Risotto with Peas or Risi e Bisi

pea risotto

This season my garden has been rewarding me with an abundance of peas. I've made stir-frys, soups, and now this risotto. Peas lend bright green pops of color and flavor to Italy's most favorite rice dish. Risotto is well known throughout the world but risi e bisi or rice and peas, is a lesser-known version made in the Veneto region, where much of Italy's rice is grown. It's considered a special dish in Venice, reserved for St. Mark's day in April, using the first peas of spring. What differentiates true risi e bisi from risotto is that it's much more soupy and is eaten with a spoon.

I grew up eating what my mom called rise bisi, which for her was long grain rice with peas. I never knew that it was related to a Venetian dish. There must have been some Italian influence in my mom's Hungarian cooking. I make this recipe more like a traditional risotto, one that is thick and creamy—and I eat it with a fork. It's not my mom's risi bisi nor the Venetian one, but it's just as comforting and flavorful. It does, however, use the last of my garden peas. But at this point I've had all the peas I can take for one season. Still I'm happy to celebrate the success of my garden with this bowlful of creamy rice and peas.

Risotto-making is practically a sport in the Italian Kitchen, but it's not as hard as it looks. Be willing to put in the time and patience and follow these tips for successful results. Make sure to use short grain rice—it has all the starch to produce a creamy risotto. The key to making risotto creamy is adding hot broth—in the beginning, wine—to the rice in intervals. The rice absorbs the liquid after each addition and slowly gives off its starch to thicken what basically becomes a porridge. And remember to stir constantly. The most important tip is to use a very flavorful broth and to salt liberally. The rice needs to absorb all the flavor it can get. In the end you will be rewarded for your hard work with perfect risotto.

Risotto with Peas or Risi e Bisi

1 tablespoon olive oil
2 tablespoons butter, divided
1 small onion, chopped
1 large garlic clove, finely chopped
fine sea salt
freshly ground black pepper
1 cup arborio rice
1/2 cup dry white wine, warmed
4 to 5 cups chicken broth, heated to a simmer
1 cup shelled peas, blanched for 3 minutes
1/2 cup grated Parmesan, plus more for garnish
1/4 cup finely chopped parsley, plus more for garnish

Heat oil and 1 tablespoon butter in a heavy bottomed pan set over medium heat. Add onion and sauté until golden brown, about 5 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. Add garlic and sauté until fragrant, about 1 minute. Remove onion and garlic to a plate.

Add rice to pan and toast for about 3 minutes. Reduce heat to medium-low. Add warmed wine and allow rice to absorb liquid, stirring constantly. Once all liquid is absorbed add about 1/2 cup hot broth. Once again allow rice to absorb liquid before adding another 1/2 cup hot broth, stirring constantly. Keep repeating this process until 1 cup broth remains.

Add reserved onion and garlic and blanched peas. Add 1/2 cup hot broth and allow rice to absorb liquid before adding the final 1/2 cup. The entire process takes about 25 to 30 minutes. The risotto should be very creamy and the rice slightly al dente.

Off from heat, stir in remaining 1 tablespoon butter, Parmesan, and parsley. Divide the risotto among 4 plates or shallow bowls. Garnish with additional Parmesan and parsley. Serve immediately. Yield: 4 appetizer servings.

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