By Emily Campin
Dining out seems like a distant memory and quarantine has led us all to test our domestic skills in the kitchen and push our creativity further to keep our taste buds entertained. Cooking in the Stewart Lees household however takes a little longer than usual. Once the meal prep is done and the ingredients are purposefully laid out… what was supposed to be a quick and easy dish becomes a work of art.
Risi e Bisi is a springtime Venetian dish, which is often described as half risotto, half soup, and was traditionally made to celebrate the feast of San Marco on 25th April. Those that know me well will know that I love Italy, especially the fabulous food and cocktails. If your local supermarket is running dry on Aperol and prosecco I can only apologise…
I thought I would try and work on my (very poor) culinary skills and create the traditional Italian recipe that inspired this beautiful painting.
- a sprinkle of sunlight
- a pinch of oil paint
- a touch of chiaroscuro
- a dash of a brush
- a flick of the wrist
- a handful of Stewart Lees
I was unsuccessful in finding fresh peas at my local shop, so I had to use frozen peas, but other than that I managed to find everything else. I had read online that the consistency should be similar to a thick soup but not thick enough to need a spoon. After about thirty minutes the dish was finished! With a glass of rosé I sat down to eat my Venetian inspired dinner. It was a simple and wholesome dish and I would certainly recommend it as a summer supper idea.
For anyone who would like to create this dish, here is the recipe:
Risi e Bisi
1kg peas in their pods 1l chicken or vegetable stock 40g butter 2 tbsp olive oil 1 small onion, finely chopped 100g pancetta (optional) 250g vialone nano rice (or carnaroli if you can’t find) 50g parmesan, finely grated Small handful of mint or flat-leaf parsley leaves
Pod the peas. Fill a pan with 1.5l of water and put just enough pods in there to be submerged. Discard the rest. Bring to the boil, then turn down the heat and simmer for a 30-60 minutes until reduced by about half.
Strain and discard the pods. Add the pea liquid to the chicken/vegetable stock and bring back to a simmer.
In a saucepan, melt half the butter with the oil, and then add the onion and cook until it begins to soften. Add the pancetta and cook for another five minutes or so, until it begins to release its fat.
Stir in the rice and cook until all the grains are well coated with fat and begin to look translucent, then turn up the heat a little and add a ladleful of stock. Cook, stirring all the while, until most of the liquid has been absorbed, then repeat until the rice is tender and the dish has a thick, soupy consistency (you may not need all the stock). Add the peas after about 12 minutes.
Once the dish is ready, stir in the cheese and remaining butter, cover and leave to sit for five minutes. Season to taste, divide between shallow bowls and top with the herbs.
Stewart’s addition of the fresh strawberries to his painting, adds a rich red colour, which is the final colour to form the Italian tricolor flag. So, I finished my meal with some fresh strawberries for something sweet.
“As I observe a still life grouping with ever deepening intensity, the objects, and the space they occupy, become a landscape with depth and atmosphere revealed through the play of light across forms, all firmly rooted within a plane. And by adhering to strict accuracy in drawing and modelling, and by my pursuit of meticulous fidelity to form, texture and colour, I come up against all the challenges of a portrait painter, concerned with surface but trying all the time to say something deeper about the subject before me, to turn the familiar into something extraordinary.”
– Stewart Lees, 2013