Risotto is very good, but risi e bisi is better.
At least to me it is. I'm a big sucker for the soupiness.
Risi e bisi is a classic Venetian dish that typically celebrates spring and with it the arrival of fresh peas. Now, I do love fresh peas. I do. However I am pretty much on board with #21 of the last Saveur 100 issue. Frozen peas. Fergus Henderson quips: a wise old man once told me: Wait till peas are in season, and then use frozen.
Oh, the convenience! There is always a bag or two in my freezer, ready to add to Fe's dinner or to toss into pasta or to simmer with mint, olive oil, and thinly sliced onions (thank you, Nigel Slater!). They easily cook up in five minutes. And for the parents of toddlers reading this, I'll pass on a tip that my dear friend Sharmon shared with me. Give the frozen peas to your kiddos as a healthy snack. Yes, frozen. Taste them. They're good and the kids love to munch on them!
It's February. Why bother waiting until the spring, when I can enjoy a soothing supper of risi e bisi now, using perfectly delicious frozen peas?
Risi e bisi is basically a casual souped up version of risotto. There is none of the heavy duty stirring involved. And it takes much less time to prepare. You'll need to use short-grain rice like arborio or carnaroli, and naturally the better your parmigiano-reggiano and stock are the more divine your results will be.
I made risi e bisi on Tuesday night. I was pleased because A. really seemed to like it, judging by his comment that he never expected beige food to taste so good. Ah, a girl could really get used to praise like that.
We're not socked in by winter snows here in Los Angeles, but the nights do get cool -- by our standards -- and this dish provides perfect comfort for taking the chill off. It is a little bit sweet from the peas and onions and just the right bit salty thanks to the parmigiano-reggiano. I love a healthy grinding of pepper over the top.
Risi e Bisi
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
4 tablespoons butter
1 large onion, chopped
2 cups frozen peas, mostly defrosted if possible
Salt & freshly ground pepper
6 cups chicken stock or vegetable if you prefer
1 1/2 cups arborio or carnaroli rice
1 cup freshly grated parmigiano-reggiano
Heat the stock in a pan, and keep at the ready.
Heat the olive oil and 2 tablespoons of butter in a heavy medium-sized pot over medium-high heat. Add the onions and cook stirring occasionally until soft and faintly starting to color. Season with salt.
Add the rice, stirring until coated with the olive oil and onions. Then add 5 cups of the hot stock. Stir and cover, lowering the heat so the stock is gently bubbling. Cook the rice, stirring every so often, for approximately 15 minutes. Tip in the peas and stir. Cook for about 5 more minutes, until peas and rice are just tender.
Remove the pot from the heat. Add the remaining stock. Stir in the butter and half of the parmigiano-reggiano. Season with salt and pepper, as needed. Serve with the remaining cheese sprinkled over the top.