Spring signifies new beginnings, and this could not be truer than what is happening now. We are emerging from the long slumber of winter and darkness that enveloped us in so many ways. As vaccine’s blanket the country we too awaken like the hibernating animals. Leaves are popping out on dark branches and plants push up through the ground. In my little corner of the world the first thing I see are crocus and forsythia, and they make me so very happy. Easter and Passover mark spring for the faithful, rice represents fertility, and peas are a typical spring vegetable for chefs. I’m not sure if the juxtaposition of holidays and vegetables work .. but I’m going to run with it, as this post will hopefully bind them all.
I’ve spent the past year honing my virtual skills as many of you, and pivoting like everyone else, all the while trying to keep our life some what normal. Dare I say, the “new” normal? Over the past year I’ve had the great joy of continuing to do cooking classes through my home kitchen, which has been amazing. Recently I introduced a wonderful Venetian dish to the ladies of the New York Junior League. Always on hand, behind the camera and in front, was my wonderful husband Larry. The pandemic brought the mixologist out in him. We have, and continue to enjoy, a treasure trove of incredible cocktails. I tasked him with creating something spring-like for the ladies and he knocked it out of the park. (Recipe below!)
My inspiration for this post is April 25th, a day of celebration in Italy. Not only is it Liberation Day, but a day of commemoration in Venice with the Feast of San Marco, patron saint of the city. It wouldn’t be a “feast” if we did not talk about food, right? (See how I brought that full circle?) Today I have my take on the delicious and relatively easy dish Risi e Bisi, or Rice and Peas. The origins of this dish date back to the 16th century in Venice, and celebrate spring. You can read a wonderful explanation here.
Let’s talk about the dish: You are not going to get more “spring” than this dish. The two main components are rice and peas. This dish falls somewhere between a traditional risotto and soup. In most recipes the peas are cooked right along the risotto. That is probably the biggest departure for me with the traditional recipes. Cooking any green vegetable for more than a few minutes will render them an army green color. The taste will likely be just fine, the color, not so much. You can deal with that issue easily with one extra step right at the beginning by blanching your fresh peas for 2 minutes and then shocking them in ice water. They get added right at the end and finish cooking as the dish is being plated. If you can’t find fresh peas, frozen will do. Just get yourself a good quality organic brand.
The traditional dish incorporates pancetta, as many Italian dishes do. While this does add a level of complexity to your overall dish, you can skip the pancetta if you are not a fan.
Let’s talk about the rice for a minute. There are three options of risotto rice you can use. First, the easiest to find is arborio. It is the most commonly used and widely available. It tends to easily over cook and can get sticky. That said, it’s a good workhorse when it comes to risotto rice. Next is carnaroli, grown in the Piedmont and Lombardy regions. This variety is best for risotto. Like arborio, it is creamy and rich, but it holds its shape better than arborio, making it easier to avoid a gummy, overcooked texture. Last we have vialone nano, the stubbiest grain of the three, grown in Veneto region of Italy and ideal for rise e bisi.
This dish starts as just like a risotto: sweat the onions and garlic, add the rice and cook for a minute or two. Deglaze with wine and then add your stock. My go-to stock, as I’ve mentioned before is Better than Bouillon. You have much more control over flavor than box stock, but by all means use your favorite.
In the end you are looking for a looser overall texture to the dish, somewhere between soup and traditional risotto. Add the peas at the very end to keep the vibrant color. Finish with onion tops for a little bite, lemon for brightness and mint for herbaceous.
Tag me on Instagram of you make it!
