RISI & BISI [RICE and PEAS]
When I saw these precious little jewels at the market last week my eyes lit up like a X-Mas tree! Maybe I was a little too enthusiastic about them but I find peas are so beautiful, I really do see them as jewels, pea-necklace, pea-earrings. I wouldn’t be surprised if one day I decide to show up at work adorned with peas...and I’m not even joking.
Peas are the example of nature’s perfection, their shape, the bright green color, the pods that protect them, their remarkable sweetness. They are just so perfect and so “spring”! When I find them fresh at the market I buy them in bunches and make them the same day, this time I bought a little too much. The farmer selling them said: “You’re going to be busy shelling these babies!” I said. “Not to worry, I’ll be putting everyone at home to work”. And that’s what I did. I gathered the family around, put the peas in their hands and had them shell…one at a time they were shelled and one at a time they were eaten. Their sweetness carried us away and they were gone in a blink of an eye together with my plans for lunch. That’s what peas do, they enchant you with beauty and taste. Not always will you find them so sweet, the longer they sit the more they become starchy and lose all their sweetness. So if you can’t pick them straight from the plant, make sure you purchase them fresh, crunchy, bright green and use them preferably the same day. Having these peas been so sweet also proved me that the farmer was trustworthy, selling a very fresh product, so I went back and bought some more. Of course he recognized me right away as the pea lover, wait till he sees me with my pea-earrings, he’ll never forget me after that! :-)
My recent trip to Venice inspired me to prepare a risi & bisi soup (rice & peas). This traditional Venetian dish is served on April 25 for the Feast of St. Mark’s, to celebrate the arrival of the new season’s peas. You can definitely use frozen peas but the whole purpose of this recipe is to use fresh peas, otherwise it’s not risi e bisi but just rice and peas. Needless to say that the flavor of fresh peas is one of a kind. The consistency of risi e bisi should be liquidy and more of a soup than a risotto although I prefer my risi e bisi less soupy and more like risotto. Degustibus non disputandum est! (in matters of taste, there can be no disputes).
2 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp butter
1 glass dry white wine
2 small spring onion - thinly sliced
8 slices of prosciutto thinly sliced and chopped
1 handful (or 1 cup) rice per person preferably vialone nano, in absence carnaroli or arborio
4 cups (or more) vegetable broth (made with 1 carrot, 1 onion, 1 celery stick, salt)
3 cups fresh spring peas
fresh chopped herbs parsley, thyme, chives (optional)
Place a wide pot (I like to use copper pots for risotto) on medium heat, add the olive oil and butter, when the oil and butter are hot add the sliced spring onions and stir until soft. Add the prosciutto and peas, stir constantly for 2 minutes. Add the rice, continue to stir for 2-3 minutes. Pour in the white wine and stir. When the rice absorbs the wine add the vegetable broth, 1 cup at a time, let the rice absorb the broth before you add another cup. Stir constantly. Taste for salt and add if necessary. Cook the rice al dente. The finished rice should be soupy, although I prefer mine with less liquid. Add the parmesan, some butter and fresh herbs, give the rice a final stir and serve.