Risotto is one of the best-known and most popular traditional Italian dishes. Every season has its own risotto. In autumn, mushrooms or pumpkin are perfect for risotto, in winter, cheeses, in spring, new, young vegetables and in summer, fish and shellfish. This recipe is a variation with fennel and lemon. Not such a crazy combination if you consider that fennel and lemon are in season at the same time in Sicily. This risotto has a deliciously light and fresh taste.
- 400 g risotto rice (Arborio or Carnaroli)
- 3 big fennel bulbs, in thin slices (about 450 g)
- 1 small onion, finely chopped
- 1 organic lemon, zest and juice
- 4 tbsp il circolo extra virgin olive oil
- 1 knob of butter
- 1 l vegetable stock (or 1 l water and 2 vegetable stock cubes)
- 4 tbs Parmezan cheese, grated
- Put a pot on the stove with 1 litre water and the vegetable stock cubes, and slowly let it come to the boil.
- In the meantime pour 4 tablespoons of il circolo extra-virgin olive oil in a shallow pan
- Add the chopped onion for a couple of minutes until soft, and then add the sliced fennel. Keep the fennel green for garnish later on. Cook for 10 minutes or until it softens.
- Add the rice into the fennel/onion mixture and stir on a medium heat until the grains of rice have become transparent.
- Slowly add the boiling stock to the rice until the rice is covered.
- Cook the risotto, stirring occasionally, and add some hot stock when you see that the risotto has absorbed all the liquid and is getting dry. Continue until the risotto is al dente.
- Turn off the heat and stir in a knob of butter, 4 tablespoons of Parmesan cheese and the lemon juice and the grated zest of ¾ lemon. Season with black pepper. Let it stand for 3 more minutes.
- Wash and chop the fennel green.
- Garnish the risotto with fennel green and the rest of the grated lemon zest.
- Use a wide, low pan with a thick base so the risotto will cook more quickly.
- For extra fresh lemon flavour, drizzle with il circolo lemon oil before serving.
- If you omit the butter and cheese, you have a vegan risotto. It is nice to drizzle the dish generously with a good-tasting olive oil – like the one from il circolo.
More about risotto
Which type of rice?
Not all types of rice are suitable for risotto. Choose rice with a large round grain such as Arborio, Vialone Nano, Baldo or Carnaroli rice.
Does the rice need to be washed?
In order to remove the thin layer of starch which covers the rice grains, the rice should be washed before use. After draining in a colander you can dry it with kitchen paper.
Cooking of risotto
When cooking risotto, you follow more or less the same steps:
- Chopped onion – sometimes also thinly sliced carrot and celery – is braised in olive oil or butter – that is the soffrito.
- The rice grains are fried in the soffrito for a few minutes until they are glazy – that’s the tostatura.
- Then you gradually add the broth – that is the brodo. I do this with a ladle. When the rice has absorbed the broth, stir in the next tablespoon of broth. Continue like this until the risotto is completely cooked. The stock should always be hot, so as not to slow down the cooking process. Optionally, you can start by adding some white wine.
The last step is to make the risotto creamy. Let the risotto rest for a minute and then add butter and/or cheese. Take the pan off the heat and add the butter (in pieces) and cheese. Stir with a wooden spoon until the cheese and butter have completely melted. You can also omit this and drizzle the risotto with good olive oil before serving.
More about fennel
When is fennel in season?
Fennel is mainly grown in the countries around the Mediterranean Sea. In Italy, fennel is available from autumn until late spring. In summer, however, the temperatures in Southern Europe are too high for fennel. This is when the fennel season starts in the cooler Netherlands. So fennel is available all year round. The Dutch fennel season runs from the beginning of June through October.
What is fennel and how does it taste?
Fennel is also known as Florence fennel, finocchio, or sweet fennel. It is a hardy biennial or perennial plant which can grow up to 2 metres high. The plant has an average size of 45 cm. It is bulbous in shape and looks a bit like celery with a thick tuber. Raw fennel has a crispy texture and a distinct, fresh, aniseed-like flavour. When heated, fennel becomes less pronounced and has a softer flavour.
How can you recognise fresh fennel?
Fennel tubers look fresh and green and feel firm and heavy for their size. The skins are white without blemishes and the foliage also looks fresh green. Buy fennel as fresh as possible. Go for the small, younger tubers – if they are available – as they are more tender. If fennel is left to rest for too long, it will develop brown spots and the foliage will turn yellow. The taste also decreases.
Which parts of fennel are edible?
In the shops you will often find the fennel bulb with some fennel green, the stems have been cut off. The fennel green, the bulb and the seeds of the fennel plant are all edible. The fennel tuber is eaten as a vegetable, the foliage as a herb or garnish and the seeds are used as seasoning. Fennel is said to aid digestion. However, there is no scientific evidence for this.
How to clean fennel?
- Wash the fennel tuber under running water.
- Then cut off the fine green leaves. This can be used as a garnish.
- Cut off the stems and remove the brown spots or – if necessary – the hard outer layer. In the case of a young fennel bulb this is probably not necessary.
- Cut the bulb in half and remove the hard part at the bottom.
- The fennel is now ready for further preparation.
How to store fennel?
Officially, awhole fennel bulb will keep for 4 days in the fridge. I often can keep it even up to a week or 10 days n my fridge
Fennel can also be frozen by blanching it briefly first. Then it will keep for about three to a maximum of six months.
Freshly cut fennel will keep for at least three days in the fridge if it is wrapped in damp kitchen paper. When you cut it, fennel will discolour. Sprinkling some lemon juice over it will prevent it from turning brown.
Where is fennel from originally?
Fennel is originally from Asia and arrived in Italy and the Mediterranean via medieval trade routes. In the early 18th century, it was further introduced to our regions. It is popular in Italian – and certainly in Sicilian – cuisine.
Want to know more about fennel? Click here.
Recipes with Fennel