If I was to be honest I would say that my heart is in Asia, so picking Italy as my spiritual home is not an obvious choice, though nor is it completely left field. My experience of Italy is limited. In fact I have only been there once, over 10 years ago now, when I spent 2 weeks there with a good friend from boarding school. Whilst it was a quick trip, the architecture, art and history all made a lasting impression and many a meal out firmly cemented my love for Italian Cuisine.
So it is with this in mind, and recently having discovered that our humble blog is missing what could possibly be deemed the king of all rice dishes (risotto), that I picked Italian food as inspiration for this month’s theme. I decided upon fennel risotto as fennel bulb, with its crisp texture and delicate, fresh aniseed flavour is something which has only very recently made its way into my kitchen. It’s not that I wasn’t aware of its existence in this world, or that I had never eaten it before, because I had. It is just that it had never occurred to me to use it in my cooking.
This recipe uses both fennel seed and fennel bulb, which, when combined with garlic, chilli and lemon give this risotto a zesty, full bodied flavour. If the response it received when I brought it into work is anything to go by then be sure to add this recipe to your ‘to cook’ list.
2 tbsp olive oil
1 red onion, finely chopped
4 fennel bulbs, finely sliced
2 cloves garlic
2 whole dried red chillies
2 tsp fennel seeds
1 tsp sea salt
300g risotto rice
75ml white wine
Juice of one lemon
1.25 Litres chicken stock
1. Place the olive oil and half the butter in a heavy bottomed pot, melt and then add the onion and cook until it begins to soften.
2. Put the stock in a pot and bring to a simmer on the stove (the stock must be hot so as not to cool the risotto as you add it).
3. Meanwhile, put the chilli, garlic, fennel seeds and sea salt in a mortar and pound to a smooth paste.
4. Once the onion is soft, add the sliced fennel and again, cook until soft. Now add the garlic paste which you have pounded up and cook until fragrant. Add the rice and mix, making sure to coat each grain in the butter.
5. Add the white wine and lemon juice and cook until evaporated. Now add the stock, ladle by ladle, waiting for all the liquid to be absorbed before adding the next ladle-full. Continue to add the stock this way until the rice is al dente. Once cooked, add the remaining butter and serve with grated parmesan cheese.