RECIPE: Risi E Bisi, a classic Venetian dish


We're slap bang in the middle of a fashion for ever increasingly complex food where everything needs to be processed and bothered with sodium alginate, maltodextrin or methyl cellulose powder to impress us. But I find myself craving simplicity more and more.

Admittedly there is something admirable about the skill and techniques used by leading chefs to dehydrate, sphere and transform everyday foods into something unrecognisable, but for me, the real talent of cooking comes from turning a handful of simple ingredients into something delicious. Mammas of Italy have been doing this for centuries, and cucina povera is something that Italy still celebrates. It's the ultimate respect of food, be it the humble tomato or a piece of guanciale.

Risi and Bisi isn't actually from my region (Abruzzo), but a dish from Venice. But nine times out of ten, if I'm home alone, I'll be cooking this for myself. Essentially it's the Italian equivalent of rice and peas, a little like risotto but far soupier.  As with all simple recipes, they are made better by great quality so the recipe lists some pointers to make it really special.

Either way, I'd generally rather have a plate of this than a dish of dehydrated mackerel cheeks with popcorn powder.

Serves 4

2tbs Olive oil
Small white onion, chopped finely
1 clove of garlic, crushed
60g of pancetta, cut into small cubes (not too much of the fat)
400g peas, frozen is fine but freshly shelled is best when in season
200g of rice, vialone nano, aborio or carneroli
Few stalks of flat leaf parsley, chopped finely
1ltr chicken stock, best you can
Parmigiano Reggiano

Heat the olive oil in a saucepan and gently fry the onion until slightly transparent and without colour.
Add the pancetta and fry for 2-3 minutes. Add the peas, garlic, rice and parsley and fry again for 1-2 minutes until well coated. 

Add the hot stock and cook for 10-12 minutes, until the rice is tender. If the rice absorbs too much of the stock just add a little more boiling water, you want to retain a slightly soupy consistency. 

Season to taste with salt and freshly grated Parmesan, which will give the dish a slight creaminess.