Relishing the Simplicity of Rice and Peas

So simple, so satisfying -- Italian rice and pea soup.

So simple, so satisfying — Italian rice and pea soup.


Peas and rice make more than nice.

Together, they make total comfort in a bowl, too.

In fact, “Rice and Peas” (Risi e Bisi), an almost porridge-like dish of Italian rice, pancetta and peas reminds me very much of Chinese congee. But it’s quicker to make. Yes, imagine that — an Italian version of Chinese jook, if you will.

The recipe is from the wonderful new cookbook, “Tasting Italy: A Culinary Journey,” of which I received a review copy. It’s a beautiful coffee-table book. But with fuss-free recipes you will actually make. It’s a collaboration between National Geographic, which provides the photos and narrative about the various regions in Italy, and America’s Test Kitchen, which came up with the recipes.

Read a travel log on each distinctive region of Italy, then get to know it even better by cooking one of its iconic dishes. For instance, “Rosemary Focaccia” from Liguria, Italy’s northern Mediterranean mountainous coastline; “Jewish-Style Artichokes” from Lazio, home to Rome, famed for its thistles; and “Tuna with Sweet and Sour Onions” from Sicily, an area awash in olive groves and citrus trees.


For generations, Venetians have served “Rice and Peas” (Risi e Bisi) on April 25 for St. Mark’s Day to celebrate spring peas and to shine a spotlight on rice producers in the Veneto region.

But nowadays, frozen peas mean you can enjoy this dish anytime.

Traditionally, the short-grain rice is cooked almost like risotto, with lots of stirring involved. But this recipe isn’t so laborious. You cook the rice for 15 minutes, giving it a stir only occasionally. Then, you whisk it vigorously to release a lot of starch quickly to really thicken the broth.

Pancetta just a touch of salty smokiness. But it’s the peas that really stand out. Even if you use frozen ones, they will still add a wonderful delicacy and sweetness.

Grated Parmigiano Reggiano gets stirred into the soup, then a little more is sprinkled over the top of each bowl just before serving. I like to add a little drizzle of extra-virgin olive oil over the top, too, so I included that in the recipe below.

Serve with a green salad and crusty bread, if you like.

In much the same way as chicken noodle soup, Rice & Peas envelops you in a big warm hug that makes you feel well taken care of.

The longer the soup sits, the thicker it will get. Just stir more chicken broth into it to thin the consistency to your liking.

Or if you have leftovers, you can even enjoy it the next day as risotto. Yup, it’s almost like two dishes in one.

As soothing as it gets in winter.

As soothing as it gets in winter.

Rice and Peas (Risi e Bisi)

(Serves 4 to 6)

4 cups chicken broth

1 1/2 cups water

3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

2 ounces pancetta, chopped fine

1 onion, chopped fine

2 garlic cloves, minced

1 cup Vialone Nano rice (or Carnaroli or Arborio)

2 cups frozen petite peas, thawed

1 ounce Parmigiano Reggiano cheese, grated (1/2 cup), plus extra for serving

3 tablespoons minced fresh parsley

1 teaspoon lemon juice, plus lemon wedges for serving

Salt and pepper

Extra-virgin olive oil, for garnish (optional)

Bring broth and water to a boil in large saucepan over high heat. Remove from heat and cover to keep warm.

Cook oil and pancetta in Dutch oven over medium-low heat until pancetta is browned and fat is rendered, 5 to 7 minutes. Add onion and cook over medium heat until softened, about 5 minutes. Stir in garlic and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add rice and stir to coat, about 1 minute.

Stir in 5 cups warm broth mixture and bring to boil. Reduce heat to medium-low, cover, and simmer, stirring occasionally, until rice is tender but not mushy, about 15 minutes.

Off heat, whisk rice vigorously until broth has thickened slightly, about 15 seconds. Stir in peas, Parmigiano, parsley, and lemon juice. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Adjust consistency with remaining 1/2 cup warm broth mixture as needed. Serve, passing extra Parmigiano and lemon wedges separately. Add a drizzle of extra-virgin olive oil over the top of each bowl for a final flourish.

Adapted from “Tasting Italy” by America’s Test Kitchen and National Geographic


More Rice-Based Recipes to Try: My Version of Jook


And: My Version of My Mom’s Sticky Rice


And: Green Risotto with Mushrooms


And: Red Wine Risotto


And: Rice Cooker Risotto


And: Chinese-Italian Fried Rice


And: Uni Fried Rice


And: Pumpkin, Pancetta and Arborio Rice Soup


And: Arborio Rice Bread


And: Cranberry-Hoisin Chicken ‘N’ Rice

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  • I was actually looking at recipes for Risi e Bisi a couple of days ago! Lovely dish that I haven’t made for ages. This looks like a good recipe, and a terrific book. Thanks!

  • my mom used to add peas to our white rice and i remember loving it. i’ve never had a soup quite like this one but i think it sounds great!

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