Pretty peas: this Venetian classic, Risi e bisi, is similar to a risotto, but with a soup-like base.
A classic of Venetian cookery, particularly when the first early spring peas are harvested from the many various small islands that dot the lagoon. Similar to a risotto, but the end result should be much more soupy and, unconventionally, the only time a Venetian vegetable rice dish is served in a bowl—all risotti are always served onto hot plates, of course.
Risi e bisi (serves 4, as a first course)
1kg fresh peas (unpodded weight), shelled and with the pods reserved
Approx. 1 litre light chicken stock
1 onion, very finely chopped
200g carneroli rice
Salt and freshly ground white pepper
3–4tbspn freshly grated Parmesan
1tbspn finely chopped parsley or, more controversially, mint
Take the empty peapods and place them in a food processor. Whizz to a coarse mush and put them into a large pan. Pour on the stock and simmer the mixture for about 30 minutes, until the stock is nicely pea-flavoured and lightly sweetened as a result. Strain through a fine sieve into a bowl and reserve.
Now, rinse out the peapod pan and, in it, melt 40g of the given butter. Tip in the onion and fry over a medium heat until softened. Add the podded peas and gently cook for a minute or two, stirring frequently. Add 700ml of stock, cover and cook at a moderate boil for 5 minutes.
Add the rice and the remaining stock, cover and cook at a very slow simmer for 15–20 minutes or until the rice is tender, but just firm to the bite. Stir occasionally while cooking, as well as tasting and adding a touch of seasoning (don’t forget that salty Parmesan will be added later).
Just prior to serving, briskly stir in the remaining butter, 2tbspn of Parmesan and the parsley or mint. Pour into hot bowls and offer extra cheese at table.