Growing up, I never thought too much of prickly pear (or fico d’India in Italian, or “ficupala” as we call it in Sicily). Cactuses (or is it cacti???) grow easily in Sicily and you see them on the sides of streets everywhere (swipe to see a photo I took on my last visit).
The fruits are usually at their best at this time of the year and experienced Sicilians rarely wear gloves when picking or peeling them - something I strongly encourage you to do instead!
Recently, prickly pears have come into the spotlight for being an insanely healthy fruit. We usually eat them on their own or use them in desserts like granita (a kind of sorbet).
I’m more of a savoury type and I love using fruits in savoury dishes. So here’s one for you.
Carnaroli rice - 160g
Prickly pears - 5, skin removed
Shallot - 1 large, chopped very finely
Extra virgin olive oil - 2 tbsp
Vegetable stock - 1l (or more if needed)
Gorgonzola (or other kind of blue cheese like roquefort or Cornish blue)
Dried red chilli - 1, crushed (optional)
Nutmeg - 1/3 tsp
Salt - to taste
Roughly chop the prickly pears and puree them in a blender. The fruit has naturally a lot of seeds, so pass the puree through a thin-net sieve and discard the seeds. Set the puree aside.
Heat a pan and toast the rice. Then add oil, onion and as soon as it becomes translucent, lower the heat and start adding the vegetable stock one ladle at a time, stirring continuously. Keep the stock warm on a very low flame in a separate pot - you don’t want the stock to lower the risotto temperature when you add it.
Whenever the stock evaporates, add one or two more ladles and keep stirring frequently. After about 10 minutes, add the prickly pear puree and mix well.
Adjust salt (keeping in mind both stock and cheese are salty) if needed and add stock until the rice is cooked through and has reached a creamy (but not too watery) consistency.
Turn off the heat and add gorgonzola, nutmeg and chilli (if using). Serve immediately.