Risi e Bisi
3 oz. pancetta, small dice, optional if you are not a fan
1 cup, white spring onion bulbs, small dice, green tops thinly sliced for garnish
1 clove garlic, minced
Extra virgin olive oil
Ground black pepper
4 cups of vegetable or chicken broth
1 cup fresh peas, or frozen, see note
¾ cup, about 4.5 oz. vialone nano risotto rice, see note
½ cup light wine (Pinot Grigio, Sauvignon Blanc or even Rose’
½ lemon, zested and juiced
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 cup fresh, hand grated Parmesan cheese, see note
¼ cup chopped mint
- Saute the pancetta for 2-3 minutes, if using, over medium heat. Remove once it’s crisped and set aside. Add the onion, garlic and if needed a little olive oil. (You need about 1 tablespoon.) Season with ½ teaspoon of salt and pepper. Allow the onions to sweat and become translucent, about 3 minutes.
- While the pancetta and onion cook bring your stock to a low boil and if using fresh peas blanch them for 2 minutes, remove the peas to a bowl of ice water to stop the cooking, and drain. Keep the stock at a low simmer and be sure it is well seasoned.
- Add the risotto to the pan and cook for 1 minute, until grains become slightly translucent. Add the wine to deglaze the pan and let the alcohol cook off and evaporate, 1-2 minutes.
- Add about 2 cups of stock to pan and set your timer for 10 minutes. Let the risotto cook until almost absorbed. Keep an eye on the pan. You want the rice to cook, but not too fast. A nice low simmer is perfect. Stir occasionally and taste for seasoning and texture.
- Add another cup of stock and set the timer for 5 minutes. Add the lemon zest and juice. Stir to combine. Add the fresh peas next. Taste again for seasoning.
- Your rice should be perfectly al dente at this point and there should be some liquid not yet absorbed.
- To finish add another ½ -1 cup of stock, but only if needed. Remember, this dish is a cross between soup and risotto. What you want is a very loose texture.
- The last step in any risotto dish is to “mantecato,” or “make creamy.” Add a tablespoon of butter and stir vigorously, then add the Parmesan. Taste for seasoning one last time and gently mix in the mint and onion tops. Garnish with the crispy pancetta.
- Serve immediately.
Peas: If using frozen peas add them at Step 7 just as you are finishing the dish.
Rice: The best risotto rice for the dish is Vialone Nano. This variety will yield the creamiest Risi e Bisi. You can find this variety in most Italian markets, and on line with Amazon. In a pinch you can use Canaroli or Arborio.
Cheese: Freshly grated Parmesan is the best choice for risotto. Freshly grating by hand gives you a feathery, soft texture that immediately melts into the liquid. If you are using pre-grated from the store start with ¼ – ½ cup and then taste. The density of machine grated, versus using a fine hand grater is slightly different.
Cook time: Take a couple of minutes and prep your ingredients. Blanch the fresh peas, chop your onion and measure everything out. Once you start cooking you will be done in 25 minutes and eating right after. This is a soul-satisfying bowl!
Makes 2 cocktails
Freeze dried raspberries, we like Natierra brand
1 – 11.5 oz. can San Pellegrino Momenti Lemon & Raspberry sparkling water
4 oz. raspberry syrup, to taste, recipe follows
4 oz. vodka
Fresh raspberries, for garnish
Lemon slices, garnish
- In a small pitcher muddle 6 freeze-dried raspberries, 4 mint leaves and a splash of the flavored sparkling water.
- Add the remaining sparking water, vodka and raspberry syrup to the small pitcher and stir well to combine.
- Using Tom Collins glasses, add a cup of ice to each glass. Pour the liquid over the ice, dividing between the two glasses, and stir well.
- Garnish with fresh raspberries, a thin slice of lemon and more mint.
Cook’s notes: For a non-alcoholic option simply leave the vodka out!
This recipe can easily be converted to a pitcher for multiple servings.
12 oz. bag frozen raspberries
3 cups water
½ cup granulated sugar
- Place the raspberries, water and sugar in a heavy bottom pot. Bring to a low boil, and reduce for 15-20 minutes. Remove from heat and carefully puree using a stick blender.
- Allow the syrup to cool completely before using in cocktail, Keep in an airtight container for up to 2 weeks.