July 1998

Knowle, West Midlands and Isola della Scala, near Verona July 15, 1998 My mother-in-law Jean has the most wonderful English garden, with extensive lawns, gorgeous flowerbeds, a herb garden, a rose garden, a small apple and plum orchard, a pond with lily pads and ducks, greenhouses where she grows tomatoes, courgettes and cucumbers, cages for keeping birds off the soft fruit, especially at this time of year abundant raspberries and strawberries, and a vegetable garden that keeps the Jordans virtually self-sufficient. In May and June, this is the source of exceptional asparagus, a real annual treat; but throughout the year we enjoy a profusion of garden fresh vegetables: just-picked lettuces, leeks, the tenderest and most delicious broad beans (Jean likes to sauté them with abit of bacon), runner beans, and of course potatoes, cabbages, kale, onions, carrots which last throughout the winter.

When she visited us in Devon last week, she brought a big bag of just-picked fresh garden peas. "Great," said Kim, "we'll make risi e bisi,the Venetian's (and our) favourite rice and pea risotto.This classic is exceedingly simple, but you do need to choose the best ingredients. The finest rice to use, for example, is Vialone Nano, cultivated south of Verona in the flat paddies of Isola della Scala, milled in the 16th century water-powered Antica Riseria Pila Vecia of Gabriele Ferron. Vialone Nano is particularly well suited to Venetian style risotti for the short, fat grains are capable of absorbing more than double their bulk in tasty cooking liquid, and the result is the rather more liquid rice dish favoured in the Veneto (as opposed to drier versions served in Lombardy and Piemonte). Of course, for such a dish, the cooking broth is equally important, so it is worth boiling a chicken to make a really tasty and concentrated stock.

Antica Riseria Pila Vecia, Isola della Scala, near Verona


Risi e bisi

1 tablespoon butter

2 tablespoons olive oil

1/2 red onion, finely chopped

1 carrot, finely chopped

1 stick of celery, finely chopped

250 g Vialone Nano rice (alternatively use arborio)

250 g fresh garden peas cups

1 wineglass dry white wine

About 2 litres homemade chicken stock

A nugget or two butter

Lots of freshly grated parmigiano reggiano or grana padano cheese

Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

Freshly chopped flat leaf parsley or coriander to garnish

Heat the oil and butter in a large saucepan and meanwhile bring the chicken stock to a simmer. Sauté the onion, carrot and celery until soft but not brown. Add the Vialone Nano rice, and stir well, allowing it not just to become coated with oil and butter but further to heat up and begin to cook. This process, known as the tostatura, is critical to achieving good results. Gabriele Ferron , in his famous rice restaurant on the Pila Vecia estate, constantly feels the rice with his fingers to see if it is yet hot enough (it should be just too hot to touch comfortably, indicating that the rice is hot through to the centre). When that point is reached, add the glass of dry white wine, stir well, and allow it to be absorbed. Then add a ladle or two of simmering chicken stock, stirring constantly: the rice should be simmering gently, but not boiling too fast. Season with salt and pepper. As the stock is absorbed, add more, a ladle or two at a time at most. About five minutes before the rice is ready to eat add the fresh peas (it usually takes about 20-25 minutes with Vialone Nano, but it is important to keep tasting as the rice should be served al dente, just at that point where it is cooked through and not chalky inside yet while it still maintains a definite tenacity and bite). Before serving, stir in a few nuggets of butter plus a generous spoonfull or two of grated cheese, and garnish each dish with chopped parsley or coriander (the latter is not strictly authentic but a delicious addition nonetheless).

Wine Suggestion Try this Venetian classic with a simple Tocai del Veneto, or with a top-class Soave from Pieropan or Anselmi.


Copyright © Marc Millon 2000


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