Sometimes a holiday introduces you to new tastes or inspires you to be adventurous in the kitchen. And sometimes, a holiday gives you the perfect excuse to make a dish you already love. Such is the case with St. Mark’s Day, which commemorates the patron saint of Venice. In Venice, tradition holds that on this day every man should give a single rose, or bucolo, to the woman (or women) he loves. Legend holds that this honors the memory of a young soldier who fell in love with a noblewoman above his station: before he was killed in battle he managed to snag a rose and send it to her as a token of his love. It’s a perfectly romantic notion for a perfectly romantic city.
Our favorite and easiest Venetian dish to cook is Risi e bisi, or rice and peas. It was one of the first non-white, non-bland dishes Zanthe’s children would deign to eat, which made it extra exciting in those early days of family meals. And this version can be made almost entirely with pantry staples, another major factor in its favor. If you’ve never tried risi e bisi before, it’s essentially a soupy risotto, with no laborious stirring required. And wouldn’t you know, it’s the traditional thing to serve on the Feast of St. Mark? Lucky us.
Risi e Bisi
Adapted from Nigella Lawson
The secret to this dish is a quick purée of peas, butter and cheese. It infuses the rice with a surprisingly deep flavor for a dish that also celebrates the bright, fresh tastes of spring. If you have fresh young peas, by all means use them, but only if they are small–even fresh peas can be starchy and tough, and you want the tenderest ones possible for this dish.
4 tbsp unsalted butter, divided
3 cups (12 oz) frozen young peas, thawed or frozen
5 tbsp freshly grated Parmesan cheese, divided, plus more for serving
2 tbsp olive oil
1 small onion or 2 shallots, peeled and finely chopped
3 tbsp chopped flat-leaf parsley, divided
2 tbsp chopped fresh mint, divided
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons Italian arborio rice
½ cup white wine
5 ½ cups hot chicken or vegetable broth
Freshly ground pepper, preferably white
In a small saucepan or skillet, melt 1 tablespoon butter over low heat. Add 1 cup peas and sauté until tender, 1 to 2 minutes (longer if still frozen). Transfer to a food processor, add 1 more tablespoon butter and 1 tablespoon Parmesan cheese. Purée and set aside.
In a large saucepan, combine remaining 2 tablespoons butter with the olive oil and place over medium-low heat. When butter has melted, add onion or shallot and sauté for 1 minute, then add 1 tbsp parsley and 1 tbsp mint. Continue to sauté until onion is tender, 1 to 2 minutes more.
Add remaining 2 cups peas and toss to mix. Add rice and stir until grains are well coated. Pour in white wine and raise heat to medium, stirring until wine is absorbed. Pour in all the broth at once, stir well and add reserved pea purée. Bring to a boil then cover, reduce heat to low, and allow to simmer until rice is cooked, about 10-15 minutes. Remove from heat and allow mixture to sit covered for 10 minutes. Stir in remaining 4 tbsp Parmesan and season with salt and pepper to taste. Sprinkle with remaining parsley and mint and serve warm, with additional grated cheese if you like.