OK. So I’ve got to confess something. I ran a little late with my food resolution this month.
…Yes, I know it was my first month doing the food challenges but I did tell you how I felt about resolutions.
Anyway, three days late it may be but Mama’s risi e bisi is more than worth the wait.
I’d never heard of risi e bisi before (initially I’d confused it with ossobuco – why you may ask? They’re both Italian dishes with rhyming names. Yes, that’s my level. Really.) Whenever I’d mentioned it to friends (quite a few who are hip and knowledgable gastronauts), they were similarly ignorant of this wonderous dish. You may consider the Leon version a more wholesome and healthier cousin of risotto but originally it started out life in Venice as a thick soup made with arborio rice, fresh seasonal peas and pancetta.
This nuttier, granola-eating, sandal-wearing version that I’m hawking today is by no means the black sheep of great Italian rice dishes. Bastardised it may be but by god, it’s wickedly good. In essence, it is built much along the same lines as risotto. Sauteed onions, cooked until soft, sweet and translucent. Cubes of smokey pancetta, gently fried until the fat renders. Now throw in your brown rice and mix throughly until the grains are all glossy with the pancetta fat. Just imagine how good it’s going to taste already.
A brief intermission.
Now, you probably don’t want another person harping on about the glory of homemade stock to you. You’ve heard it all before, haven’t you? A stock cube does the same job. Ye-es. Sort of. It’s ultra-savoury and has that umami thing going on but real stock is so much more than that. Not to get too Domestic Goddess on you but stock making is home. (My flatmate would reluctantly have to agree with you. Mainly because more often that not, she returns home of an evening to find a merrily gurgling pot on the stove with an unidentifiable carcass bobbing about in it.) Like the smell of baking, there is something about the warm aroma of stock which is the olfactory equivalent of a hug.
Make a big batch and freeze it in little plastic takeaway boxes. The stewing and soupy universe will be yours. Elaborate-looking noodle soups worthy of Japanese restaurants lie at your frozen fingertips. The best thing? All this smugness and glowing halo of domesticity is shockingly easy. Throw your carcass (bones, skin, gristle – no room for fussiness here) into a large pan with a few vegetables (the classics being carrot, onion and a stick of celery – I’ve made do with broccoli stems and spring onions before). Garnish with a bay leaf and a few whole peppercorns. Cover with cold water, bring up to the boil and then simmer gently for an hour or so. Strain once cooled and refrigerate or freeze.
The star of this dish is an unlikely hero. It’s the equivalent of Steve Buscemi in terms of culinary ingredients. Pops up in everything good and great, you know you’ve encountered it before but can’t quite place your finger on it. Stock is the unsung hero of the day as far as this risi e bisi is concerned. As I had made the braised pork rigatoni a few nights previously, I ventured into the uncharted waters of pork stock. The depth of flavour and sweetness that the slow-roasted rib-bones had was unlike anything I’d ever encountered before (perhaps only rivalled by the violently red stock made with prawns’ heads). All the flavour of the dish rests upon the stock – hence the Knorr-bashing intermission earlier. Honestly, use a stock cube and you’ll still love this dish – use your own stock and you’ll be the one who ends up stealing hearts.
Notes on variation: I can’t resist it. It’s pathological. I appear to be unable to follow a recipe to the letter. I added half a finely shredded leek to the dish as it had just arrived in my vegetable box and I dorkily got excited as we’ve never received leeks before. (Oh poor little middle-class girl!) What with the sweetness of the stock and the peas, I was worried about the dish being a bit too cloying so I added the juice of half a lemon to cut through and add a zingy top note.
Serving suggestion: Some shavings of parmesan are most welcome. Don’t feel bad about it. Just think – you could have made risotto, with the butter, the wine and the heap of parmesan. You’re practically being spartan with risi e bisi. Besides, you’re going to serve it alongside some vibrant and crisp little gem leaves and that’s one of your five a day taken care of. Remember to reserve one leaf at the end to mop up the juices. Don’t judge – you know you do the same when no-one else is looking.