Risi e bisi is neither risotto nor a soup! This pea and rice dish from Veneto is easy to make, but similar to cooking a risotto, it requires your constant watch, so may be worth making a few extra portions. Risi e bisi is great light alternative, and comes together with very few ingredients. It also keeps well in the fridge for a couple of days, so any leftovers can become tomorrow’s lunch!
- 500 g Vialone Nano rice, or arborio rice
- 500 g fresh green peas, shelled, reserve pods
- 2 white onions, finely chopped
- 60 g butter
- 2 L vegetable broth
- 60 g grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese
- 5 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- 1 tablespoon fresh parsley, chopped
- salt and pepper to season
Risi e bisi, translated literally to ‘rice and peas,’ has rather royal origins as it was prepared as an offering to the Doge of Venice on the feast of San Marco on April 25. This dish is a celebration of the simplest flavours – rice and peas, and also of the spring season when the first crop of green peas are harvested.
The traditional risi e bisi is a dish that represents spring because it uses freshly shelled spring peas. Of course, a risi e bisi craving can hit at any time outside of pea season - so for practicalities, it is fine to substitute with frozen peas in its place. Good quality frozen peas may prove just as good as fresh peas, so go down this path if you need to, although this would mean that you will have to skip the step of cooking the pods in the broth.
1. Wash the pods and add to a saucepan with the broth, bring to boil and simmer for 1 hour with the lid. Using an immersion blender, puree the pods in the broth until smooth. Pass mixture through a mesh colander to strain and remove any tough fibrous bits. Set aside.
2. In another saucepan over medium heat, melt half the butter. Add onion and lower the heat, cook until softened and transparent, about 10-15 minutes.
3. Add parsley and cook for 1-2 minutes, then toss in the peas along with one tablespoon of olive oil, and about a cup of the warm broth. Bring to a boil and let simmer for about 5 minutes, stirring often.
4. Add rice and season with salt. Keep stirring and add more broth as it gets absorbed by the rice – the ingredients should only be just immersed in the broth.
5. Continue cooking as above, ladling in more broth so that the rice is always covered by the liquid and until it is cooked al dente. The finished dish should have consistency that is between that of a soup and a risotto. Toss in the rest of the butter and grated cheese while still hot, stir to combine. Serve warm.
Do you know your rice? Traditionalists will likely argue that the rice used for risi e bisi must be the Vialone Nano variety, not Carnaroli or Arborio (the latter two being typically for risotto). Vialone Nano is starchier and absorbs more seasoning from the broth, giving risi e bisi a creamier texture. In Italy there are many varieties of rice and all have their own place in the local cuisine. It is a popular ingredient in the Northern Italy (think ‘Milanese risotto’ for example) where some of the best rice is cultivated – most of Italy’s rice fields are actually located in the regions of Piedmont and Lombardy.