Risi e Bisi on the Sensa celebration

The Festa della Sensa (“Ascension Day”) was a feast of the Republic of Venice, held on the day of the Ascension of Christ (Sensa, in Venetian). The Sensa feast celebrates Venice’s tight connection to the Sea and today represents an important event in the Venetian rowing season, bringing together the Venetian population who, now as then, gather to joyfully remember this tradition and to take part in this competition similar to the Historical Regatta.

Festa della Sensa: the Serenissima in harmony with the sea

On this occasion, the ritual of the Marriage of the Sea was performed, in order to underline how the Republic of Venice lived in harmony with the sea. The celebration ended with a sort of propitiatory rite: the Doge, on board the Bucentaur, once reached the Lido inlet, threw a golden ring into the water.

The Sensa is now a large gathering and, in accordance with tradition, a chance to highlight the city’s important relationship to the sea.

Its date varies according to the calendar but it is traditionally celebrated at the end of May, i.e. in late spring, when vegetables, especially those grown on the islands, are in full splendor. One of the traditional dishes of this period is risi e bisi (“rice and peas”), which has gained a rare popularity and is now generally seen as the typical Venetian course.

Giving an exact definition of this dish is impossible, because it is partly a risotto and partly a soup and, in order to be properly made, it must be in the balance between them, as a sort of thick soup.

Preparation method for the risi e bisi

  • Shell the peas and wash them well, chop the parsley. Warm up the broth.
  • In a saucepan, brown minced bacon, butter, two spoonfuls of oil, the chopped parsley and a sliced cipollotto (an onion picked when it’s still unripe).
  • Add the peas and let them stew, watering them with some spoonfuls of broth.
  • Add then the boiling broth and, when it starts boiling again, add rice and cook it, stirring it often.

Five minutes before turning off the burner, taste and, if necessary, add salt and pepper. Add the remaining butter and three spoonfuls of grated Parmesan and whisk it.