Risi e Bisi, Italian Rice and Peas

A classic Italian comfort food of rice with peas and chunks of ham.

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Photography Credit: Elise Bauer

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.

Risi e Bisi Italian Rice and Peas

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

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  • 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 Sauté shallots: 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 Heat stock and water: 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 garlic and prosciutto to shallots: Add the garlic and the diced prosciutto to the pot with the shallots, stir well and cook for another 1-2 minutes.

4 Add rice: Pour in the rice, stir again and sauté for 2-3 minutes, stirring constantly.

5 Slowly ladle in stock: 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.

6 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.

7 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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Hank Shaw

A former restaurant cook and journalist, Hank Shaw is the author of three wild game cookbooks as well as the James Beard Award-winning wild foods website Hunter Angler Gardener Cook. His latest cookbook is Buck, Buck, Moose, a guide to working with venison. He hunts, fishes, forages and cooks near Sacramento, CA.

More from Hank

Links:

Risi e Bisi with Baked Prosciutto Chips - from Sippity Sup

Rice and Peas Salad - from The Nourishing Gourmet

Showing 4 of 12 Comments

  • Riccardo

    I use a ham stock cube , pancetta and plain boiling water . No need to add salt as the pancetta , cube and chees make it delicious . My nonnas recipe who was from Venice . Try using par boiled rice for quickness , cuts cooking time by quite a bit .

  • 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.

  • 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!

  • 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.

  • 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

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