I remember my first fresh pea. Ejected from its pod, I inspected it, lying in the palm of my hand with its siblings. I’d had frozen peas before, tasteless and of a much darker hue than this one which put the pea in pea-green. The taste, more like a fruit than a vegetable, took me by surprise. His siblings didn’t last long.
Although I live in Tuscany, I was born far to the north in the city of Venice. I am very proud of this fact, and that for most of my life I have been greeted with admiring and impressed faces when I answer the question ‘Where in Italy are you from?’ According to tradition, the city was founded at midday precisely on Friday 25th March, 421 a fact needing to be taken with all the pinches of salt in the Venetian lagoon’s waters. However, it remained an independent republic, headed up by an elected duke known as the doge until 1797 when it was conquered by Napoleon. More than a city, it had been the centre of a large trading empire, stretching to the Middle East.
Risi e bisi—Venetian dialect for rice and peas—is one of the most traditional and important dishes from the area. In republican times it was served to the doge during the annual celebrations of the city’s patron Saint Mark on 25th April. It is really a pea risotto, usually with the addition of odori (a mixture of onion, carrot, and celery) and pancetta. As is the northern Italian tradition it is made with butter, rather than olive oil, and flavoured with the addition of parmesan cheese.