|The Grand Canal, Venice, Italy.|
It was raining when I first visited Venice but that was not going to stop me enjoying the city. The origins of Venice are as shrouded as the island had become as the clouds sank lower and emptied their contents in a fine mist. The stroke of noon March 25th 421AD is the traditional date of the city’s founding. In the years between its founding and the election of its first Doge around 726AD ports were built and settlements were expanded. Venice’s position at the head of the Adriatic made its military and merchant naval position almost invincible. Venice between the ninth and twelfth centuries flourished - a trade centre between the Western and Eastern empires. The city gained many towns and cities along the Adriatic in order to prevent piratical activity. Venice had its weaknesses; a lack of farming land meant that wheat was its major import. Its primary export was salt, but rice was grown on the plains of the river Po and became a staple of the Venetian diet.
|The Bridge of Sighs|
The Doge was the ruler of Venice. The Doge’s Palace stands at the corner of St. Mark’s Piazza on the Grand Canal. Possibly its most famous aspect is the Bridge of Sighs, across which prisoners walked from the court in the palace to the prisons on the other side of a narrow inlet. On feast days the Doge would decree that the dish, Risi e Bisi, or pea risotto, could be made and eaten by the Venetians. Luckily no such decrees are required now, Pea Risotto can be made and enjoyed any day of the year.
Venice has a labyrinthine charm. Its churches, small bridges spanning slim inlets, and narrow, winding lanes that suddenly open up into expansive squares, make it an interesting and intriguing city. Each time I visit I am charmed again (and have been luckier with the weather!)
Pea Risotto (Risotto Piselli)
This is a dish not to rush. It is not complicated but it needs your attention; when stirring you can float away on a gondola of dreams.
1 medium onion, finely sliced
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
400g good risotto rice such as arborio, carnaroli or vialone
Olive oil – a generous glug (approx. 4-5 tbsp)
100g unsalted butter
3 ½ lbs of unshelled peas
Bunch of parsley – very finely chopped
100g grated Parmagiano cheese –and more to serve
250ml of dry white wine
2 litres of water
Shell the peas and make a pea broth from the discarded pods, a pinch of salt and pepper and about two litres of water.
Gently sauté the onion and garlic in the oil and 1/3 of the butter until the onion starts to colour slightly.
Add the rice to the pan and stir over a gentle heat for 3-5 minutes ensuring that all the rice is coated.
Add the pea broth, a ladle or two at a time, stirring constantly. When the broth is almost completely absorbed add the next ladle or two. Intersperse the wine with the broth.
Keep cooking this way for about 20 minutes over a low heat.
Add the peas and cook for a further 2-3 minutes. The rice will be creamy but retain a slight bite, ‘al dente’, and the peas will have started to soften.
At the last moment add the cheese and parsley; give a quick stir to mix them in.
HINTS AND TIPS
It is important that the correct type of rice is used for making risotto. Risotto rice needs to be short and plump. The best risotto rices are Carnaroli and Arborio. These rice grains release starch and absorb liquids making them ideal for the sticky risotto dish.