Shelling peas is a kitchen ritual characteristic of spring. Peas in their pods remind me of neatly planted rows of seeds in the vegetable garden. Homemade risotto made with fresh green peas is my favorite dish. The simple combination of rice and peas is called “risi e bisi” in the Veneto. This risotto is especially well-known in the beautiful cities of Vicenza, Verona and Venice.
I await the arrival of fresh peas at the farmers market. When I see them arranged tidily in wooden crates, I snap a pod and taste the raw peas. If the peas are sweet, smooth and bright green, I take handfuls of them home to make risotto.
- 300 grams of organic round-grained rice for risotto such as Baldo, Vialone Nano or Carnaroli
- 600 grams of fresh peas in their pods
- two spring onions
- one stalk of celery
- one small carrot equal in weight to the celery
- sea salt
- 1250 ml of water
- two grams of sea salt
- 30 grams of fresh flat leaf parsley
- 30 grams of extra virgin olive oil
- 50 grams of Parmigiano Reggiano cheese
Shell the peas and set them aside. Rinse the pods in a bowl of cold water and drain them in a colander. Wash and peel the carrot and add the peels to the colander. Wash the celery stalk, removing the strings on the rounded side, by pulling them gently towards the root end with a sharp knife or a vegetable peeler. Wash the spring onions and twist off the green stalks. Add the celery peels and onion stalks to the colander and rinse the ingredients well.
Meanwhile, bring the water to a boil in a pan large enough to accommodate the pea pods and vegetable scraps. Simmer the ingredients with a pinch of sea salt for 15 minutes. Turn off the heat and remove the vegetables with a slotted spoon. Meanwhile mince the spring onion, celery, carrot into a fine dice with a sharp knife. Wash and dry the flat leaf parsley and chop it fine. Set the parsley aside next to the peas. Grate the Parmesan cheese. Taste the pale green vegetable broth and add sea salt if needed. Keep the broth warm while preparing the risotto.
Heat the olive oil in a wide sauce pan with a heavy base. Sauté the minced onion, celery and carrot at low heat a few minutes without stirring. When the vegetables have softened and have become fragrant, stir in the rice and distribute until well coated by the vegetables and olive oil. Add three large soup ladles of warm broth to the pan. Stir the rice constantly for five minutes until the broth is almost absorbed. Make sure that the heat is regulated in such a way that the rice cannot burn on the bottom while cooking.This will make for a creamy risotto later on. Add three more ladles of broth and stir the fresh peas through the rice.
When the second amount of broth has been absorbed, taste the rice. If it is soft on the outside with a hard center in the middle, it is almost done. At this point add three more soup ladles to the rice along with the grated Parmesan cheese, stirring well. Turn off the heat. Put a lid on the pan and shake it gently back and forth several times. Let it rest five minutes. Taste the risotto. Add a bit of salt and pepper if so desired. Blend in the chopped flat leaf parsley and add one last ladle of warm broth. Stir the risi e bisi and serve in nicely warmed bowls.
♦ Suggested combinations
Add some lemon zest and a squeeze of fresh lemon juice to the risotto just before serving. Top the risotto with some fresh mint leaves. Make a salad of fresh turnip greens dressed with the best extra virgin olive oil in your kitchen.
Most cookbook recipes for risotto call for chicken broth. Chicken broth is very good with risi e bisi. However, I prefer using freshly made vegetable broth. Cream and garlic are equally scarce in the traditional method I learned from Melia, her daughter Luisa and of course my Mom.
A perfect risotto has recognizable individual rice grains, kept together with a slightly thickened and flavorful broth. A fine dust of grated Parmesan is the traditional final touch to risi e bisi. Parmesan can easily be substituted by roasted ground almonds.