Market Matters- Risi e Bisi, Per-Pea-Fection

Risi e Bisi. You know it’s Spring when the peas peak.

I have had my eyes on sweet fresh English peas for the past few weeks. I knew they were going to be the subject of a Market Matters post from the Hollywood Farmers Market one of the springtime Sundays. I was just waiting for the peak of perfection. Well, this is the Sunday!

‘Cuz like I said the peas peaked. If you don’t believe me have a peek… please. Sorry, I realize alliteration is a dummy’s last resort at clever writing, but I have trouble not swinging at that ball when it’s lobbed so easily in my direction!

But as these peas peaked on Easter– I am going to be brief today. I have bonnets to wear and eggs to seek and chocolate bunnies to break. But before I get to all of that. Let’s discuss peas.

Peas (Pisum sativum, L.) were among the first crops cultivated by man. Some say the word “pea” came from Sanskrit; however, it was more likely derived from the Latin word for the very same vegetable pisum, which in turn was derived from the older Greek name pisos. The Anglo-Saxon version became known as became pise, and later in Old English, pease. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, by 1600 the last two letters were dropped because people believed the word was plural, forming the singular “pea” that we know today. See what you can glean from Google with very little effort!

But all that intellectual goo-ga means very little when compared to the way peas make me feel. They make me feel giddy!

risi e bisiPeas deserve special attention, especially when purchased fresh and raw as mine were this morning. That is why I have chosen to present them in one of the simplest recipes I know. Risi e Bisi. This is an Italian bowl of per-pea-fection!

Besides pure pea pleasure (there I go again) this dish is fun to say! How can you not feel giddy when eating a dish with the sing-songy name like that. Risi e Bisi. Just try to say it with out smiling.

Risi e Bisi (rice and peas) is a classic Venetian dish. In the past it was prepared only on the feast days decreed by the Doge (Venice’s ruler), and though one can now prepare Risi e Bisi at any time (and in a multude of manners), the dish really shines when freshly harvested peas are available. But you could make this recipe anytime of the year by substituting chicken stock and frozen peas.

bastianich wine pairingRisi e Bisi serves 4 CLICK here for a printable recipe

  • 4 lb fresh peas, in their pods
  • 3 q water
  • 2 carrots, roughly chopped
  • 3 stalks celery, roughly chopped
  • 1 onion, roughly chopped
  • 1 bay leaf
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 T olive oil, plus more for baking sheet
  • 8 sli prosciutto (about 4 ounces)
  • 2 T unsalted butter
  • 1⁄2 c shallots, minced
  • 4 oz pancetta, cut into 1/4” dice
  • 8 oz arborio rice
  • 1⁄2 c italian parsley, leaves only, roughly chopped
  • 1⁄2 c parmesan cheese, grated

Shell all the peas. Place the pea pods in a large pot and pour water over them add the carrots, celery, onion and bay leaf. Set the peas themselves aside. Bring the water to a boil and cook them for 15 minutes. Turn off the heat and let the pea pod broth cool. Drain, discarding the solids and season the resulting “green water” with salt and pepper. (If not preparing the risi e bisi within an hour or so, refrigerate up to 3 days). In either case the “green water” should be brought to a simmer when you are ready to make the final dish. You will need about six cups to serve 4 people.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Lightly brush a parchment lined baking sheet with olive oil. Arrange prosciutto slices on sheet, not touching each other. Place into the hot oven and bake until crisp 10–12 minutes. Watch it carefully because it can burn quickly. Remove the sheet from oven and allow to cool completely on a wire rack. Do not attempt to move the “chips” until completely cool.

risi e bisi and prosciuttoHeat the oil in a large heavy bottomed Dutch oven set over medium heat. Melt in half of the butter then add the shallots. Cook for a moment or two until well coated then add the pancetta, stirring often until it begins to brown. About 5 minutes. Lower the heat and add the rice stirring to get it well coated. Cook stirring often about 3 minutes.

Add half the “green water” and simmer about 10 minutes, stirring often. Add more if the pan starts to dry out. Once the rice is partly cooked and has absorbed a lot of the flavorful liquid, add the rest of the “green water”. Your goal is a consistency that is halfway between a risotto and a soup. More or less of the remaining stock (and perhaps a little water) may be needed, use your judgment.

Once a simmer is achieved add the peas and cook until just cooked through and the rice is al dente, about 6–8 minutes. Add the parsley and season with salt and pepper. Stir in the remaining butter and the Parmesan. Adjust consistency with a little water if needed. Serve warm with the prosciutto chips on the side.


Greg Henry