Risi e Bisi (garden pea risotto) is a favorite spring dish in Venice: By mid-April, the Rialto Market looks like this, and everyone who loves fresh peas will feel like heaven: You’ll see peas of all sizes, from the estuary, the northern Lagoon, and even from southern Italy (Campania, south of Salerno). So it’s really hard to choose your favorites amongst all this bounty:
Perhaps you know that risi e bisi was first cooked in Venice, centuries ago. I’ve seen something called “risi e bisi” as side dish on many menus across Europe, usually referring to cooked rice and frozen garden peas. Now, this hasn’t go anything do with the original recipe, which is a real gourmet dish, as you’ll see in a minute. And obviously, the long time it takes to prepare the dish, and the fresh garden peas from the market make a lot of difference.
The original recipe is a very creamy risotto (to be stirred continuously, which does take a bit of time). So it’s not an easy dish, in fact, it takes a couple of years to learn to prepare a perfect risotto like a Venetian chef does. If you’d like to try this recipe, make sure you have at least 90 minutes available.
If you take a close look, you’ll notice that there are three kinds of risotto available in Venice. Two of them are based on recipes passed on by one generation to the next, but the third one was forgotten when the Republic of Venice ceased to exist in 1797, so it’s a dish you usually won’t find on the menu. Well, I hope that will change in the years to come, as many Venetian chefs go through the ancient recipe collections!
First, there’s the popular variant of risi e bisi: Risotto rice and fresh garden peas, that is, NOT frozen. Preferably, the peas come from Badoere, a village located near Treviso on the mainland. This dish also uses speck or guanciale, plus Taleggio and Parmesan cheese, lots of fresh parsley and black pepper. This is the most common version, which you can eat on or just after 25 April in some, but not all restaurants in Venice.
The second version of risi e bisi uses not only the peas but also the baccelli (pods), which are cooked in water. Their soft green lining is then scraped off and added to the peas, which are cooked with rice and lard.
Today, I’m sharing the forgotten historical recipe below, the really festive variant, and in Venet, we write it like this: Risóto de l’Doge (in Italian: Risotto del Doge). For this special and forgotten dish, you’ll need two types of garden peas, speck or guanciale, soft cheese like Taleggio, and more solid cheese, like Montasio. You’ll also prepare some ingredients separately, as you can see in the recipe below.
Risóto de l’Doge
- 2 cups fresh garden peas small
- 1 cup fresh garden peas larger ones, possibly from Badoere
- 1 white onion
- 1 cup lard (small dices)
- 1 1/2 tablespoons ground pepper mix white and black pepper
- 2 cups risotto rice
- Parsley and lovage
- 1 cup Taleggio cheese (small dices)
- 1 cup Montasio cheese (small dices)
- Cook the small peas in a pot with the onions and lovage. Drain some of the liquid, but keep it in a separate pot, when the peas are cooked, then use a mixer to create a smooth and thick cream.
- Fry the carot and onion (both in small dices) in olive oil, then add the large peas and the rice.
- Add some of the liquid in which the small peas were cooked, and then a spoonful of the vegetable cream. Stir well and repeat until all of the vegetable cream has been added and the rice is almost al dente.
- In a pan, fry the speck in small dices, then add it to the risotto.
- Add the cheese to the risotto and stir well. Add sea salt and the pepper mix.
- Leave to rest on the oven until the risotto is al dente, then wait for another 10 minutes before stirring well and adding the parsley. Serve your risotto with lots of pepper and a drizzle of olive oil.
This risotto is a historical recipe and was served to the Doges and their entourage during a banquet in the evening of 25 April, which until 1797 was the national holiday of La Serenissima Republic of Venice.3