Fennel-Lemon Risotto with Parmesan
Risotto is one of the most luxurious and flavourful dishes to come out of northern Italy. It’s easy to prepare and combines well with all kinds of seasonal vegetables and flavours. I posted a number of risotto recipes on the blog before and you can always exchange ingredients as long as you follow the basic simple method of cooking the rice.
There are a few considerations when cooking a risotto:
- What rice to use?
- Oil or butter?
- Cooking the aromatics
- Toasting the rice
- Deglazing with wine
- Choosing a flavourful stock
- Selecting the cheese
- Adding herbs and spices
Risotto calls for a special rice. it has to be short grain, plump and starchy. Within these parameters there are a few candidates to choose from. The most commonly available rice variety is arborio and it makes a fine risotto. Other varieties are Canaroli, considered by chefs the king of risotto rice, or a vialone nano that has a robust and distinct flavour. Other varieties are also available but these are three I have tried. Today I used Carnaroli rice from Piedmonte in north west Italy. Similar to arborio it is plump, short and starchy but a little larger and is considered one of the finest rice for cooking risotto. Carnaroli tends to absorb more liquid than arborio yet still maintain a good texture with a slight bite that is desirable in a risotto.
Oil or butter? I think butter and risotto go together so well. Sometimes I add a little olive oil for another layer of flavour and to prevent the butter from browning.
The aromatics (a chopped onion and maybe a clove of garlic or any vegetables you add to the risotto) are cooked in the butter first. Don’t allow anything to get browned, keep the heat on medium low to avoid burning. Don’t rush it. Risotto needs to take its time.
The rice needs to be toasted before you begin adding the liquids. Once the onion is cooked you add the rice and cook it until ti is nice and opaque. Remember, don’t let it brown.
Once the rice is opaque and coated with the butter add a little wine to deglaze the pan and let it cook until the wine evaporates.
This is when you begin adding the stock, a third cup at a time. Choose a full flavour stock because this is what flavours the dish. As you add the stock keep stirring the risotto and wait until the liquid absorbs before adding any more.
Parmesan goes a long way in flavouring a risotto. I usually add it at the end, piling it on top of the cooked risotto and letting it sit a few minutes, covered, before mixing it in. You can use other hard cheeses and sometime I even add a creamy mascarpone.
If you make the risotto with vegetables add them either with the aromatics in the beginning of the cooking, as in this recipe, or in the middle of the cooking so everything is finished at the same time. You can cook some of the vegetables separately and use as a garnish on top. In this recipe I cook half of the fennel with the risotto and the other half separately to use as a garnish.
If you use herbs add them towards the end so their flavour stays fresh. Spices need to be added in the beginning with the butter and onion.
5 cups vegetable stock
2 tablespoons butter
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 small onion, chopped
1/2 fennel, diced
1 cup risotto rice (Carnaroli, arborio etc.)
1/2 cup dry white wine
Grated zest of 1 lemon
Juice of 1/2 a lemon
1/2 fennel, sliced thinly
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon butter
1 cup grated parmesan
Fennel fronds, chopped
Place the stock in a small pot and bring to a boil on the back burner. Once it has boiled lower the heart and keep warm.
Working on the front burner heat the oil and butter in a pot (I use Le Creuset enamel cast iron pot).
Add onion and cook on medium heat until softened.
Add the diced fennel and continue to cook until the fennel begins to soften and is coated with the butter.
Add the rice and cook on medium heat without browning until the rice is nicely coated with the oil. this seals in the starch.
Add the wine all at once and cook, stirring, until the wine has evaporated.
Add the lemon zest and juice and stir them in.
Begin adding the hot stock, 1/3 cup at a time, stirring it in. When the pot is almost dry add another 1/3 cup of stock.
continue adding the stock until the rice is cooked to your liking. It may or may not require the whole 5 cups. Taste the rice periodically to see if it’s done.
When the rice is done to your liking turn the heat off, sprinkle the cheese on top of the rice, cover the pot and let sit for a few minutes to rest.
While the rice is cooking heat the butter and olive oil in another skillet, add the sliced fennel and cook over medium heat until soft and caramelized. A little sugar can speed up the caramelization.
Sprinkle the risotto with most of the green fronds and stir them in together with the cheese that has melted on top of the risotto.
Spoon into bowl, garnish with the caramelized fennel and scatter additional fennel fronds and lemon zest on top.
Serve warm with a lemon wedge on the side.
Leftover risotto can be reheated with more stock or made into fritters.
To make the parmesan tuille: grate a cup of parmesan, arrange in 2-3 circles on a foil lined baking sheet and bake at 400F for a few minutes until the cheese melts and the tuille is golden.