The Perfect "Risi e Bisi"
Risi e bisi, that Venetian classic of creamy rice and peas might appear a staple from the now fashionable (and ironically named) “La Cucina Povera” but its roots couldn't be any more regal.
Since the 16th century, it has been offered with some ceremony to the Doge (the leader) of Venice on April 25th, the feast of St Mark, the patron saint of the city.
Why rice and peas? Rice was universally considered a fertility symbol
(think of rice thrown on brides) while peas were typically grown in the region and at their sweetest at this time of year.
This dish made an appearance in the writer, Carlo Goldoni's verses while during the Italian unification, the cry of 'rise e bisi e fragole' was used to denote the colours of the future Italian flag (white, green and red).
Ingredients (Serves 4)
1kg young peas in their pods
1l good chicken or vegetable stock
2 tbsp olive oil
1 small onion, finely chopped
100g pancetta (optional)
250g vialone nano rice (or carnaroli if you can’t find it)
50g parmesan, finely grated
Small handful of mint or flat-leaf parsley leaves
Pod the peas. Fill a pan with 1.5l of water and put just enough pods in there to be submerged. Discard the rest. Bring to the boil, then turn down the heat and simmer for 30-60 minutes until reduced by about half.
Strain and discard the pods. Add the pea liquid to the chicken stock and bring back to a simmer.
In a heavy based saucepan, melt half the butter with the oil, and then add the onion and cook until it begins to soften. Add the pancetta and cook for another five minutes or so, until it begins to release its fat. Stir in the rice and cook until all the grains are well coated with fat and begin to look translucent, then turn up the heat a little and add a ladleful of stock.
Cook, stirring all the while, until most of the liquid has been absorbed, then repeat until the rice is tender and the dish has a thick, soupy consistency (you may not need all the stock). Add the peas after about 12 minutes.
Once the dish is ready, stir in the cheese and remaining butter, cover and leave to sit for five minutes. Season to taste, divide between shallow bowls and top with the herbs.
Halfway between a soup and a risotto, nothing says comfort food during this 'four seasons in one day' weather than this extremely easy to make Venetian dish.