Friday, September 4, 2009

when life gives you peas, make risi e bisi

When I first started blogging, one of my greatest fears was that I'd run out of things to write about. I worried that after a few months, I would have told all the amusing anecdotes I could think of, and that I'd be reduced to writing facile musings on the pleasures of dark chocolate and the fear of dining alone.

If only I knew.

I've gone from "Oh! I can blog about this!" to "Oh dear. I really should blog about this." I'm still getting pleasure out of writing (the day that stops is the day I turn out the lights on the blog), but my to-do list is looking just a little... unwieldy.

My corkboard is papered with Post-Its on which I've jotted ideas and recipes. My recipe bookmark list is longer than the credits for the Lord of the Rings movies. My drafts folder should probably be labelled "Here be dragons." And I have ten to fifteen posts languishing in various states of unfinished at any given time.

Sometimes they languish because they weren't all that great to begin with. Sometimes they languish because something new and more exciting came up before the blog post could be written. And sometimes, they languish due to technical difficulties, like being unable to procure crucial ingredients.

For two years running, I have tried to make risi e bisi for the feast day of St. Mark, patron saint of Venice. For two years running, I have failed, because I couldn't get my hands on any English peas when the day rolled around. For whatever reason, it is virtually impossible to find fresh English peas in the pod in the Boston area in late April - or in any other month, for that matter. Either the English pea farmers have all retired, or Green Giant has poached them all to produce frozen peas out on farms somewhere in the Midwest.

And risi e bisi is not a dish that will accept substitutes. Risi e bisi means "rice and peas" in the Venetian dialect, and it is just that: a sort of soupy risotto of rice and peas, with a little onion for flavoring. The rice is there for body; the dish is all about the sweet, green flavor of the fresh peas. No peas? No point.

If there's one thing I have learned from blogging, though, it's that you take your chances where you find them. On my last trip to Haymarket, I wasn't there to browse. It was pouring, I was freezing, and I just wanted to get in, pick up my lemons and limes, and get the hell out. And then a heaping pile of green pods caught my eye. They were too fat to be sugar snaps. Could it be?

It was. I had finally found English peas in Boston. Though it was nowhere near the feast day of St. Mark, it didn't make the risi e bisi any less delicious. Being able to clear one languishing blog post from the docket might have been even better.

As for the other fourteen... well, maybe it's time I put the delete button to use?

Risi e Bisi

The traditional preparation of this dish calls for the pea shells to be simmered in the stock to give it extra flavor. If your peas are organic or homegrown, it's not a bad idea, but if you're uncertain of their provenance, it's better to skip that step.

(Serves one, with leftovers.)

You'll need about a pound and a half of unshelled peas: a pound for the pot, and half a pound to snack on as you shell, for an end product of roughly two cups of shelled peas. Substitute frozen peas only if you wish to go to that circle of culinary hell reserved for those who make French onion soup with canned broth.

Put a pot on the stove and add two cups of stock (either chicken or vegetable) and one cup of water. Bring to a simmer.

Heat olive oil (or a mixture of olive oil and butter) in a heavy-bottomed pot over low heat and add one finely chopped white onion. Cook until the onion is soft and translucent, then add one cup of arborio, carnaroli, or other risotto rice to the pot. Stir the rice until the grains are warm to the touch, then add a ladleful of chicken or vegetable stock. Once the liquid has been absorbed, add the peas and another ladleful of stock. Keep stirring.

Repeat this process until the rice is tender, but still has a little bite. (If you're running low on stock, top it up with water.) The mixture should be thick, like risotto, but a little soupier. Check for salt; adjust to taste. Turn off the heat, and let the risi e bisi stand for five to ten minutes before serving. You can serve it with Parmigiano-Reggiano, but it's quite optional.


Virgin In The Volcano said...

"that circle of culinary hell reserved for those who make French onion soup with canned broth"

Someone's getting testy...

Adrienne said...

Don't delete the unfinished posts! I did once and I STILL regret it. Also, your peas and rice is very nice. (hee, I rhymed!)

~~louise~~ said...

I do believe the reason I post by the month is so I am always certain I will have something "foodie" to blog about. I too have so many avenues to explore and notes everywhere!!!

My grandmother made the very best risi e bisi! She always added just one Roma tomato at the bottom of the pot with the onion. (she also prepared it all in the same pot) No matter how I try, I just can't get it to taste the same. I am going to follow your directions to the pea (munching as I go along:) and hope for the best. Thanks Adele...

adele said...

Virgin - I've eaten it; it's bad. (I've never been back to that restaurant.) Canned broth is great for stews and other preparations with lots of ingredients. But French onion soup is basically just onions in broth. No hiding any flaws.

Adrienne - Okay. I'll consolidate them into one big file... oh, wait. I may already have done that.

Louise - I've never heard of a version with tomatoes (the only other variation I've seen is with pancetta), but I imagine that it must be good. :)

Kelly said...

Looks very good. I love the image of you hurrying out with lemons and limes and then stopping, slack-jawed, to goggle at the English peas.

And I also have a corkboard where I put up my ideas and MUST-COOK-NOWs! I just got one for my new kitchen. It is essential.

adele said...

Kelly - That's pretty much exactly what happened. I bought four pounds. (And ate about a pound raw, straight from the shell.)

And I'd never have any recipes without the corkboard, because I'd lose them as soon as I wrote them down. :P

Andrea said...

Ah, risi e bisi, I haven't heard those words since I was little! This was a staple in my parents' house--thanks for the reminder : )

adele said...

Andrea - You're welcome!