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   

Monday, October 8, 2012


My imaginary friend came over the other day.  She hadn't visited in a while, but something was bothering her so she put in an appearance.  The conversation went something like this (I did most of the talking): "What's that you said? You love spinach dip?  And you love spinach-artichoke dip also?  And you're crazy about hummus?  And what else did you say?  A little louder please, I can't hear you too well.  Really?  You can't decide which dip to make?  Oh, poor you. This is not a problem at all.  Make all three.  No, no, just relax!  Not three different dips.  Make one dip that is a combination of hummus, spinach and spinach-artichoke dip.  Trust me dear, it's delicious.  I bought some from that specialty supermarket I go to, and I loved it.  It has a hummus base. I need not tell you how healthy hummus is. Then there is spinach added, and carrots, and water chestnuts.  Then there are chopped up artichokes incorporated into the mix.  No, no, the supermarket didn't give me the recipe, but how hard is it going to be to make something similar?  Come into the kitchen with me dear, and you'll be eating dip in no time."  She followed me into the kitchen.  That imaginary friend of mine just loves to follow me.


I continued explaining to my friend how healthy this hummus dip is: "Don't forget how many calories and fat we're going to do away with by making our dip this way.  Out goes the mayonnaise.  Out goes the sour cream.  Out go the high fat cheeses and the cream.  Instead, we have protein from the chick peas, we have iron rich spinach, we have the goodness of yogurt and we've got some really delicious feta cheese.  I see you smiling already.  Wait 'till you taste this!"  So we got to work and made our dip.  Actually I did all the work.  My imaginary friend just looked on and smiled in approval.  

Make the hummus base:

There lots of recipes for hummus, but this one is good to use as a base for this dip.  Take a 15 ounce can of chickpeas, 2 or 3 garlic cloves, 4 level tablespoons tahini, 4 tablespoons lemon juice (or a little more, if needed), and a pinch each of salt, cumin and black pepper.  Whip them up in a food processor until you get a smooth consistency.  To that mixture add 3 tablespoons Greek yogurt and 2 tablespoons olive oil.  Whip the mixture up some more and that should do it for the base of the dip.

Now let's add some vegetables:

Chop up 4 artichoke hearts (the canned ones, but not not the marinated ones), chop up some spinach, chop some water chestnuts, chop a little parsley, and grate a carrot.  How much of each?  
Oh, details, details. We can measure or we can wing it.  I'm all for winging it. 
Let's just fold the vegetables into the hummus.  Stir in a tablespoon of grated Parmesan cheese and about a tablespoon or so of feta cheese.  Place the dip in the refrigerator for a few hours or preferably overnight so that the hummus can reach its optimum taste.  Resting time is important so that the flavors can blend together.  Once the dip is ready, place it on a serving platter and decorate the top with pine nuts (which I forgot to do when taking the picture).  Serve with carrots, celery and pita chips. 
Taste it.  Come on, taste it...  Whoops... were did my imaginary friend go?  Oh well, she's gone.  This was fun to make and a really delicious and healthy dip.  
I packed some of it up and took it to work.  It got favorable reviews!!!

Tuesday, October 2, 2012


Oregano, garlic, olive oil and lemon juice.  Four ingredients that make a spud taste awesome!  Peel, mix and roast.  Simple and yet so flavorful.  This way of cooking potatoes is very popular in Greek homes.  The ubiquitous Greek roasted potato!  Every Greek or friend of a Greek has either eaten them, or cooked them, or both.  A good accompaniment with Greek roasted potatoes is feta cheese. That, some olives and a salad are an excellent and inexpensive meal. I made the potatoes in the picture to accompany a chicken dish, but they tasted so good that I hardly ate any chicken.  Didn't miss it, either. 
Greeks like to roast potatoes in the same pan with chicken or meat, but they also roast them plain, to serve as a side dish or as a main meal. 

With this recipe I always use Yukon gold potatoes.  I've used other types of potatoes in the past, but ever since I discovered the Yukon gold variety I've used nothing else.  They have an extraordinary flavor, sweet and buttery.  I promise you:  This recipe + Yukon gold potatoes = a super-delicious eating experience.  

3 pounds Yukon gold potatoes, peeled and cut into wedges
1/4 cup olive oil
4 garlic cloves
2 teaspoons dried oregano plus a little more to use as a topping
Salt and pepper to taste
1/4 cup chicken broth or vegetable broth, pick whichever one you love
juice squeezed from one large juicy lemon
a handful of grated Pecorino Romano cheese (maybe a little feta cheese, too, if you feel up to it)

  • Preheat the oven to 400°F.
  • Smash the garlic cloves and peel them.  Remove the green sprout from the middle of each garlic clove. Do this because the sprout will turn a funny grey color when it's roasted (as I have learned from experience),  and I don't think you're going to like grey stuff mixed in with your potatoes, even if you know it used to be some harmless little garlic sprout.  Once the sprouts are discarded go ahead and mince the garlic.   
  • In a large bowl toss the potatoes with the olive oil, the oregano, the minced garlic, and the salt and pepper.  Come on, Get your hands in that bowl and get the tossing action going! 
Start mixing!
  • Now spread the potatoes out in a baking pan.  They have to be in one layer, so choose a pan that can accommodate them that way.
  • Bake them for 25 minutes, then take them out of the oven.
  • Add the chicken or vegetable broth and the lemon juice.  Grab yourself a spoon and toss those potatoes once again.  
To the partially cooked potatoes I added broth and lemon juice.  This time around I crumbled up some feta cheese and added that also.  
  • Put them back in the oven to finish cooking.  This should take about a half hour to 40 minutes. Check them and you'll know when they're done. They will be tender in the middle and browned around the edges.  
  • Take them out of the oven, place them on a serving dish and sprinkle a little oregano and the handful of Pecorino Romano cheese over the potatoes.  
  • Feta cheese?  If you like you can crumble a little feta cheese into tiny pieces and sprinkle it on top. Or, you can mix in a little crumbled feta cheese when you add the broth.  Or, you can have the feta on the side, which is my favorite way to have these potatoes.  
  • Serve them right away while they are still warm, and enjoy, enjoy, enjoy!