Risotto coi Finocchi

Risotto with Fennel

When I discovered, long ago, that most people are acquainted with finocchio only in its raw stage, I regularly began to include a cooked version of it among the dishes I taught, frying it, sautéing it in butter, slow-cooking it in olive oil, or combining it with fish. It has consistently been one of the most warmly received of the vegetable dishes in my school’s curriculum.

For this risotto the finocchio is first tossed with sautéed onion and butter, then cooked very slowly until it becomes a tender pulp. Its consistency is sacrificed to a distillation and refinement of its flavor. The vegetable’s herbal piquancy that recalls its kinship with anise pervades the risotto mildly, endowing it with freshness and finesse.

Ingredients

  • 2 medium finocchio (fennel)
  • ¼ cup chopped onion
  • 4 tablespoons butter
  • 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
  • cup water
  • Salt
  • cups Italian Arborio rice
  • ½ cup dry white wine
  • 5 cups Homemade Meat Broth, or 1 bouillon cube dissolved in 5 cups water, or ¾ cup canned meat broth diluted with cups water
  • 2 tablespoons chopped parsley
  • cup freshly grated parmigiano-reggiano (Parmesan)
  • Black pepper in a grinder

Method

  1. Cut off and discard the finocchio tops down to the bulbs. Remove any bruised or discolored outer leaf, then slice the bulbs very fine crosswise, producing thin rounds and half rings. Wash in several changes of cold water, drain, and set aside.
  2. Put the chopped onion, 2 tablespoons of the butter, and the vegetable oil in the pot where you will subsequently cook the rice. Turn on the heat to medium.
  3. When the onion becomes colored a pale gold, add the sliced finocchio and stir well. Add the water, cover the pot, and cook, stirring occasionally, until the finocchio becomes soft as pulp.
  4. Uncover the pot, evaporate any remaining water, and, when the finocchio has become colored a creamy brown, add salt, stir 2 or 3 times, then add the rice. Stir well to coat the rice thoroughly, turn the heat up to medium high, and add the wine. In another pan, bring the broth to a simmer over medium heat.
  5. While the wine bubbles, stir the rice constantly, wiping it away from the sides and bottom of the pot. When the wine has evaporated completely, add a ladleful of broth. Never stop stirring, always making sure that the side and bottom of the pot are wiped clean. When the first ladleful of broth has evaporated, add another, always continuing to stir. Continue the procedure, adding more broth as required, until the rice is done: It should be firm but tender, without a chalky center. At this point the consistency should be slightly runny. If you run out of broth before the rice is done, continue the cooking with water.
  6. Off the heat add the remaining 2 tablespoons of butter, salt, the parsley, grated cheese, and liberal grindings of pepper. Stir for another minute or two until the consistency of the risotto is creamy smooth, then serve at once.

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