#23 / RISI & BISI ISN’T A TONGUE-TWISTER
On 25th April, the residents of Venice celebrate Saint Mark, the patron saint of the city. Spring is in full bloom, and the stalls at the Rialto market are brimming with vegetables, all strictly local.
In fact, the fruit and vegetables you can find here come from very nearby indeed: from Sant’Erasmo, to be precise, one of the largest islands in the Venetian Lagoon. It’s practically a gigantic floating garden!
Thanks to its clay soil and its location near the sea, Sant’Erasmo is a veritable treasure trove of delicious delicacies, many of which are native to the island, including violet artichokes, asparagus, cardoons and monk’s beard. And of course, sweet and delectable peas.
We’ve already talked about peas, the quintessential spring vegetable, here. But today, let’s set aside cuttlefish and discover how delicious peas can be when combined with rice.
And so, we turn our attention to Risi & Bisi, a traditional recipe from this area. It sounds like a tongue-twister, but it’s actually a simple, rustic kind of soup made with rice (risi) and peas (bisi).
Neither liquid like a soup, nor dry like a risotto, Risi & Bisi has a soft, creamy texture all of its own.
And there couldn’t be a better day to talk about it. Traditionally, it was the dish offered to the Doge of Venice for the feast day of Saint Mark. The Doge was the highest office of the Republic of Venice, which lasted from 697 to 1797.
Over 1,100 years, 120 Doges took command of the Most Serene Republic. Who knows how many dishes of Risi & Bisi were eaten!
RISI & BISI, OR RICE AND PEAS
[preparation time: about half an hour]
Ingredients [serves 4]
- 360 g Arborio rice (the traditional recipe calls for Vialone Nano rice, but this may be more difficult to get your hands on)
- 1 kg peas (frozen are fine if peas are not in season)
- 1 onion
- 40 g butter
- 6 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- 1.5 litres vegetable broth (pre-made broth or stock cubes are fine, as long as it’s vegetable broth)
- 100 g pancetta (optional)
- Grated Parmesan cheese (to taste)
- A bunch of parsley
- Pepper (to taste)
- Salt (to taste)
- A large bowl
- A colander (or large sieve)
- A cutting board
- A sharp knife
- A high-sided pan (a wok is ideal)
- A wooden spoon
It’s best to prepare Risi & Bisi using fresh peas: shell them by opening the pods lengthwise, collect the peas in a bowl filled with cold water, and rinse them well.
Drain them using a colander or sieve.
If you’re using frozen peas, leave them in the freezer while you prepare the base. Using the cutting board, finely chop the onion, then chop the parsley by hand. If you want to add pancetta, dice it.
Pour 4 tablespoons of oil into the pan over a moderate heat. Add half of the butter. Once the butter has melted, add the onion and let it sauté over a low heat until golden brown. When the onion becomes translucent, add the pancetta.
DIETARY TIP: you can fry the pancetta before the onion without oil, since its own fat will grease the pan. In this case, add the onion after the pancetta, once the fat has melted.
TIP FOR VEGANS: you can make the base without butter by adding half a glass of water to the oil. And, of course, you’ll want to forget about the pancetta altogether!
However, you choose to fry your base ingredients, add most of the parsley to the pan and brown everything over a low heat – burnt onion is like the devil: it is best avoided! ;)
Now you can add the peas – directly from the freezer if you’re using frozen peas.
Add 2 tablespoons of oil and the vegetable broth. Turn up the heat and bring everything to a boil. Then add the rice and season with a pinch of salt. Let it cook (uncovered) over a moderate heat for the time indicated on the packaging of the rice.
Remember! Don’t leave your Risi & Bisi to its fate – stir it from time to time, adding a little water if the mixture dries out too much. The ability of rice to absorb water varies considerably depending on the type, so keep a close eye!
Risi & Bisi shouldn’t be too dry, but rather a sort of thick soup. When it’s cooked, turn off the heat: it’s time to make it creamy!
Add the remaining butter, in one piece. Let it melt, then mix well and finish with grated cheese, a generous sprinkling of pepper and the rest of the fresh parsley.
And voila, your regal meal is ready to enjoy – as if you were at the Doge’s table!
Buon appetito! 💗