Monday, October 22, 2012

RISI E BISI

Give me peas and pasta, give me peas and rice, I love them both.  Who can resist those glorious, gratifying combinations?  Who indeed, especially when fresh peas are in season!  I cook risi e bisi often, but it's only recently that I found out the recipe is of Venetian origin.  So much the better.  I've been reading Hemingway's "Across The River And Into The Trees," for this edition of Novel Food.  The novel is set mostly in Venice and it seems to me that a plateful of risi e bisi will make a very nice accompaniment to my reading endeavor.  Of course, none of the the characters in the novel eat risotto.  They tackle a huge lobster served with mayonnaise, and they order scaloppine, and cauliflower and mashed potatoes and lots of wine.  As is usual with Hemingway, there's lots of alcohol making the rounds, and lots of hunting and eating of game.  The characters are in and out of Harry's Bar, and there's one lively passage in which the protagonist visits a Venetian market and orders about a dozen fresh oysters.  He shucks them in masterful strokes and eats them on the spot... savoring their seawater liquor...  Probably very good for his libido. Hemingway knew about stuff like that.  Well, for now, I'll stick to risi e bisi and I'll have a vicarious order of everything else on the side.
My philosophy when making risotto is "say yes to the cheese!" 

Venetians cook risi e bisi to a consistency that's somewhere between a soup and a risotto.  It's served especially on April 25th, to celebrate the feast day of St. Mark, the city's patron saint.  Here's how I cook this Venetian treat: 
The bottom of my pan had a lovely caramelized color from the pancetta having cooked in there.  I cleared off any remaining fat, added olive oil and then the onions and celery.  They deglazed the pan and picked up the caramelized color left over from the pancetta.  This also contributed to the chicken broth having a richer color, as seen in the picture below.  Without pancetta the rice will have a more pristine, white color.  

Ingredients:
Pancetta (this is optional.  I used it, but I trimmed it thoroughly, removing a lot of the fat)
5 or 6 cups chicken broth (or as needed)
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 onion, chopped well
1 celery rib, chopped well
Pepper to taste-no need to use salt.  There is salt in the cheese, the broth and the pancetta (if pancetta is used, that is)
1 cup arborio rice
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 cup white wine
1 ½ cups peas (If fresh peas are available, by all means get them.  Shell them to yield 1½ cups and reserve the pea shells for the broth)
2 cups pea shells such as from snow peas, if frozen peas are used
3 or 4 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
¼ cup grated Romano or Parmesan cheese

Directions:
Boil the pea shells in the chicken broth until they are almost melting away.  Scoop them out of the broth and discard them. 
Boiling the pea shells in the broth gives a more concentrated pea flavor.
Keep the broth warm so that it’s ready to add to the risotto.  Keep a ladle nearby. 
In a skillet, cook the pancetta until it's crispy and then drain it on paper towels.
Heat the oil in a Dutch oven and add the onion and celery.  Cook about 5 minutes, then add the garlic and the rice.  Cook stirring for 2 to 3 minutes.  Add the pancetta and the wine and keep stirring until the wine has been absorbed by the rice. 
Start adding the broth.  Add about 2 full ladles, enough to cover the rice. As the broth begins to get absorbed add more broth and keep stirring all the while. 
When there are only about 2 ladles of broth left, add the peas and stir. Keep adding broth and cook, stirring, for about 10 minutes.  By now the peas should be tender and the rice should be tender also. 
Add some pepper, the parsley, and the grated cheese.  
Remove from the heat.  The mixture should be creamy, not dry.  Add more broth if it looks dry to you.  Serve right away.  
and we had leftovers...

Hemingway's novel "Across The River And Into The Trees" is about a love affair.  Not so much between the 50 year old protagonist, Cantwell, and his eighteen year old contessa, who do share some romantic moments.  However, more distinct is the love Cantwell feels for Venice, a city which he considers unrivaled.
Cantwell is a battle scarred army officer, one with advancing heart disease, who is facing the fact that he is near death.  During a visit to Venice he reminisces of the time he spent there as a young soldier.  It was World War I, and it seems that every Venetian scene reminds him of that time.  It was a time when he believed that he was immortal, and immortal even in battle, but presently he realizes that his immortality is lost or never was.  I think that is why he has a last, spontaneous affair with someone so much younger than himself.  He is trying to recapture a time and a youth that are gone forever.  The contessa in turn is mourning her father, who died during the last war.  Her attraction to Cantwell stems from a wish to be a daughter again.  It’s ironic that Cantwell often calls her “daughter,” certainly considered an unfortunate misnomer in today’s society, but alas something quite acceptable in 1950, the date of the novel’s publication.
Cantwell summons up the recollections of his past while on a hunting trip.  After a period of introspection he experiences chest pains and dies.  He faces his approaching death with bravery.  He goes into death with the same sense of purpose he had as when going into battle.
Hemingway's retelling of World War I experiences compels me to compare Cantwell with Frederic Henry, the hero of 'A Farewell To Arms."  I wonder if Cantwell at age 50 is a grown up Frederic Henry.     
A nice novel, but one that lacks the evocative power of Hemingway's earlier work.  But, realism is a dirty business, so perhaps evocations are not needed here.

This is my contribution to Novel Food, the literary - culinary event hosted by Simona from Briciole. You can find the round up of the 17th edition of Novel Food HERE   

5 comments:

  1. Fabulous posting, Ana. Enjoyable reading, vibrant photos, and delicious recipe.

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  2. Yum, Yum. Thought I would check your blog and I am glad I did. These are gorgeous pictures of risotto. I never read the book you talk about, but I saw the movie A farewell to arms. I also read the Sun also rises. That was a good book. Thanks for the risotto fix Ana.

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  3. Risi e bisi is such a lovely dish! I have not been inside Harry's Bar, but we had lunch one day at Harry's Dolci, on La Giudecca. The view towards Venice is gorgeous. My husband ordered risotto and we laughed at the note on the menu about risotto being incompatible with cell phones. I wish I remembered the exact words: they were funny. I think that Venice attracts people in different ways depending on where they are in life and their previous experience: it is a city that fascinates everybody. Thank you so much for your contribution to Novel Food!

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  4. I love how your food looks colorful and delicious! From your description, I'd like to read this book.

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  5. Love your pea technique! We love risotto in our house, so I'll see about adding this to our list of things to try in the near future.

    And don't you just love books rife with food descriptions?

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