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In the run-up to Ash Wednesday earlier this week Venetians ended their 12-day Carnevale celebration. It was their last raucous blow-out before the arrival of Lent and 40-days of fasting.
The traditional festivities and the arrival of the first of the spring vegetables in the market compelled me to make this simple yet elegant rice and spring pea Venetian classic. Wearing my Venetian Pulcinella mask in the kitchen didn’t hurt getting in the mood either.
Risi e bisi is best made early in the spring when the peas are small and sweet. You can make this dish with larger peas later in the season or frozen peas too but it’s at it’s best when those first shiny green pea pods first appear in the market. This is not a risotto it’s a very thick soup.
Vegetarians don’t miss out on this one. Just switch out the beef broth for vegetable broth. You won’t be sorry, I guarantee.
You can eat it with a fork but I prefer a spoon so I get some of the creamy broth in each bite. The slightly firm center of the Arborio rice lends just the right textural balance to the soft, sweet peas. The earthy beef broth adds remarkable flavor depth to the dish. A sprinkle of nutty grated parmigiano and the simple but complex risi e bisi is ready to start your eating celebration.
I love to have risi e bisi as a first course or as a side for fish and meats. And if you have any left over make my suppli al telefono, fried rice balls with a surprise in the center.
Put a enamel or heavy-bottomed pot over medium heat. Add the butter and when melted add the onions and saute until the onions take on a light golden color.
Add the peas and sea salt to taste and saute for 2 minutes stirring frequently.
Add 3½ cups of broth and cook at a rapid simmer for 10 minutes.
Add the rice and parsley and stir. Cover the pot and cook at a rapid simmer until the rice is tender but still firm, about 15 minutes stirring occasionally. The rice and peas should still be a bit soupy. Add a bit more broth if necessary.
Off the heat add the grated parmigiano and stir well into the rice and peas.
Add a grind of black pepper and sea salt if necessary and stir well.
Put the risi e bisi in individual bowls or a large serving bowl, top with a sprinkle of grated parmigiano.
Pass additional grated parmigiano at the table in case your guests want a bit more.
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As a kid I pigged out this time of the year. I knew I’d have to give up stuff for Lent and usually that included a favorite sweet.
So if chocolate was on the 40-day “don’t do” list I ate as much chocolate as I could during the run-up to Ash Wednesday.
If you observe Lent and you’re giving up sweets you gotta make this special rice cake right away. You only have 4 days before Lent starts.
It really doesn’t take much effort to make and you get a huge payoff that will hold you over until Easter.
Just boil the rice in milk flavored with a vanilla bean, lemon and orange zest. When the rice is cool mix in raisins, orange zest and egg yolks spiked with orange liqueur. Then fold in fluffy beaten egg whites pour it into a baking pan and stick it in the oven. How easy is that?
The orange and vanilla bean scented arborio rice is tender, light and moist. The plump raisins add a touch of sweetness and the orange zest a fresh perky note. The golden crustless edge is an extra tasty treat. A dollop of whipped cream finishes the cake in style.
If you love rice pudding this cake will take you to a whole new level of ecstasy.
Rice cake is even better the next day so make sure you make enough. That way you’ll be sure to satisfy your craving and have a leg up on making it through Lent.
We had fun in the Cookhouse kitchen in North Beach. I was still on this kick cooking the food of Roma and Napoli so I could get in the groove for an upcoming trip to those cities. Stay tuned for some episodes we shot in Italia!
Suppli are tasty egg-shaped fried rice balls. The surprise in the middle give them their name.
You may know these as arancini. They remind Sicilians of oranges. But in Rome, they’re called suppli al telefono for the telephone lines formed when you bite into melted mozzarella at the center.
The rice inside the crispy crust is flavored by a thick flavorful tomato-meat sauce. The best bite is when you hit the oozing mozzarella telephone lines in the center.
½ pound fresh mozzarella cheese, cut into rectangles the size and shape of large sugar cubes (about 24 pieces)
Olive oil, preferably extra-virgin, for deep-frying
To make the tomato mixture:
In a small bowl, combine the mushrooms with warm water to cover and let stand for 15 minutes to rehydrate. Drain, squeeze out the excess liquid and chop finely.
In a fry pan over medium-high heat, heat the olive oil. Add the beef, onion and mushrooms and sauté until the meat is no longer red, about 5 minutes.
Add the tomato puree and salt and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer, uncovered, until the sauce has reduced by about one-third, about 20 minutes. Remove from the heat and let cool.
To make the rice:
Bring a large saucepan three-fourths full of water to a rapid boil over high heat.
Add the 1 tablespoon of sea salt and the rice and cook, stirring occasionally with a wooden spoon, until the rice has softened but is still al dente, 10 to 12 minutes. Drain the rice and spread it out on a large platter or roasting pan to cool slightly.
When cool put the rice in a bowl and add the eggs, butter, parmigiano, a pinch of salt and the tomato mixture. Mix to combine well. Let cool to room temperature.
To form the croquettes:
Whisk the egg in a small, shallow bowl.
Pour the flour into a second shallow bowl and the breadcrumbs into a third bowl.
Using a spoon or your hands, scoop up some rice and with your hand form into a ball the size and shape of an egg to make the suppli.
With your finger, make an indentation in the side of the suppli, insert a piece of the mozzarella deep into the center and close the rice around it.
Roll the suppli in the flour to lightly cover all over, then the beaten egg coating it all over, and then roll in the bread crumbs, again coating evenly.
Place the ball on a large, flat plate or tray. Repeat with the remaining rice and cheese, evenly coating each suppli.
When all the suppli are formed, cover the plate and refrigerate the suppli for at least 1 hour or up to overnight before cooking.
Preheat an oven to 200°F. You can keep the suppli warm on a sheet pan in the oven as you cook them.
To cook the suppli:
In a heavy saucepan or deep, heavy fry pan, pour in olive oil to a depth of at least 2 inches and over medium-high heat the oil until a bit of rice dropped into the hot oil sizzles immediately on contact.
Working in batches, fry the supply, turning as needed to color evenly, until they are a deep sunburned color and have a nice crisp crust, 5 to 7 minutes.
With a slotted spoon, transfer to paper towels to drain, then transfer to the platter in the oven while you fry the remaining croquettes.
Serve the croquettes while the mozzarella core is still hot. They may be eaten with a knife and fork, but for the traditional telephone-cord effect, they should be eaten by hand so the telephone line forms as you bite into the mozzarella center.