Monday, June 21, 2010

"Venetian Cooking" - Rice and Peas in Broth

Date I made this recipe: June 20, 2010

Venetian Cooking – 200 Authentic Recipes Adapted for American Cooks by H.F. Bruning, Jr. and Cav. Umberto Bullo
Published by: MacMillan
© 1973
Recipe: Rice and Peas in Broth (Risi e Bisi – Minestra Di Riso e Piselli) – p. 67-68

Woosh! That’s the sound of my 19th wedding anniversary rushing by.

My anniversary is May 18th but May was so busy that it didn’t even dawn on me that I failed to pay homage to that date until June 18th—one month later. Oh well, oh well. It’s not like my cookbooks were going anywhere.

My husband I went to France and Italy on our honeymoon. But lest you think we wined and dined like kings and queens, we did not. Try “Let’s Go”… on a Honeymoon. We stayed in low-budget hotels and ate good but low-budget meals.

I cannot tell you much about the hotel we stayed at in Venice except that it was run by two sisters who I swear to you reminded me of my great aunts, Angelina and Catherine (twins) - same clothing, same mannerisms and roughly the same age. (My aunts were Sicilian and these were Italian but no matter.) In addition to lodging, the sisters provided meals in their tiny little restaurant.

And so we sat down one night to eat. We were the only people there and practically the only people in the hotel. I guess May is a little early in the season.

So one of us ordered rigatoni and one of us ordered spaghetti. And the one sister shuffled (and I do mean shuffled) off to the kitchen where we heard a furious rush of Italian before she shuffled back to us, looked us in the eye and said “Due rigatoni o due spaghetti”—in other words, “you either get two rigatoni or you get two spaghetti but you don’t get one of each.”

I about hooted. I mean, it’s not like they were busy but apparently putting two separate pots of pasta water on the stove was too much for these ladies.

So we ordered two of something and it was good. And we’ve laughed about that moment ever since.

Even though we spent most of our honeymoon in northern Italy, we didn’t order risotto or gnocchi or any of the dishes normally associated with the north and that’s because my people are from Sicily where red sauce rules. But in honor of our anniversary, I pulled out this cookbook and set to work on finding something fitting for the region and rice and peas it was. (I love peas and I love risotto so what’s not to like about the two of them together?)

So a few notes: first, this recipe is for rice and peas in broth but that’s not what I ended up with. Risotto absorbs broth as it cooks and if I would have just let the rice sit in the broth, the rice would not have been done. So I think the author is slightly misleading on the name of this dish.

Second, there is no way in hell this takes only 18 minutes to make (as directed). To make risotto, you need to add a small amount of broth and let it get absorbed, and then some more until that gets absorbed and so on. I think total time for me was 30 minutes before it was all absorbed so I could add the cheese.

As far as consistency, Andy said that it reminded him of chicken pot pie filling and that’s what true risotto is like—nice and creamy and gooey and good! So again—the broth portion of our program was???!

Nonetheless, I loved this recipe and think you will as well. I could have eaten the entire pan but that would have been quite piggy of me. After all, it was my belated anniversary meal so sharing it with my beloved was essential. And so I ate half the pan instead! And it was molto bene!

Rice and Peas in Broth (sort of!)– serves 4
4 pounds very young peas in the pod (these were $6.00 a pound – ummm…no!) or 2 ½ pounds older peas in a pod, or 1 pound frozen peas ($1.69 – yes!!!)
¼ pound butter (1 stick)
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium onion, finely chopped
3 tablespoons finely chopped parsley
2 ounces ham, boiled or smoked, or better, Italian prosciutto crudo, minced)
Salt and pepper
1 ¼ cups risotto rice (otherwise known as Arborio)
6 cups chicken or veal broth, or a mixture
1/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese

Shell or defrost the peas. Place the butter and olive oil in a saucepan over a medium flame. When the butter has melted add the peas and other vegetables, and ham if you wish. Sprinkle of some salt and pepper. Cook over medium to low heat until the peas are just turning tender.

Add the rice to the vegetables and mix well. Add broth as needed. (My note: add a little broth at a time until it is absorbed). Cook until the rice is tender but not mush, about 18 minutes. Stir frequently, particularly toward the end of cooking. (Note: risotto requires constant stirring at the end to bring out the creaminess of the rice).

When the rice is ready, stir in the grated cheese and serve in soup dishes.

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