Pea and asparagus soup with pancetta and rice

Serves 4

This soup could almost be served up as a meal in itself: sloppy, thick and chock-full of good things. It is one of my favourite soups that we cook at this time of year.

40g/11/2oz unsalted butter
1 red onion, finely chopped
1 eighth-inch slab of pancetta
1 bunch of mint
150g/5oz rice such as calasparro or carneroli
1 litre/13/4 pints chicken stock
200g/7oz fresh peas, podded
1 bunch of asparagus, woody ends removed where they will happily bend and snap
75g/3oz freshly grated Parmesan cheese
Sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper

Place a large, heavy-based pan over a low heat. Add the butter and, when it has dissolved, add the chopped onion, pancetta and mint. Season with a little salt and pepper, and sweat gently for 15 minutes – the onions should be translucent but not brown.

Now add the rice and stir well to coat in the onion and butter. Cook for 10 minutes until the rice is just beginning to become slightly translucent around the edges. Pour over the chicken stock and increase the heat slightly. Cook until the rice is just beginning to become tender, but definitely still has a chalky bite.

At this point, add the podded peas and continue to cook until the peas are really tender – this will take five minutes or so but taste them just to make sure. Chop the asparagus into slices of about eighth of an inch and add to the soup along with the Parmesan cheese.

Taste and season generously with salt and pepper, remove the bunch of mint and the pancetta, ladle into bowls, and serve.

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