How to make risi e bisi – recipe

<span>Felicity Cloake’s risi e bisi.</span><span>Photograph: Robert Billington/The Guardian. Food stylist: Loïc Parisot.</span>
Felicity Cloake’s risi e bisi.Photograph: Robert Billington/The Guardian. Food stylist: Loïc Parisot.

I don’t know whether I prefer saying risi e bisi or eating this Venetian springtime speciality, which is traditionally made to celebrate the feast of St Mark, the city’s patron saint, on 25 April. That said, this deliciously soupy, starchy dish ticks a lot of boxes for me at this time of year, not least because even I can amuse myself in a terrible Italian accent for only so long.

Prep 15 min
Cook 1 hr
Serves 4

1kg young peas, or sugar snap peas in their pods, or 350g frozen petit pois (see steps 1 and 2)
1 small brown onion
100g pancetta (optional)
50g parmesan, or vegetarian alternative
1 litre good chicken or vegetable stock
40g butter
2 tbsp olive oil
vialone nano rice, or carnaroli
1 small handful mint or flat-leaf parsley leaves

1 A note on the peas

For this dish, ideally you need fresh peas, which will be a lot easier to come by in the UK in a month or so, our climate being somewhat chillier than Italy’s. However, sugar snap peas are available throughout the year and make a great substitute. That said, do remember this recipe in June, too; it makes a really nice summer supper.

2 If using frozen peas …

If you can’t find or run to sugar snaps, you could, like Nigella Lawson, use 350g frozen petits pois instead. Thaw 100g of the peas (this doesn’t take long in a bowl of cold water), then cook them in boiling water for two minutes. Drain, reserve a little cooking water, then blitz to a loose puree – use some of the reserved water to loosen as required – then continue from step 5.

3 And if using fresh …

Pod the peas, reserving the pods. Put a litre and a half of water in a medium saucepan and add just enough of the pods so they sit under the top of the water. (Put the rest in the food waste bin, compost heap, chicken coop or similar.)

4 Make the pea stock

Bring the water to a boil, then turn down the heat and simmer for 30 minutes to an hour (the exact timing will depend on the type and size of the pan), until reduced by about half. Strain the resulting pea stock into a heatproof jug, discard the spent pods as before, then pour the pea stock back into the same pan.

5 Prep the onion, pancetta and cheese

While the pea stock is simmering away, peel and finely chop the onion, and dice the pancetta, if using (unsmoked streaky bacon will also work, though preferably thick-cut, assuming you can get hold of such a thing). Finely grate the cheese (if need be, remember that parmesan isn’t vegetarian, but many alternatives are now available) and set everything aside separately.

6 Top up the pea stock

Pour the chicken or vegetable stock into the pea stock pan (I prefer the more neutral character of chicken stock in this dish, but ham stock would also be good if you want a more assertive meaty flavour). If using frozen peas, add another 750ml water to the pan instead of the pea stock. Bring the stock mix to a simmer.

7 Saute the onion and pancetta

Melt half the butter with the oil in a heavy-based, wide pan on a medium-low heat. Add the onion and cook, stirring, until it begins to soften. Add the pancetta, if using, and cook, still stirring, for another five minutes or so, until it begins to release its fat and the onion is completely yellow and floppy. (If not using pancetta, continue to cook the onion to this stage.)

8 Now add the rice

Add the rice to the onion pan and stir until all the grains are well coated with fat and translucent. Turn up the heat slightly, add a ladleful of stock, then set the timer for 12 minutes and cook, stirring, until most of the liquid has been absorbed. Repeat, much as if you were making a standard risotto.

9 Finishing touches

When the timer goes off, stir in the fresh peas (or defrosted peas and puree) and continue to cook as before, adding stock as required (you may not need it all), until the rice is tender and the dish is thick and soupy. Stir in the cheese and remaining butter, turn off the heat, cover and leave to rest for five minutes. Season, spoon into shallow bowls and serve topped with the herbs and more grated cheese, if you wish.