Saturday, September 28, 2013

Venetian Risi e Bisi - Rice and Peas - Easter 2011

I had gone to market in search of English peas and while there I happened on a display of large canned hams that I hadn't seen in years. They were a feature of holiday meals and throughout the 50's and 60's you'd be hard pressed to attend a party where they weren't served. The hams were usually topped with rings of pineapple and studded with maraschino cherries before being glazed and warmed for service. They weren't bad and they fit the lifestyles of woman trying to cast off years of rationing and cooking that kept them in the kitchen for hours at a time. The women who emerged from the war loved the simplicity of Danish modern furniture and the ease of frozen food. A company ready ham that need only to be warmed was perfect for their needs. That ubiquitous ham was part of Easter dinner in many homes across the country. Strange as it seems, while the food was simple, the holiday itself seemed more important then it does today. The Easter bunny was on a par with Santa and egg hunts replaced the magic of empty stockings miraculously filled by elves or angels. In those simpler times, Easter really did mean bonnets and parades, and to the delight of little girls, the holiday came with new outfits that included shinny Mary Janes.

It was also a more overtly religious holiday than it appears to be today. We spent a lot of time in church during Holy Week, but it wasn't as oppressive as you might think. I will forever be moved when I hear the "Exultet" and the "Alleluia" from the Easter vigil services and I'm so grateful they were part of my childhood. While Easter may have no meaning for many, it's my hope that we all believe in new beginnings and the triumph of good over evil. So, whatever your beliefs, I hope you all bask in the sun of this new day.

After that introduction, I was sorely tempted to make a canned ham and share it with you, but then I realized you'd probably stone me and I wanted no part of that. So, I'm heading back to the peas with which I began this post. “Risi e bisi” (rice and peas) is a classic Venetian dish. While many think it is a risotto, it is actually a very light soup. There should always be just enough liquid in the bowl to require a spoon for eating. It is very easy to make and you'll love it as long as you don't overcook the rice. The soup can be table ready in half an hour and it is a perfect light meal to break a fast or settle an uneasy stomach. The soup will absorb liquid as it sits, so it's best to serve it as soon as the rice is ready. If you have leftovers you will have to add stock when you reheat the soup. I think you'll really like this one. Here's the recipe.

Risi e Bisi...from the kitchen of One Perfect Bite courtesy of Saveur


3 tablespoons butter

1 yellow onion, peeled and finely chopped

3 pounds fresh peas, shelled to yield 3 cups

Pinch of salt

1 cup Chicken Stock

1 cup arborio rice

2 tablespoons chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley

Grated parmigiano-reggiano


1) Melt butter in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Add onions and cook for 5 minutes. Add peas and salt, and cook, stirring constantly, for 2 minutes.

2) Add chicken stock and 2 cups water, and bring to a boil. Stir in rice and parsley, reduce heat to medium-low, cover, and cook, stirring occasionally, until rice is al dente and peas are very soft, about 20 minutes.

3) Adjust seasonings and serve immediately before rice absorbs liquid. Top with grated parmigiano-reggiano, if you like. Yield: 4 to 6 servings.

Cook's Note: While this dish is best made with fresh peas, 3 cups of frozen peas can be substituted.

Easter Sunday One year Ago: Roasted Yellow Pepper Soup

Two Years Ago Today: Garlic Herb Rolls

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