Risi e’ Bisi Venito, Venetian Rice and Pea Soup

‘The Princess and the Pea,” written Hans Christian Andersen, is one of most famous references to peas. Maybe you remember Carol Burnett starring in the television musical interpretation of this children’s story? The younger among us may better recall the 1996 musical revival starring Sarah Jessica Parker.

Peas also turn up in Edward Lear’s poem in which “the Owl and the Pussy-Cat went to sea/In a beautiful pea-green boat.”

Another peas fun fact is the world record of 7,175 peas eaten in an hour by an English woman in 1984.

It’s no small thing (the pea is small but not the “thing”) that in the 19th century an Austrian monk, George Mendel, utilized pea plants in experiments that helped to develop the basis for the realm of genetics.

In China, it’s believed that 5,000 years ago, Emperor Shu Nung combed the countryside in search of plants that could be used for food and medicine, and discovered peas. In the 17th century, European peas were considered a delicacy, thus quite fashionable and expensive.

The simple pea has developed an elevated status in cuisine. Although delicious along side Mom’s meatloaf, peas have won awards simply prepared with butter, fresh thyme and lemon on “Top Chef” and are often fastidiously prepared as part of entrees in notable French restaurants. Many restaurants are so particular about the quality of their peas that they are growing their own so they can pick and prepare as quickly as possible from vine to table, before the flavor changes.

A small percentage of peas are eaten fresh, with most being canned or frozen.

Granted, frozen and canned are the most convenient and are still very flavorful. If you enjoy them this way, they will come up yet another notch on your favorites list if you take the time to prepare them fresh.

If you are selecting your pods for the first time, it’s really simple. Seek out brilliant green English pea pods. Break open a pod and look at the peas inside. You want to see small, vibrant green and firm peas. If you discover large mature peas, these are not the peas you want to put into your cart. Peas that are too mature are not as sweet and tender as you want them to be.

The less processing involved in preparing fresh peas, the better the flavor.

A pound of fresh pea pods typically yields 1 1/2 cups peas.

To prepare fresh peas, simply bring a pot of water to a rapid boil. While you wait for the water to boil, shell peas and rinse them. When water is ready drop the peas and boil for 1 minute or until they float to the top. They are done. Don’t overcook.

The sweet, yet earthy savory flavor profile of peas compliments soups, curries, vegetable stocks, risotto and even richer pasta dishes. In Italy and France it’s not unusual to find peas seasoned with anise, tarragon or even mint.

Mangia Bene with fresh piselli (peas in Italian) as soon as they make their appearance.

Roman Sformato Piselli

(Roman Pea Flan)

Serves 4

3 oz. fresh green peas, cooked

2 eggs

6 oz. cream

2 oz. Parmesan cheese, freshly grated

1/4 tsp. ground nutmeg

Sea salt and pepper to taste

1 Tbsp. unsalted butter

Whisk eggs and cream in medium bowl. Add nutmeg, cheese, salt and pepper. Gently fold in peas.

Butter individual baking forms or baking dish. Fill 2/3 full with mixture. Place forms/dish into shallow baking pan with a small amount of water in the bottom.

Bake 350 degrees for 20 minutes or until golden on top. Allow to set 5 minutes. Invert onto serving dish or platter. Serve immediately.

Risi e’ Bisi Venito

(Venetian Rice and Pea Soup)

Serves 6—8

8 cups meat broth (your choice of meat)

1/4 cup unsalted butter

1 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil

1 small yellow onion, chopped

1/4 lb. pancetta, chopped

2 Tbsp. fresh parsley, chopped

2 1/2 cups fresh peas

2 cups arborio rice

1/3 cup Parmesan cheese plus garnish, freshly grated

Melt 2 Tbsp. butter and oil in medium pan. When mixture foams, add onion, pancetta and parsley. Saute until pancetta is lightly browned. Add peas and 1/3 cup broth. Cook 3 minutes. Set aside.

Bring remaining broth to a boil in a large pot. Add rice. Cook uncovered over high heat 8-10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add onion mixture. Cook 10-15 minutes or until rice is tender but firm.

Stir in remaining butter and 1/3 cup Parmesan. Soup will be thick and hearty. Serve hot with additional Parmesan to garnish.

Piemontese Cotolette e’ Umido con Piselli

(Piemontese Cutlets in Tomato & Pea Sauce)

Serves 6

6 cutlets, veal or chicken

2 eggs

Salt and pepper to taste

1 1/2 cups dry unflavored breadcrumbs

1/2 cup Parmesan cheese—freshly grated

1/4 cup unsalted butter

3 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil

1 small yellow onion, chopped finely

1 large carrot, finely chopped

1 rib celery, finely chopped

3 cups plain tomato sauce

10 oz. fresh peas

Place cutlets between 2 sheets waxed paper and pound until thin.

Beat eggs with salt and pepper in medium bowl.

Combine breadcrumbs and Parmesan in small bowl. Spread onto large sheet of foil.

Dip cutlets in beaten egg, then coat with breadcrumb mixture. Press mixture into cutlets with palm of your hand. Allow cutlets to set 10-15 minutes.

Melt butter in large skillet. When butter foams, add cutlets. Cook over medium heat 2-3 minutes each side until you have light golden crust. Drain on paper towels.

Heat olive oil in skillet. Add onion, carrot and celery. Saute until lightly browned. Stir in tomato sauce, salt and pepper. Cook 5 minutes. Add cutlets and peas. Reduce heat and simmer 10 minutes. Serve on warmed plates or platter.

Piemontese Salsa di Piselli

(Piemontese Pea Sauce)

Serves 4

1 Tbsp. Extra Virgin Olive Oil

1 yellow onion, sliced thinly

1 strip bacon or pancetta, chopped

1 tsp. fresh parsley, chopped

2 cups fresh peas

1 cup water

Salt and pepper to taste

Optional: Parmesan cheese for garnish, freshly grated

Starting with a cold skillet, add olive oil and onion. Saute for 5 minutes or until onion is soft.

Add chopped bacon. Simmer 3 minutes

Add parsley, stir.

Add water, peas, salt and pepper. Simmer 20 minutes or until peas are tender but still in tact.

Divide sauce evenly over 4 servings of any type of chunky pasta or rice.

Garnish with Parmesan if desired.

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Diane De Filipi lives in the Napa Valley and leads cooking tours to Italy and Burgundy, France. Visit letsgocookitalian.com or letsgocookleboncuisine.com for more information.