When short-term crops come into the garden and market, I tend to make as many variations as I can. I know that we can rely on our great supermarkets, especially in New York City, to provide us with anything from anywhere, anytime. While that’s great fun, and makes for amazing eating, I still prefer the limits that true seasonality demands. Local peas are among those crops that are so short-lived that we want to make the best of them while they’re here. Even as the weather warms, we are still regaling in a great crop of shelling peas, so I thought I’d make a classic Venetian dish known as “risi e bisi.” I made it like any other risotto, adding a little smoky ham, which is optional of course. Since I hate to waste those fresh green pea pods, I cooked them in the broth and squeezed them dry to extract the most pea essence I could. I think the classic way to make this involves cooking the peas with the rice. However, I steamed the peas separately since I wasn’t sure I was serving this immediately and I didn’t want the peas to brown. Also, it would be traditional to add Parmesan cheese and I included it in the recipe. I didn’t add it since I wanted the pea flavor to be as pure as possible.
Risotto with Sweet Peas
4-5 c homemade chicken stock or vegetable broth
1 lb peas, shelled, reserving the pods
1 small onion (or ½ medium onion), diced
1 clove garlic, diced (optional)
Small piece of ham or pancetta, diced (optional)
1 tbsp butter or olive oil
1 c Arborio or other short-grained rice
¼ c white wine
Salt and pepper to taste
1/3 c grated Parmesan cheese (optional)
Rinse the pea pods and simmer them in the liquid for about 15 minutes. Remove the pods to a sieve and press down on the solids to extract as much pea essence as possible, adding it to the liquid, which should be kept warm.
Slowly sauté the onion and garlic and ham, if using, in the butter or oil until the onion is translucent. Add the rice and stir to coat, cooking for 3-4 minutes until the surface of the rice turns white. Add the white wine and stir to combine. When the wine has evaporated, start adding the stock or broth, about 1/3-1/2 cup at a time, cooking to absorb the liquid before adding more. This process should take about 20 minutes to cook the rice. If you are serving this right away, you can add the peas about 10 minutes before the dish is complete. Otherwise, steam the peas separately.
When the risotto is done (al dente), add the peas if you’ve steamed them separately, add salt and pepper to taste, and stir in the Parmesan cheese. Serve as close to immediately as you can.