Milk Street: Everyday Venice (Ep 510)
Venetian Rice and Peas (Risi e Bisi)
Start to finish: 11⁄4 hours
Servings: 4 to 6
Rice and peas, or risi e bisi, is a classic Venetian dish, traditionally eaten on April 25,
St. Mark’s Day. Much like risotto, the rice is rich and creamy because of the starchiness of
the grains and how they are cooked. But risi e bisi typically is a bit soupier. Sweet peas stud the dish, and in the version taught to us by Michela Tasca, owner of Ca’ de Memi farm and bed and breakfast in Piombino Dese outside of Venice, the al dente grains were
bathed in beautiful pale green broth, a result of peas pureed into the cooking liquid. For
our version, we puree peas plus fresh parsley with a small amount of a broth infused with
aromatics. To keep the flavors and color vibrant, we hold off on adding the puree, along with additional whole peas, until the rice has finished cooking. Pancetta provides salty, meaty backbone and fennel seeds, with their notes of licorice, complement the grassy, sweetness of the peas. Vialone nano is the preferred variety of Italian medium-
grain rice for risi e bisi, but easier to find Arborio works just as well.
Don’t thaw all of the peas. The 1 cup of peas that’s blended with hot broth and parsley
should be kept frozen so that the puree remains a brilliant green; the 1 cup stirred in at the end should be fully thawed and at room temperature so the peas don’t cool the rice.
1 medium carrot, peeled and thinly sliced
1 large white onion, half thinly sliced, half finely chopped
1 medium celery stalk, thinly sliced
2 teaspoons fennel seeds
1 quart low-sodium chicken broth
2 cups frozen peas, divided (1 cup still frozen, 1 cup thawed and at room temperature)
2 cups lightly packed fresh flat-leaf parsley
3 to 4 ounces pancetta, finely chopped
4 tablespoons salted butter, cut into 1-tablespoon pieces, divided
1 cup vialone nano or Arborio rice
Ground black pepper
2 ounces Parmesan cheese, finely grated (1 cup), plus more to serve
In a large pot, combine the carrot, the sliced onion, celery, fennel seeds, broth and 2 cups water. Bring to a boil over medium-high, then cover, reduce to medium-low and simmer until the vegetables have softened, 10 to 12 minutes.
Remove the pot from the heat and, using a slotted spoon, transfer the solids to a blender, draining off as much liquid as possible. Add 1 cup of the broth to the blender along with the still-frozen peas and the parsley; leave the remaining broth in the pot so it remains warm. Blend until the mixture is smooth, 11⁄2 to 2 minutes; you should have about 3 cups puree. Set aside in the blender jar.
In a large saucepan over medium, combine the chopped onion, pancetta and 2 tablespoons butter. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the onion is lightly browned and the pancetta is rendered and lightly browned, 6 to 8 minutes. Add the rice and stir until the grains are coated with fat, then stir in 1 cup of the broth. Cook, stirring, until the liquid is mostly absorbed, about 5 minutes. Ladle in additional broth to barely cover the rice and simmer, stirring often, until the broth is mostly absorbed. Repeat the addition of broth and simmering until mostly absorbed 4 or 5 times, until the rice is al dente and most of the broth has been used; this process should take 25 to 30 minutes.
Remove the pan from the heat and let stand uncovered for 5 minutes. Add the thawed peas and the puree, then stir until heated through, about 1 minute. Add the remaining 2 tablespoons butter and stir until melted. Stir in the Parmesan, then taste and season with salt and pepper. Serve sprinkled with additional Parmesan.
Polenta with Shrimp and Tomatoes
Start to finish: 11⁄4 hours
Polenta e schie, a specialty of Venice, Italy, is polenta topped with tiny local shrimp called
schie. The dish typically is a minimalist, sauce-free marriage of corn and crustacean,
but Michela Tasca, owner of Ca’ de Memi farm and bed and breakfast in Piombino
Dese, just north of Venice, taught us a version in which the schie are poached in a
simple tomato sauce accented with garlic and fresh herbs. Our version uses the large
shrimp available in the U.S. in place of the schie. We simmer the polenta in the oven;
the gentle, even heat obviates the need for frequent stirring. This means that while the
polenta cooks, you’re free to prep the other ingredients. Be sure to use coarse
stoneground cornmeal; fine cornmeal produces gluey polenta, and steel-ground
cornmeal lacks flavor. If juicy, ripe tomatoes are not available, look for cocktail or
Campari tomatoes, as we find them to be dependably good no matter the season.
