The Spirit of Spring in a Pea Pod!

pea

So, when I try to envisage what single thing evokes the spirit of Spring for me, I have a recurring image which I just can’t shake – a first harvest, new season, freshly podded……pea.

It haunts me with its perfect shade of green, the intensity of its natural sweetness which will never again be reached, the irreplicable crunch as the skin pops between eager teeth. A giant among Spring giants…

Risi e Bisi is the traditional dish of the city’s feast day of the patron saint, San Marco, on 25th April, Venice’s most important festival. During the time of La Serenissima, the Doge was offered risi e bisi, rice and peas, the first shoots of the lagoon’s vegetable gardens, and he was so taken by it that he ordered it to remain part of the auspicious celebrations.

Sophie Braimbridge’s Risi e Bisi

Serves 6

This can be served without pancetta if you prefer. To ensure the peas are brightly coloured and not over cooked I sometimes blanch them in the stock water first, which flavours the stock, and then add them at the very last minute. But this does entail more bowls as they need to be removed from the stock after 1 minute. Which ever you prefer.

Ingredients

  • 100g unsalted butter
  • 100g pancetta, cubed
  • 1 medium onion, finely chopped
  • 2 small garlic cloves, finely chopped
  • 350g risotto rice, or 6 espresso cups
  • 200ml dry white vermouth or white wine (optional)
  • 350g fresh or frozen peas (allow approx. 450g unpodded fresh peas)
  • 1.5 litres home made chicken stock
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 50g freshly grated parmesan and extra for serving

Cooking instructions

If using frozen peas, remove from the freezer and set aside to defrost. Melt 75g of the butter in a thick based saucepan and cook the pancetta first until lightly golden brown. Add the onion and garlic and gently cook until soft and translucent, making sure it doesn’t brown. Heat the chicken stock in another saucepan and keep warm. (Blanch the peas at this point, reserving the chicken stock by draining the peas into a bowl if you want to ensure they stay bright coloured.)

Add the rice to the onion and turn the heat down low. Season with salt and pepper and stir briefly to coat the grains of rice in butter. Add the vermouth to the rice and turn the heat up to medium. Keep stirring the rice and when the vermouth or wine has almost absorbed into the rice start adding the hot stock, a couple of ladles at a time, stirring all the time so that the rice cooks evenly and releases some of the starch, making a creamy consistency. Taste the liquid around the rice for enough seasoning after the first couple of ladles of stock while the rice is still absorbing flavour. Add more salt and pepper if need be. If using fresh peas then add them after the first couple of ladles of stock. If using frozen peas then add them 3/4 of the way through cooking.

Once you have nearly used up the stock, start tasting the rice to prevent over cooking. Check to see the rice is nearly ‘al dente’ – to the tooth. It is impossible to gauge the exact amount of stock you might require, as there is no precise science in cooking. Sometimes it is less than is stated or you might need to add a little more. Water can be substituted or a little more vermouth if you wish. Stop cooking the rice as soon as it still has a little texture in the middle of the grain. The consistency should be like thick soup, or sloppy risotto. Remove the saucepan from the heat and leave to rest for 5 minutes. Stir in the remaining 25g of butter and the parmesan. Serve in large rimmed soup or pasta bowls with extra parmesan.

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