Risi e bisi is a classic dish from Venice, and it has many variations. My variation on the dish modifies this traditional Italian dish of rice and peas and adds zucchini and edamame.
Risi e bisi is not only fun to say but fun to eat. The dish is traditionally made with the fresh new peas of spring. If fresh peas are not available, you can easily make it with frozen peas. If you make it with fresh peas, look for small tender peas that haven’t quite filled their pods. Larger peas are starchier. Canned peas are not ever recommended because they are too mushy and not as flavorful. It is similar to risotto in that it uses arborio rice. It is usually served a little bit soupier, but you can also cook it until creamy much like risotto.
Marcella Hazan, the doyenne of Italian cuisine, explains in her comprehensive Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking, that “risi e bisi is not risotto with peas. It is a soup, albeit a very thick one,” which, when made properly, should be “runny enough to require a spoon”. Elizabeth David, a British food writer, disagrees in “Italian Food,” recommending the use of a fork. These two grande dames would probably concur, however, that this is a fairly unbeatable summer supper.
My friend Reina recently invited me over for dinner. She said that her mom used to prepare risi e bisi for the family when she was a child. So as an act of nostalgia, she cooked a similar modified version of rice and peas with zucchini. I also added edamame for a touch of green and to stay true to the basic concept of peas or beans in the rice. You can use homemade or store-bought chicken stock to stir into the rice and peas. I like to add a little lemon and grated parmesan to the rice at the end. Say it again, “risi e bisi,” and smile!