Don’t begin cooking the shrimp until the polenta is done. In the covered pan or pot,
the polenta will remain hot for the short amount of time it takes to cook the shrimp
and tomatoes. Don’t worry if the shrimp are only parcooked after their quick sear. They’ll
finish cooking when they simmer with the tomatoes for a couple of minutes.
1 cup coarse stoneground yellow cornmeal
Kosher salt and ground black pepper
4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided
11⁄2 pounds extra-large (21/25 per pound) shrimp, peeled (tails removed) and deveined
4 large garlic cloves, 2 finely grated, 2 smashed and peeled, reserved separately
11⁄2 pounds ripe tomatoes (see headnote), cored and cut into 1-inch chunks
1⁄2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1⁄2 cup chopped fresh basil or flat-leaf parsley
Heat the oven to 375°F with a rack in the lower-middle position. In a large oven-safe saucepan or small (4- to 5-quart) Dutch oven, combine the cornmeal, 1 teaspoon salt and 51⁄2 cups water, then whisk to combine. Bring to a gentle simmer over medium, stirring often, then place uncovered in the oven and cook for 45 minutes.
Remove from the oven, whisk the polenta, then return, still uncovered, to the oven. Cook until the polenta is thick and creamy, another 15 to 30 minutes. Remove from the oven, whisk until smooth, cover and let stand for 5 minutes. Taste and season with salt and black pepper, then cover and set aside while you cook the shrimp.
In a medium bowl, stir together 1 tablespoon of oil, the grated garlic and 1⁄2 teaspoon salt. Add the shrimp and toss to coat. In a 12-inch skillet over medium-high, heat the remaining 3 tablespoons oil until shimmering. Add half of the shrimp in a single layer and cook until browned on the bottom, 1 to 2 minutes. Using tongs or a slotted spoon, transfer to a large plate. Cook the remaining shrimp in the same way using the residual oil in the pan.
Set the now-empty skillet over medium, add the smashed garlic and cook, stirring, until fragrant and lightly browned, about 2 minutes. Add the tomatoes, pepper flakes and 1⁄2 teaspoon each salt and black pepper. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the tomatoes begin to soften and release their juices, 2 to 3 minutes. Stir in the shrimp with accumulated juices and cook, stirring occasionally, until the shrimp are opaque throughout, about 2 minutes. Off heat, remove and discard the garlic cloves and stir in the basil, then taste and season with salt and pepper.
Whisk the polenta to smooth it out, adding water as needed to thin. Divide the polenta among individual bowls, then spoon on the shrimp-tomato mixture.
Venetian Cornmeal and Currant Cookies (Zaletti)
Start to finish: 30 minutes (10 minutes active), plus cooling
Makes about 40 cookies
Zaletti are buttery, crisp Italian cornmeal cookies studded with raisins or currants. The
dried fruit usually is first plumped in grappa, a fiery Italian brandy, but we opted instead
to use orange liqueur for its more nuanced flavor. We then upped the citrus notes with
grated orange zest. The cooled cookies will keep in an airtight container for up to one week.
Don’t use coarsely ground cornmeal or polenta. Their rough texture will result in crumbly, rather than crisp, cookies.
75 grams (1⁄2 cup) dried currants
3 tablespoons orange liqueur, such as Cointreau
12 tablespoons (11⁄2 sticks) salted butter, softened
107 grams (1⁄2 cup) white sugar
1 tablespoon grated orange zest
73 grams (1⁄2 cup) fine yellow cornmeal
1⁄4 teaspoon table salt
1 large egg yolk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
195 grams (11⁄2 cups) all-purpose flour
Heat the oven to 350°F with racks in the upper- and lower- middle positions. Line 2 baking sheets with kitchen parchment. In a small saucepan over medium, bring the currants and orange liqueur to a simmer. Cover, remove from the heat and set aside.
Meanwhile, in a stand mixer with the paddle attachment, beat the butter and sugar on medium until light and fluffy, 1 to 2 minutes, scraping the bowl as needed. Beat in the zest for about 30 seconds. Mix in the cornmeal, salt, egg yolk and vanilla until combined, about 30 seconds. Add the flour and mix on low until incorporated, another 30 seconds, then mix in the currants and their liquid.
Form the dough into 1-tablespoon balls (each about 1 inch in diameter) and space evenly on the prepared baking sheets. Using your hand, flatten each to a 2-inch round about 1⁄4 inch thick. Bake until golden brown at the edges, 15 to 20 minutes, switching and rotating the sheets halfway through. Cool on the sheets for 5 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack and cool completely.
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PHOTO CREDITS: CONNIE MILLER OF CB CREATIVES