Comfort food: Risi e bisi
Meaning literally “rice and peas”, there’s not a whole lot to this dish, and yet it somehow always ends up being greater than the sum of its parts. It is perfect for a day when all you want to do is stay inside, but you still feel the urge to whip up something fresh to eat. All of the ingredients keep for more than a week so it’s a great recipe to stock up for and save for a rainy day.
Part of the comfort of it comes, of course, in the eating – it’s warming, sweet and satisfying – but the real, simple pleasure comes from the making of it: if it gets too thick or too soupy or if you add too much cheese (yes, this is actually possible) or not enough rice, it somehow still ends up okay.
I got my recipe for risi e bisi from Il Cucchaio Argento or The Silver Spoon, which is a classic cookbook from Italy. The recipes in the book are so sparsely written and adaptable that practically every recipe I’ve made from it has a post-it full of scrawled alterations in it: this one is no exception, and I’ve put my own recipe below, along with some adaptations!
Risi e bisi (serves 2)
1 white onion
1 clove of garlic
1 vegetable stock cube
100g risotto rice
125g peas - can be frozen
25g parmesan (optional)
Boil the kettle and make stock with 600ml of water. Keep on a hob in a small saucepan at a gentle simmer.
Dice the onion and pierce the garlic clove multiple times with a knife.
In another saucepan, sweat down the onion and the garlic until the onions go translucent (about 5 mins).
Add the peas and cook until they no longer appear frozen. Add the rice and stir for about 2 mins.
Add a fifth of the stock, stir until the mixture thickens, then add another fifth or so as the rice absorbs the water. This whole process should take around 20 minutes.
Finish by grating in the parmesan and season with salt afterwards - parmesan is pretty salty!
Alterations: If you’re a meat eater, top with diced cooked bacon or pancetta and swap veg stock for chicken, or leave out the parmesan if you’re vegan or strict vegetarian (parmesan is not vegetarian!). You can also add half a stick of celery in with the onions for more depth of flavour. Red onion instead of white onion makes the risotto much sweeter and more colourful. The peas can be swapped out or mixed in with broad beans, mange tout or even red peppers. A glug of white wine in the stock can also taste nice but has to be of decent quality, so realistically you might have to save that tip until you’re home for the holidays.