This is a dish that means a lot to Venetians. It is the principal offering at the annual feast to celebrate the citys patron saint, Saint Mark the Evangelist. The feast day is 25 April and tradition has it that the very first young peas of the season are used for this delightful and simple risotto. To make an authentic RÃ¬si e BÃ¬si you need to use young peas, the smallest and tenderest you can find. This is not one of those dishes where frozen peas will do. Absolutely not. Sorry. You must use fresh peas. And you must shell them. You may want to buy twenty per cent more peas than you actually need so that you can reward yourself whilst shelling by popping the occasional raw pea in your mouth.
2kg fresh peas in their pods
2 onions, 1 cut in half and 1 finely chopped
Flaky sea salt and black pepper
50ml extra virgin olive oil
60g unsalted butter
400g risotto rice “ carnaroli is best
1 handful of mint leaves, chopped
1 handful of flat parsley leaves, chopped
Shell the peas in advance because you are going to make a simple stock with the empty pods. In a large pan, bring 2.5 litres of water to the boil. When all the peas are shelled, place the pods (but not the peas) in the pan with the halved onion. (Move the freshly podded peas to one side, out of temptations way.) Bring the pods to the boil for only a minute or two and then take off the heat. Remove and discard the pods. Now you have your stock for making the risotto.
Sweat the finely chopped onion with a few pinches of salt in the olive oil and half the butter in a heavy-based pan. This should be a slow process
on a low heat “ you dont want it to turn brown at all. The onion should become clear, shiny and translucent. Continue to sautÃ© for a few minutes. Add a twist of black pepper.
Now add the rice and stir slowly for 2 minutes. You want to coat every grain in the oil and butter so that everything looks glossy and nothing is sticking. With a large ladle, put just enough stock in the pan to cover everything but not drown it. The contents will let off a satisfying hiss and a cloud of steam. This first ladleful will be absorbed and evaporate very quickly. Add another. If the pan continues to bubble, the heat is too high. Turn it down and stir slowly.
For the next 15 minutes or so you should continue to stir slowly and add a ladleful of stock every time the rice looks less than wet. You are continually letting the rice absorb the liquid and allowing the grains to release their starch. Towards the end, add the peas, half the chopped mint and half the chopped parsley. Taste and add more salt if needed, but not too much. Remember that the Parmesan* will add a little salt to the balance.
Dont be a slave to the clock; taste your grains to know when they are done. They should still have a little bite to them. When they are ready, make sure the mixture is nice and runny. Unlike a regular risotto, RÃ¬si e bÃ¬si should be more liquid, rather like a thick soup. Take off the heat. Gently stir in the Parmesan, the remaining butter, mint and parsley. Cover the pan and let it rest for a few minutes, and then serve in wide shallow bowls.
* Parmesan/Parmigiano-Reggiano is made with calf rennet. Can be substituted with a parmesan style hard cheese or vegan dairy free parmesan style cheese.