add the pasta and turn it about in the pancetta and peas, then pour in the boiling water. Add salt (cautiously, especially if this is for children — the pancetta is salty, as is the Parmesan later); then turn down the heat and let simmer for 10 minutes, though check on it a couple of times and give a stir or two, to stop it from sticking and to see if you need to add a little more water from the kettle.

When it’s ready, the pasta should be soft and starchy and the water absorbed. Beat the butter and Parmesan into the pan, check the seasoning, and serve immediately into warm waiting bowls.

Yield: 4 servings

Per serving (about 1 cup): 488 calories, 48g carbohydrates, 16g protein, 25g fat (9g saturated), 3g fiber, 40mg cholesterol, 806mg sodium

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