Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Cheesy Peas

I have heard many times over the years that rice and peas together make a perfect protein. I'm happy to continue spreading this story, assuming that it's true. Certainly I've never heard this statement made, only to have someone refute it as utter rubbish. It seems reasonable to assume there is some truth in the story given the number countries that have a version of it somewhere in the repertoire of their national cuisine. There is rice and peas (pigeon peas) made rich with coconut milk as a staple in the Caribbean, the elegant risi e bisi in Itlay, gently spiced matar pulao from India, and that wonderful standby - fried rice. Whatever the truth, it is a great combination. The sweetness of the peas and the starch of the rice work.

Cheesy peas are a bastardised version of risi e bisi - less elegant and less complicated but a great dish in the spring and an easy supper to make. It is a good cupboard standby that can be magicked out of what is already there. I find as well that it is very conducive to a good nights sleep afterwards, the gentleness of the carbohydrates almost invariably leads to a sleep like the sleep of good people.

Cheesy Peas
200g/7oz arborio rice
150g/5oz frozen petits pois
1 litre/1.8 pints of stock - chicken, hock or vegetable are all good
50g/2oz butter
1 small onion, finely chopped
1 celery stalk, finely chopped (only if you have some in the fridge)
1 clove garlic, crushed
50g/2oz grated parmesan
4 spring onions, finely sliced (again, only if you have some)

Heat the stock in a pan till simmering. In a heavy based frying pan melt half the butter and fry onion and garlic still soft and translucent. Stir in the celery and, after a minute, the rice. Stir to coat with butter then add a ladle of simmering stock and stir till it is absorbed. Keep adding stock and stirring till absorbed till about half the stock is used. Add the frozen peas then continue adding ladles of hot stock till the peas are cooked and the rice is softened but still a tiny bit chalky in the middle. If not all the stock is absorbed all to the good, it's nice if it's slightly soupy. When everything is ready stir in the remaining butter, the grated parmesan and, if using, the spring onions. Season with salt and freshly ground pepper and serve in big bowls.

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