Monday, October 22, 2012


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 most of the time I refer to it in its boring vernacular: risotto with peas. What's wrong with me? What indeed? This Venetian recipe deserves its more poetic name. Yes, Risi and Bisi! 

I've been reading Hemingway's "Across The River And Into The Trees," for this edition of Novel Food.  Hemingway's 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 endeavours. Of course, none of 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 guns and war stories and hunting and eating of game. 

The characters saunter 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 all about nursing a libido! 

Let me stick to my Risi and Bisi. However, I do intend to order a vicarious order of oysters if they can be shucked for me by Hemingway. We'll share them on the spot, right in that very same Venetian market. 

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: 


5 or 6 cups vegetable broth (or as needed)
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 onion, chopped well
2 celery ribs, chopped well
Pepper to taste-no need to use salt.  There is salt in the cheese and the broth 
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 Pecorino Romano cheese


Boil the pea shells in the broth until they are almost melting away.  Scoop them out 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. 

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 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.  The two 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 corner 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.  

Not a prudent union if it can even be called a union. Hemingway by no means convinces us that there is a real meeting of the souls between these two. He may be purposefully pointing against it. It’s ironic that Cantwell often calls his young "love" interest “daughter,” something certainly considered an unfortunate misnomer in today’s society, but alas quite acceptable in 1950, the date of the novel’s publication.

While on a hunting trip, Cantwell summons up recollections of his past. 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.  That's the Hemingway we know (and love)? The character has resigned himself to the inevitable and faces it with bravery. He accepts the rule of the jungle and the survival of the fittest.  Yes, Hemingwayian indeed! 

The writing did appear a bit tired in some sections.  One senses the ebbing of Hemingway's powers.  By this time he spent his time mostly drinking and he was in and out of depressive states, situations not conducive to the art or writing. 

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 good 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 BricioleYou can find the round up of the 17th edition of Novel Food HERE   


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

  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.

  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!

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

  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?