RISI E BISI (WITH PROSCUITTO CRUDO, BURRATA, AND TARRAGON)
I love eating fresh peas raw, straight from the vegetable garden if possible, and usually even find myself chewing on the pea pod itself a little, as, despite being very fibrous, it’s in the bright green pod the strongest and freshest pea-flavour is contained. A pity then that we tend to discard the pods entirely and concentrate only on the peas inside…
And this is why I recently got very excited about the Venetian dish 'risi e bisi.' Ostensibly it’s a pretty simple combination – just rice (risi) and peas (bisi) – but cooked in a stock made from the boiled and blended fresh pea pods. The result does need to be tasted to be appreciated. Faintest green in colour, and made super-creamy in this recipe by the very indulgent (and non-traditional) addition of fresh burrata, the only problem is that it is strictly a seasonal dish (given the need for fresh peas) and I would love to be able to make it year round!
A couple of other non-traditional additions to this recipe are the tarragon and prosciutto crudo. Risi e bisi is usually flavoured with parsley, but delicate tarragon works well to keep the dish light. Pancetta, typically added at the outset, is substituted here for prosciutto crudo added at the end. Again, this is in order to keep the flavours fresh, but it also makes it easy to convert this to a vegetarian dish. Just leave off the prosciutto and replace with fresh pea shoots and a little finely grated lemon zest if you’d prefer.
- 220g Carnaroli rice
- 450g fresh peas in their pods
- 1 large onion – finely chopped
- 2 tablespoons of olive oil (+ extra for drizzling)
- 50g butter
- 150ml white wine
- ½ cube of vegetable stock
- 1.2 litres of water
- Sea salt
- White pepper
- ½ lemon – juice only
- 40g parmesan cheese – finely grated
- 1 ball of fresh burrata (or mozzarella di buffala if burrata is not available)
- 4 slices prosciutto crudo – torn by hand into thin strips (optional – leave out for a vegetarian version)
- A few sprigs of fresh tarragon – leaves picked
Begin by shelling the peas, placing the pods in one bowl and the peas themselves in another.
Make the stock by bringing 1.2 litres of water to boil in a large saucepan and adding the pea pods only. Boil these for approximately 30 minutes, before removing the saucepan from the heat and blending the mixture carefully using a stick blender. After several passes with the blender you should have a green stock that will nonetheless still contain the most stubbornly fibrous bits of the pea pods.
Remove the fibrous portions from the stock by draining the contents of the saucepan through a fine mesh sieve. Discard what is left behind in the sieve, and return the stock to the original saucepan. Crumble one vegetable stock cube into the broth, stir to dissolve, and place the pot back on the stovetop over a low heat to keep warm.
Meanwhile, finely chop the onion and warm the 2 tablespoons of olive oil and 50g of butter together in a heavy-based casserole pan over medium heat. Once the butter is completely melted, add the onion and reduce the heat to low.
Cook the onion slowly until soft, but without colouring it – approximately 10 minutes or so, stirring occasionally to stop any sticking.
When the onions are soft and translucent, turn the heat up a little and add the risotto rice. Stir, combining it with the onion, and cook for a further 2 minutes or until the rice begins to look translucent at the edges. Now slosh in the wine and stir vigorously until all the wine is absorbed, (a further minute or two).
Now you can begin to add the warm stock, ladle, by ladle, stirring with a wooden spoon as you go, not letting the risotto dry out.
To get a beautiful creamy texture, you need to coax the starch from the fat little grains of the risotto rice, and this is achieved via stirring as the liquid is absorbed – so don’t skimp on the stirring! If you are not keen on the idea of being stationed by the pan for the next 30 minutes though, my advice would be to keep the risotto on the wet side using plenty of stock.
About two-thirds of the way through the cooking time, at roughly the 20 minute point, add the fresh peas, and continue to stir.
When all the stock is absorbed, do a quick taste check – is the rice still a touch hard in the middle? If so, keep adding stock or water until it is cooked through – still with some bite is good, but grainy and uncooked is not so good. The texture of the risotto should be loose and creamy at this point, soupy almost, and no longer really rice-like.
Also check the seasoning. Depending on the amount of salt contained in the stock cube, the risotto may be salty enough, if not, add salt now, keeping in mind that there is salty parmesan still to be added. A little white pepper may also be added at this point.
When the rice is fully cooked, turn off the heat and immediately add the burrata by tearing this into strips by hand. Also add the lemon juice, and the parmesan cheese, stirring everything together.
Now swiftly pop a lid on the pan and let it stand for a minute. The Italians have a special verb for this step – ‘mantecare,’ which as far as I can tell, is only used for cooking, and means ‘to allow to mingle and become creamy’! Excellent word.
Post-manteca, the risotto should have taken on a heavenly texture courtesy of the melted burrata. It will be very creamy, but also form fine strings, in the style of pizza-cheese, when lifted with a spoon.
To serve, ladle into warmed dishes and scatter picked tarragon leaves, along with hand-torn strips of prosciutto crudo on top. Finish with a thin drizzle of extra virgin olive oil, and serve immediately.