Peas and Rice. Simple. Perfect. I learned about this dish when I went to Venice one summer. It was the summer that I got a wild hair up my ass and decided to leave everything behind for a month and kick around Europe. Granted, I should’ve done this as a young woman and not the… ahem… older woman I was when I went. I had a blast anyway.
It was the first vacation I’d ever taken alone. It was also the longest vacation I’d ever taken. And I included a 9 day hut-to-hut hiking trip through the Swiss Alps. I spent the next twenty days tooling around the Italian countryside by train. I got comfortable in my own skin on that trip. Alone. By myself in a foreign country or two. I met up with some girlfriends in Rome, but other than that… it was all me all the time.
I scheduled a couple of things before I left on my trip. One of those was a cooking class in Venice. And in that cooking class, I learned to make risi e bisi old school from a gracious native hostess. I’ve never forgotten her or the dish.
The recipe uses a combination of broth and wine. Many use just broth. The ones who view risi e bisi as the food to prepare as a herald of spring will find fresh peas and use the water from the cooking peas as the broth to make risi e bisi. I am not so exuberant in my greeting of Spring. 😉
Risi e Bisi
14-ounce bag frozen peas (a full pound is fine, too)
4 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons onion, chopped
4 cups chicken stock, or 2 cups stock/2 cups white wine, or 4 cups pea broth
1 cup Arborio rice
1/2 cup Parmesan, freshly grated
In a soup pot or dutch oven, melt the butter over medium heat. Add the onion and sauté until it becomes lightly golden. In a separate pot, heat the stock until it reaches a simmer.
Once the onion is ready, add 3 cups of the simmering stock, the rice, the bag of frozen peas, and a good pinch of salt. Cover the pot and and cook at a low boil for about 20 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the rice is just tender. If the soup is too thick, thin it slightly with the remaining stock; it should be thick but not porridge. When the rice is ready, add the grated Parmesan and taste for salt. Serve.
More Difficult Method:
Once onions are translucent, add rice to pot. Cook for a few minutes until rice starts absorbing the oil. Add in half a cup of liquid and cook while stirring. Cook down until almost all liquid is absorbed, add another half up of liquid. Cook while stirring until most of the liquid has been absorbed. Continue until all liquid has been cooked. In the last half cup of liquid, add peas. Taste and adjust seasoning. Don’t over salt if adding grated Parm as the cheese will add salt naturally.
* you can add diced pancetta or bacon to the pot with the onions to give it a different flavor or you can add crispy bacon bits at the end along with crunchy fried onions as a garnish. But this is a simple dish created to showcase new Spring peas.