Risi e Bisi, Italian Rice and Peas

Another Italian classic from Hank Shaw. Enjoy! ~Elise

This is a classic dish from Venice, and it has many variations. Risi e bisi simply means rice and peas, and the dish is traditionally made with the fresh new peas of spring. If fresh peas are not available, you can easily make it with frozen peas (avoid canned). Diced prosciutto is important to this dish, although not vital; I’ve seen vegetarian versions of risi e bisi. How much to add? You could go as high as a half pound in this recipe, making the dish more of a main course. But 1/4 pound is a better proportion for a side dish. And it must be diced: Slices will not do. Can’t find prosciutto? Use any ham. Virginia ham is an excellent substitute. Remember dry cured hams are salty, so the more you add, the saltier the dish will become.

Risi e Bisi, Italian Rice and Peas Recipe

  • Prep time: 10 minutes
  • Cook time: 35 minutes
  • Yield: Serves 4.

You must use a medium-grain rice here. Ideally, you’d use a variety from Venice called Vialone Nano, but regular Arborio is just fine, and Carnaroli is good, too.

Ingredients

  • 2 Tbsp olive oil
  • 3 shallots, minced
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1/4 pound diced prosciutto or other dry ham
  • 1 cup Arborio or other risotto rice
  • 2 cups vegetable or chicken stock
  • 2 or more cups water
  • 1 cup fresh or frozen peas
  • 1/2 cup parsley, chopped
  • 1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese

Method

1 Heat the olive oil in a medium-sized pot over medium-high heat. When it is hot, add the shallots and stir to combine. Let these sauté for 2-3 minutes.

2 Meanwhile, heat up the stock and 1 cup of water in a small pot. You want this at a simmer while you make the rice.

3 Add the garlic and the diced prosciutto to the pot with the shallots, stir well and cook for another 1-2 minutes. Pour in the rice, stir again and sauté for 2-3 minutes, stirring constantly.

4 Ladle some of the hot stock into the pot and start stirring. Risi e bisi is cooked like risotto, and is supposed to be pretty soupy, so you need a lot of water and you need to stir it constantly. Let this first ladle of stock cook down before you add the next. Keep adding stock, letting it cook down and stirring until you’re done with the simmering stock. It is likely that you may need at least one more cup of water to finish the dish, because all that stirring in an open pot means you evaporate more liquid than you would when you cook rice the normal way, i.e., covered. If you think you are going to need more water, add more to the simmering stock.

5 When you get to this last cup of water, add the peas. Keep stirring until the water has almost cooked away. Taste some rice and test for salt and doneness: Add a little salt and some more hot tap water if the rice is still crunchy – you want the rice to be a little al dente, but not so much you’re gnawing on raw grain.

6 Add the parsley and the parmesan and mix well. Your finished rice should be slightly soupy, so it’s OK to add a tad more water before serving.

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Links:

Risi e Bisi with Baked Prosciutto Chips - from Sippity Sup
Rice and Peas Salad - from The Nourishing Gourmet

12 Comments

  1. Mike

    35 minutes–really? Using arborio rice for risotto, I’ve never been able to get it to where it needs to be in less than an hour, and that’s adding hot liquid–no frozen peas!

    Maybe you are using old rice? I make risotto every week and it has never, ever taken me more than 40 minutes. You also might like your rice cooked longer than al dente, which would add to the time. ~Hank

  2. Anna Jennings

    This looks delish! My 90 year grandmother who is from Naples makes a similar version using a short pasta instead of rice. Actually, I recently bought a bag of arborio rice from a specialty Italian store. Definitely going to use it for this recipe!

  3. Kathi Riley Smith

    One of the Alioto clan from San Francisco taught me how to make this dish. Fresh English peas are a must and once the peas are removed from the pods, add the pods to the stock for more of the fresh pea flavor for the entire dish. One of my favorite meals, ever.

  4. Renee

    This sounds so refreshing! It’s a good way to change up serving rice for dinner.

    Mike, it has taken me forever to make risotto sometimes. Keep the temperature of the stove up to keep it cooking at the right pace.

  5. Melissa K

    This looks delicious, and a perfect dish for visiting nieces and nephews. I do have a question, though. Is there any specific reason to use half stock and half water? While I know I can use all stock (which I’d be tempted to do for more flavor), if there is a purpose for using water instead I’d be more inclined to stick to the recipe as written.

    It is to keep the rice from getting too salty. There is a lot of salt in the ham, and many stocks are very, very salty. This helps prevent the dish from becoming a salt lick ;-) ~Hank

  6. LS

    Elise – do you think diced pancetta could be used as a substitute? Or would it be too ‘bacony’? Thank you!

    If you crisp the pancetta first, then it’d be fine to substitute. ~Hank

  7. Jackie

    This sounds delicious! But just as a note, never use hot tap water in cooking! It can leech lead from the pipes and the lead ends up in your food! Here’s a tip from the CDC.

  8. Catherine

    I would like to try making this with either farro or pearled spelt. Fresh peas are the business. I like to eat them raw.

  9. angela

    Early days into my relationship with my husband (The Artist) he made a version of this for me with lamb chops,after a night on the town in London. It was the best hang-over meal ever, the carbs from the rice and the grease from the lamb chops were just what my delicate condition craved (along with the sofa and an old black and white movie!) I never knew exactly what the dish was, but now I do.

  10. Fortycloves

    My family, from Sicily, makes this with rice and,sometimes, with dittalini pasta. We love to add fresh basil or mint, as well. It’s real “peasant food,” and so comforting!

  11. Espahan

    Being a rice lover I was a late comer to risottos. I made my first one last year. Hubby fell in love. Needless to say I have made many more since then. This recipe is just what I was looking for, a chance to use my fresh peas. I can hardly wait to make this.

  12. Mike

    I made this today. Disappointed. Took way too much time for a bland dish that costs too much. As a side, plain rice would be just as good, if not better. As a risotto, it is a waste of ingredients. Won’t be making it again.

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