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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.
Before you go, have a listen to Wynton Marsalis’ Carnival of Venice. I hope you’re inspired. Buon appetito!
- 2 tablespoons chopped yellow onion
- ¼ cup unsalted butter
- 2 pounds fresh unshelled peas
- 3½ cups beef, chicken or vegetable broth
- 1 cup Arborio rice
- 2 tablespoons chopped Italian flat leaf parsley
- ½ cup grated parmigiano
- Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
- 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.