Risi e Bisi
Peas were always a contested food at my family’s table. My sister and my Oma loved them, but I always thought that they were gross, and I still kind of do. This is not 100% true, I’ve learned to appreciate them when mixed in with something else, like in a Nasi Goreng, in a curry, a samosa or maybe even a soup. I would have never make something where the pea was the focal point of the dish, and then I did.
The truth is that fresh peas in their pods are hard to find in the States, I spent a lot of time at Farmers Markets in Charleston and would see them already shelled, which didn’t excite me, but really never saw them in their pods. I remember having fresh peas once in NY when my roommate came home with them from the Green Market in Union Square. Other than that, they have mainly been frozen and canned peas in my life. Fresh is always best, and in the case of the pea it is the absolute truth. When I saw them at the market here, I grew up and bought a half kilo to experiment with and see if I enjoyed the real thing better than their preserved brothers in cans and bags.
My husband requested pasta e piselli, but I wanted to explore a regional specialty from the Veneto and made Risi e Bisi instead. I have made Risi e Bisi’s distant Gullah cousin before, Reezy Peezy, but had never even tasted the real thing. Not something that I would have ordered at a restaurant and my Veneto roommate in Florence barely knew how to boil water, let alone actually make a meal. I followed two different recipes which had very different approaches. Lidia’s was more of a soup and as most of her recipes really follow traditional cooking styles, it was probably closer to the real thing than the recipe that I ended up following from Mario Batali’s cookbook, which was more like a traditional risotto.
All in all it was really delicious, I can honestly say that I like peas, but only if they are fresh. I still don’t think that I will eat them by the spoonful like my sister will, but I may actually try to make pasta e piselli before the season is over.
Risi e Bisi
- 3 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
- ¼ lb pancetta, cut into small cubes
- 1 small onion, diced (shallots would be better and Lidia suggested leeks, which sounds divine, but I couldn’t find them)
- 1½ cups arborio rice
- 1½ cups freshly shelled peas (frozen peas will also work, but won’t cook for as much time)
- 8 cups chicken stock, heated until hot
- ½ cup freshly grated Grana Padano or Parmigiano-Reggiano for serving
- Freshly ground black pepper
In an 10- to 12-inch sauté pan, combine the olive oil, onions and pancetta and cook over medium heat until the onions are softened but not browned.
Add the rice and coat it in the oil, toasting it a bit. When the rice becomes opaque, after about 1 minute, add a ladleful of broth to the pan and continue stirring. Repeat one or two times and add the fresh peas. Continue adding the broth as the rice absorbs it, you want it to almost dry out before adding the broth each time. When the rice is finished it should be al dente and all of the liquid should be absorbed. Remove from heat and let it sit in the pan for a few minutes. Serve immediately with grated grana padana or parmigiano-reggiano for sprinkling on top.
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