Toasting the walnuts and gently crisping the sage in the rendered pancetta fat transforms the ingredients and intensifies their flavors. Blending with a creamy risotto and Parmesean yields a complex, warm winter meal. —Meg Salvia
Test Kitchen Notes
The texture of the walnuts in the risotto made this dish shine. Of course, the subtle, but complementary sage, completed the recipe and I loved the crisp sage. All in all, this was a very serviceable risotto made interesting by the addition of the pancetta, sage and toasted walnut garnishes. I would definitely make it again and serve it at a dinner party, although I might use butter instead of olive oil and increase the amount of sage leaves by half. —Tarragon
Heat the oven to 400-degrees. Spread the walnuts evenly on a baking sheet. Toast the walnuts for about 10 minutes, until fragrant. Check on them around 5 minutes to be sure they don't burn. Meanwhile, combine the chicken stock and 2 cups of water together in a small sauce pot on a back burner and bring to a simmer over low heat.
In a large skillet, heat the pancetta over medium heat. Cook until fat has rendered and pancetta is browned and slightly crisp on the outside, about 10 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the pancetta to a plate lined with a paper towel. Add the sage leaves to the fat remaining in the pan and allow to crisp, another 5 minutes. Remove the sage and transfer to a cutting board.
Chop the leek and shallot. Add them to whatever pancetta fat remains in the skillet. Add 1 Tablespoon olive oil to further grease the pan, if needed. Cook until the vegetables are soft, but not fully browned, about another 10 minutes.
Add the Arborio rice to the skillet and cook the grains until the edges start to turn translucent, 2-3 minutes. Add the white wine and stir until it is absorbed. After the wine is absorbed, add 1/2 cup of the simmering chicken stock to the rice. Stir slowly, allowing the rice to absorb the liquid. Cook the risotto over medium heat until creamy; continue adding stock by the 1/2-cup periodically as the liquid absorbs. Cooking the risotto will require about 30 minutes and 4 cups of stock. Add more water to the sauce pot containing the chicken stock if more liquid is needed.
When the risotto is fully cooked, chop the crisped sage, then add it to the skillet along with the pancetta, toasted walnuts, and Parmesean cheese. Serve immediately.