Rice and peas

Rice and peas

Risi e bisi

Helen Cathcart

More of a soup than a risotto, risi e bisi is traditionally a springtime dish when the new peas are at their best. The earliest record of it is in the 1500s when it became known as the dish for the Doge. It was made on 25th April on the feast of San Marco. Under the Austro-Hungarian occupation in the 1800s strawberries were temporarily added to risi e bisi as a political protest. The three colours, green, white and red, were the colours of the tricolore, the flag of the united Italy.

Lele, from the famous restaurant Buso la Torre on the glass-making island of Murano, told us that he picks peas from his garden and uses the pods to make the stock. He grows enough to freeze so he can make risi e bisi all year round. In the absence of home-grown peas we found this recipe one of the hardest to perfect for the book. No matter what peas, frozen or fresh, we used or what we used to make the stock, such as mangetout and sugar snap peas, we just couldn’t get a flavour we were happy with. Giancarlo suggested using tinned peas, which I didn’t think fitted the romantic image of the recipe using spring’s fresh new peas. However he insisted on having a go and I have to admit, through clenched teeth, he was right. Bingo, it’s delicious, everything it should be, full of flavour and terribly moreish.


Quantity Ingredient
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
50g salted butter
1 medium white onion, finely chopped
50g pancetta or bacon, cut into 5 mm dice
450g tinned peas, drained
300g vialone nano or other risotto rice
1.2-1.5 litres Rita's chicken stock
or 1.2-1.5 litres hamstock
100g parmesan, finely grated
fine salt
handful parsley, finely chopped


  1. Heat the oil and half the butter in a large heavy-based saucepan over a medium heat. Add the onion and bacon and fry gently for 5–10 minutes until the onions are soft, then add the peas.
  2. Ladle in around 500 ml of the hot stock and mix quickly into the rice. Stir constantly with a wooden spoon and when the risotto thickens to the point where you can see the bottom of the pan when you draw the spoon across the bottom add another ladleful of stock. Continue adding stock each time the risotto thickens back up.
  3. After about 20 minutes taste the risotto to see whether it is done. The rice grains should be just translucent through the grain. They should feel soft on the outside with a hint of firmness in the centre. Adjust the seasoning to taste. Remove the pan from the heat. Leave it slightly soupy as this liquid will continue to be absorbed over the following few minutes.
  4. Don’t add the salt however until you have added all the Parmesan; taste first and add the salt if needed. Serve in warm bowls with parsley and eat with a spoon.
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