Saturday, 15 June 2013

Fennel & Feta Risotto

This is a Jamie Oliver recipe that I tweaked a little with regard the cheese: the original called for 50g of crumbly ricotta but as I had 35g of feta lurking in the fridge I used that instead. 

I’d actually planned to make fresh vegetable stock: at the beginning of the week we’d bought a massive bunch of asparagus which we’d been having with pretty much every meal. I prepare asparagus in the “snap” way - i.e. where you can easily snap off the bottom of the stalk is where you are snapping off the “woodiness” - and I’d dutifully kept all the snapped off ends (and other vegetal bits and pieces through the week) to make the stock.

Sadly I forgot and out came the Marigold bouillon powder. It was only half-way through cooking I remembered the asparagus stalks. Bummer.

Fennel & Feta Risotto
Serves 3

For the risotto bianco
600ml vegetable stock
1 tbsp olive oil
tiny knob butter
1 small onion, peeled and finely chopped
1 clove of garlic, peeled and finely chopped
2 sticks of celery, trimmed and finely chopped
200 g risotto rice
125ml-ish dry white vermouth (1 small wineglass or so)
35g butter
55g Parmesan, freshly grated
sea salt
freshly ground black pepper
For the rest
1/4 tsp fennel seeds, ground to a powder
extra virgin olive oil
1 clove garlic, peeled and finely sliced
1 bulb fennel, finely sliced, keep the herby tops to one side
sea salt
freshly ground black pepper
1 small dried chilli, ground to a slightly bitty powder
35g feta, crumbled
zest and juice of 1/2 lemon
Parmesan, for grating over

Heat a wide saucepan and when hot add a couple of splashes of olive oil. Fry the garlic until softened, then add the ground up fennel seeds (do this with a pestle & mortar) and sliced fennel. Add a pinch of salt and pepper and turn down to a medium-low heat and slowly cook the fennel for around 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, gently heat the stock.

Put the olive oil and butter into a separate saucepan, add the onion, garlic and celery, and cook very slowly for about 15 minutes. This has to be over a very gentle heat as you don’t want the veg to colour.

When the vegetables have softened, add the rice and turn up the heat.

Lightly fry the rice for a few minutes then pour in the vermouth: it will bubble up a little and smell delicious: keep stirring as the alcohol evaporates.

Once the vermouth has reduced and absorbed a little into the rice, turn the heat down and add a ladle of hot stock and a pinch of salt.

The heat needs to be at a gentle simmer so that the rice doesn't cook too quickly on the outside: keep adding ladlefuls of stock, stirring often (personally I don’t think it’s necessary to be a complete slave to the hob and stir constantly, but do stir often). Allow each ladleful of stock to be absorbed before adding the next.

After about 20 minutes, stir in the sautéed fennel.

Keep cooking the risotto until the rice is perfectly cooked - around 40 minutes in total (chefs always say about 20 mins, but in my experience that is absolute twaddle) - the rice needs to be soft but with a bit of bite.

If you run out of stock before the rice is cooked, add some boiling water or make up a bit more stock.

Turn off the heat and stir in the butter, parmesan, crumbled feta and lemon zest.

Pop a lid on the pan and allow to sit for 2 minutes.

Check the seasoning carefully, including balancing the lemon juice to work with the sweetness of the fennel. Divide between bowls / plates and sprinkle over fennel fronds and ground chilli. Grate over some fresh parmesan at the table.

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