The final leg of this long journey by steamship will take us across the Arabian Sea. Let’s bid farewell to the Middle East with a very special ingredient that is also found in Indian cooking: saffron. The bulb is said to have first made its way to England in the pocket of a son of Essex who found it in Tripoli. The flower adapted nicely and grew very well in the fields around our pilgrim’s home — so much so that the area became known as Saffron Walden (‘walde’ being the Anglo-Saxon for ‘field’). When I asked Jamie Oliver for his favourite saffron-based recipe, he shouted, ‘Lord of Loftus, it is the seafood risotto I made for you on the steps of Villa Petrolo, don’t you remember?’ I do…
Red mullet, monkfish, bream, John Dory, cod, mussels, clams, prawns and squid would all be suitable for this recipe. Put a shallow pan on a medium heat and fill three quarters of the way up with boiling water. Poach the fish, excluding any squid, prawns or shellfish, for 3—5 minutes, or until cooked through. Leave to cool a little while you get on with the risotto.
Heat the fish stock in a large pan. Put the olive oil and butter into a separate pan, add the onion, garlic, celery, fennel, fennel seeds, chilli and saffron and cook slowly for 15 minutes without colouring. Add the rice and turn up the heat. Stir for a minute, then add the vermouth or wine.
Now add a ladleful of the hot stock and
Add the butter, and season with salt and pepper. Drizzle with extra virgin olive oil and squeeze over the lemon juice. Serve sprinkled with the parsley and the reserved fennel tops.
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