06 January 2012

50 Woman Game-Changers ... and Betty Fussell's Risi e Bisi

When I got out of college, I didn't want to read anything that was required ever again. I didn't want to read anything at all, in fact, for a good while. When I finally settled down to a job and an apartment, I didn't have a lot of disposable cash for outside entertainment. No more partying on my parent's dollar ... no more eating out. So, I stayed in and I started reading again. I joined a book club, but I only read what I wanted ... and one of the first freebie cookbooks that I got when I joined the book club was Betty Fussell's Eating In.

It's a neat and narrow little paperback, designed to fit nicely in your purse or the top drawer of your desk at work ... perfect for referring to when you want to shop for something good on the way home from work. Most of the recipes are pretty basic and easy to accomplish with fresh basic meats and vegetables. Plus, good old Betty gives advice on what to serve with the dish and what wine to sip alongside. It was pretty perfect inspiration for this girl!

It stayed on my shelf long after I got married and started a family. I used many of the recipes when my children were at the 'Cheerios, banana slices, and mac and cheese stage' of their lives. SB and I craved something a bit more sophisticated and these recipes fit the bill ... it was like eating out ... but we were eating in with toddlers in the deal. We always felt like we were getting good basic bistro-type fare at a much cheaper price and without the headaches of babysitters, crying children, and astronomical restaurant bills.

That Betty Fussell. She went on to write cookbooks touting the 'eating seasonal' and buying fresh and local concepts. Of course, this was in the 80's ... well ahead of the current trend. Just goes to show you that everything old is new again! She has been at the forefront of many trends over the years, done excellent analysis of our food supply - written books on corn, beef, and eating seasonal long before Pollan, Bittman, and others. That's probably why she's gotten the nod by being placed on this Gourmet list of 50 Woman Game-Changers. To see what others are posting about Betty Fussell, please link up with Mary @ One Perfect Bite ... we've become quite a large group!

One of my fave recipes (and one of the most basic)  from her Food in Good Season cookbook is Risi e Bisi ... rice and peas. Of course, Betty switches up her recipe calling it Peas and Rice because of the huge amount of peas that she adds to the mix. I used to eat plates of this dish alone or with pan-seared lambchops or chicken picatta. Sometimes the kids would have a bowl of this rice and veg with a glass of milk and some fruit, while SB and I had the added meat entree. Everyone was happy. For this meal, it will sit aside turkey schnitzel. Easy and tasty.

Over the years, I have come to make the dish a bit differently from Betty's instructions because I like my peas bright green and crunchy and my green onions the same. I made the dish as she instructs and I'm giving the instructions for the dish right from her cookbook, but I will tell you that I usually put the peas, parsley, and scallion tops into the cooking rice at the last minute and cook them to tender crisp.

Peas with Rice
Risi e Bisi

Serves 4

4 green onions, whites and green tops chopped
4 tbsp. butter
2 c. shelled or frozen peas
4 c. hot chicken stock
1 c. arborio rice
2 tbsp. parsley, chopped
salt to taste
½ c. freshly grated Parmesan cheese

Chop both the green tops and whites of the green onions and sauté gently in the butter in a deep lidded saucepan. Add the peas and cook for 1 -2 minutes, stirring constantly. Add the chicken stock and lower heat to a simmer. Cover and cook the peas for several minutes. Add the rice and parsley. Stir once. Bring the stock to a boil, lower the heat to simmer, cover the pan and let the rice cook slowly - about 15 minutes. Taste for seasoning and add salt if necessary. Stir in the cheese and serve.

Note: I sauté the whites of the onions and reserve the green tops. I add the chicken broth and rice, stir and let it come to a boil, simmer it covered until it has almost absorbed all the broth. Then, I add the peas, parsley, and green scallion tops, cooking them to a tender crisp and bright green. Then, I stir in the cheese and serve. Just sayin' ...


  1. She is a remarkable woman and a terrific writer. I love the recipe you've featured. It looks delicious, Susan. I hope you have a great day. Blessings...Mary

  2. I adore this dish - and agree with a little crunch and a tender bite to offset the rice. I love the history you have had with her - I am new to her but now crave more.

  3. How lovely you had some of Betty's books, Susan! I loved the photos. And a perfect recipe too. Side dishes are oh so important. I think I'be be using this recipe soon.
    Happy New Year!

  4. This is a lovely dish that I would love to try. It just looks so delicious and just right to accompany just about anything. Nice post!

  5. Betty Fussell was ahead of her times - nice write-up. I'm with you, I like my peas bright green and would add them last minute to this dish.

  6. I'm with you about crispy and crunchy, too. Plain ol' rice does little for me. (Now a risotto is a different story!) Your post makes me want to buy a Betty Fussell book!

  7. I know what you mean about not wanting to read another book again! LOL!!! Like you, I enjoy reading my cookbooks too!

    I'm not familiar with this author/cook, but I'll put her on my list of lady cookbook authors to check out!

  8. Your dish looks delicious and one I can see making on a regular basis. I have to admit I had not heard of Betty Fussell before joining this group...that's funny that you had her little pocket cookbook. She really is a remarkable woman.

  9. Yum yum - what a great little side dish. I think you just talked me into looking at her Eating In, too.


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