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The Tale of Two Rice Dishes; Summer and Winter Risotto

Jan D’Atri | Aug 1, 2013, 6 a.m.
Risi Bisi, Summertime Risotto

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Jan D’Atri

This month I’m sharing two beautiful rice dishes for two different seasons, both from the heart of the Venato region of Italy.

Although the Valley is still hotter than heck in August, it’s the time that we begin transitioning into fall. Still, our outdoor thermometers read summer temperatures. So, it’s risotto to the rescue—summer and winter versions.

During the springtime in Venice, Italy, the hearty and rich regional favorite risotto lightens up on April 25 in celebration of the Fiesta of St. Mark, Venice’s patron saint. From that point on, Risi Bisi (rice and peas) becomes the Venetian Risotto of spring and summer.

This flavorful main dish is traditionally made with “new” or “spring” peas shelled fresh from the pod. But you can opt for the fresh frozen peas in the bag. (Canned peas are not an option for Risi Bisi, as they would turn to mush.) Risi Bisi can be made with Arborio or Carnaroli rice, as in the traditional risotto. However, Uncle Ben’s Converted Rice (not instant) was our family’s favorite because it is has less starch, making for a lighter consistency. Risi Bisi has a slight soupy quality, so have plenty of chicken or vegetable broth on hand to thin as you see fit. The neutral rice gives way to pops of sweetness from the peas and the prosciutto or bacon adds the perfect savory saltiness to this dish.

The second recipe is a wintertime rice dish that needs no introduction. Risotto is a classic Italian favorite that can seem intimidating to make but worth the effort. So, just follow the recipe below for a winter haven of happiness in a bowl!

Risi Bisi, Summertime Risotto

1 tablespoon olive oil

2 tablespoons butter

2 cloves fresh garlic, minced

1 medium onion, chopped fine

4 slices of prosciutto or bacon chopped fine

2 cups rice

4 cups chicken or vegetable broth

3/4 cup Parmesan cheese, grated fine

2 cups shelled fresh or fresh frozen peas (not in the can)

Salt and pepper to taste

In a large pot over medium heat sauté garlic and onion in olive oil and butter until translucent, about 10 minutes. Add chopped prosciutto or bacon and cook for about 3 minutes. (If using bacon and you want to reduce the amount of bacon fat, cook bacon in microwave for approximately 3 minutes covered.) Then chop and add to garlic and onion mixture. Add rice and stir to combine. Slowly add chicken or vegetable broth and bring to boil. Simmer and cook for about 15 minutes, stirring often. If rice becomes too dry, add more broth or water. When rice is cooked, add 1/2 cup Parmesan cheese and peas, stirring very gently to combine. Add salt and pepper to taste. Serve in a shallow bowl. Sprinkle remainder of Parmesan cheese over top. Serves 4.

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Wintertime Risotto

My Momma’s Wintertime Risotto

1/2 cup butter

1 medium onion, minced

2 cups Arborio or Carnaroli rice

2 1/2 quarts chicken stock, heated

1/2 cup fresh grated Parmesan cheese

In a large saucepan melt 1/4 cup butter. Add onion and sauté until translucent. (Do not brown.) Add rice and stir until butter is absorbed. Add broth, a little at a time. Don’t let rice get too dry or sticky. Cook 30 to 35 minutes over low heat, stirring constantly. Add broth as needed. When done, just before serving, add 1/4 cup butter. Mix well and add Parmesan cheese. Risotto should be creamy. Serve immediately. Serves 4.

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