String of Pearls from our garden
There are some culinary matches that are just meant to be. Bagels and cream cheese, tequila and lime, pancakes and maple syrup – ingredients that complement each other through their contrasting flavours, textures and colours. They work in tandem without losing their individual attributes, and the sum is much greater than its parts.
The Italians have a term to describe this form of creative harmony – come il parmigiano sulla pasta (like Parmesan on pasta). It means “exactly the way something ought to be”.
A signature pairing common to most culinary traditions is that of rice and peas.
Other rice and pea creations – as in the Carribean – use dried peas. Either way, the end result signifies comfort in all its simplicity.
Our favourite combination of rice and peas is the Italian Risi e Bisi.
Risi = rice, Bisi = peas. This is a risotto in which the consonance of sounds is matched by the sweet harmony of flavours.
While risotto is traditonally prepared with glutinous Italian rices like Arborio, Vialone Nano or Carnaroli, we prefer to use whole grain glutinous rices like Rose Matta (See Rositto, the better Risotto).
In this dish, we’ve used Bhutanese red rice, the beautiful grain fed entirely through glacial runoffs in the Himalayas. (More about Bhutanese red rice HERE) This nutty, wholesome grain cooks relatively quickly and is available at some specialty stores.
We were attempting a drier version of the traditonal risotto, and this rice worked fine though it is not as glutinous as the Italian risotto rices or Rose Matta.
She tells us:
This recipe has become a specialty of Venice because of the wonderful soil of the Veneto, where peas grow in abundance. In the pea season there is such a glut that the vendors don’t bother to weigh them out but just pour the pods freely into your bag …
We used fresh peas and mint from our garden.
Ours is a drier, lower-fat version of her recipe. We have listed the original recipe, with notes indicating our alterations.
The recipe calls for adding the peas in the beginning. We prefer to add it five minutes from the end.
RISI E BISI (Rice and Peas, Italian-style)
2.25 pounds fresh pea pods
**we used 1 cup shelled fresh peas
1.5 cups Vialone Nano risotto rice
** we used Bhutanese red rice
4 tbsps unsalted butter and 2 tbsps olive oil
**we used 1 tablespoon butter and no oil
2 garlic cloves peeled and finely chopped
6 shallots, peeled and finely chopped
4.5 cups hot vegetable stock
**We used 3.5 cups. For stock, we dissolved 1 tsp Better than Bouillon Vegetable Base in hot water
½ cup dry white wine
a handlful of fresh flat-leaf mint, chopped
a handlful of fresh flat-leaf parsley, chopped
**we didn’t use parsley, but added some extra mint
2 oz. Parmesan, freshly grated, plus extra for serving
sea salt and lots of freshly ground black pepper
1. If using frozen peas, keep them out to thaw, or microwave for a minute.
2. In a heavy saucepan, saute the garlic and onion in the butter and oil until translucent, Add the peas, parsley and stock to barely cover. (We added the peas towards the end and replaced the parsley with some mint) Simmer gently for 2 minutes.
3. Add the rice, wine and pepper, stir to coat in the mixture with a wooden spoon. Add a ladelful of hot stock and stir at a slow boil until it is absorbed by the rice. Keep adding the stock in this manner, a ladleful at a time until the stock is used up stirring continuously – about 20-25 minutes. Five mintues from the end, we added the fresh peas. Remove from heat.
4. If using thawed frozen peas, add them now. Stir in some salt (if you’re using bouillon, it’s salty, so keep that in mind), the mint and Parmesan. Add more pepper if necessary.
5. Cover and let it stand for a minute for the rice to rest. Serve on hot plates, with extra grated Parmesan if desired.