Peas in their pods remind me of neatly planted rows of seeds, just sown in the vegetable garden. Homemade risotto made with fresh green peas is my favorite food of the spring season. This simple combination is called ‘risi e bisi’ in the Veneto. It is especially well-celebrated in the beautiful cities of Vicenza, Verona and Venice.
I look for the arrival of fresh peas at the farmers market every year. When I spot them arranged tidily in wooden crates, I snap a pod and taste the raw peas; if they are sweet, smooth and bright green, I take handfuls of them home to make this comforting and vibrant risotto.
For risi e bisi broth . for 2-3 as main course
- one small onion or shallot . 60 grams
- two stalks of celery . 50 grams
- one small carrot . about 60 grams
- 25 grams of fresh flat leaf parsley
- 1/2 tsp sea salt
- 1250 ml of water
For the risotto
- 175 grams of organic round-grained rice for risotto such as Baldo, Vialone Nano or Carnaroli
- 500-600 grams of fresh peas in their pods
- 2 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil
- one small onion or shallot . about 60 grams
- 25 grams of fresh flat leaf parsley
- 10-20 grams unsalted butter
- 50 grams of Parmigiano Reggiano cheese
The shelling of peas is a meditative kitchen ritual. I love this dish because it makes use of both the peas as well as their pods.
Shell the peas and put them aside for the preparation of the risotto, making sure to save the pods because they are an essential part of making the vegetable broth for ‘risi e bisi’. Rinse the pods in cold water and drain them in a colander and set them aside. Wash the carrot and celery stalks. Peel the onion, then cut the vegetables into chunks. Wash and dry the flat leaf parsley. Cut the vegetables into chunks. Meanwhile, make the vegetable broth as follows.
Bring 1250 ml water to a boil in a pan large enough to accommodate the pea pods and prepared vegetables. Once the water has reached a rolling boil, add the sea salt, onion, celery, carrot, half the flat leaf parsley and the pea pods. Turn the heat down and simmer the ingredients 20 minutes. While the broth is on the stove, prepare the risotto ingredients by mincing the onion into a fine dice, grating the Parmigiano Reggiano cheese and chopping the flat leaf very fine with a sharp knife. Taste the vegetable broth and add sea salt if needed, keeping it warm while making the risotto as described below.
Heat the olive oil in a wide sauce pan with a heavy base. Sauté the minced onion, until translucent and fragrant. Add the rice and stir it through the olive oil until well coated. Add the unsalted butter to the pan, continuing to stir the rice until it is melted. Add enough warm broth to cover the rice, about 250 ml. Stir the rice constantly with a wooden spoon, for five minutes until most of the broth is absorbed, making sure that the heat is regulated in such a way that the rice cannot burn on the bottom while it is cooking. The ritual of stirring and adding warm broth a little at a time will make for a creamy risotto later on. Once the rice grains have soaked up the broth, add yet another 250 ml of warm broth to the pan, then add the fresh peas. Meanwhile continue to stir the rice regularly.
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 200-250 ml warm broth to the rice. Regulate the heat so that the broth doesn’t evaporate too quickly. After about 15 minutes in total the rice and peas should be ‘al dente’, or cooked with a pleasant bite in the middle. Turn off the heat, then add the grated Parmigiano cheese and chopped parsley. Stir the ingredients through the risotto, then add 25ml warm broth to the pan and cover it with a lid. Allow the risotto to rest five minutes, shaking the pan gently back and forth several times. Test the risotto; a perfect result has recognizable individual rice grains, kept together with a slightly thickened and flavorful broth. Taste the rice and peas. Add a bit of salt and freshly ground pepper if needed. Serve the ‘risi e bisi’ very warm, with an extra sprinkle of Parmigiano in each serving bowl.
A traditional ‘risi e bisi‘ will be served with a dusted powder of Grana Padana or Parmigiano Reggiano. When the peas are fresh, I would suggest doing just that, letting the fresh, new flavor of spring shine through.
Many recipes will call for chicken broth as the basis to risi e bisi‘. Another traditional ingredient in ‘risi e bisi’ is fried pancetta, which is added with the onion at the beginning of the risotto preparation. Since I am largely vegetarian, I prefer using freshly made vegetable broth, especially with pea pods when available. I leave out the pancetta as well, even though it is definitely very good.
If you would like to make a completely plant-based risotto, leave out the dairy all together. Simply add some extra flat leaf parsley, or even some toasted breadcrumbs rather than grated Parmigiano.