I guess you could also call this “caramelized fennel and asparagus risotto”, but what fun is that? In any event, we tend to get excited as spring breaks loose and we buy up all sorts of stuff at the farmers market. And right now, asparagus just came in, the fennel is rockin’ (and we have Meyer lemons in orchard). Time to make risotto. And since we have some Serrano ham, parmesan, pecorino and saffron, may as well toss them in as well. But it is really up to you how you accent the veggies. Like we said, this is a bit of a “kitchen sink” recipe.
But the key elements in this dish truly are the spring veggies. Caramelized fennel (one of our all-time favorite dishes) sweetens when cooked and is a perfect foil for the earthy asparagus. Put them in a creamy risotto and you have a lovely spring dinner. And we make extra, as the leftovers are also a real treat. The only downside of this dish is that it is risotto. And cooking risotto takes time. Expect 45 to 60 minutes of total time. Some extra prep may shave off a few minutes, but it is what it is.
The upside of risotto is that it is very easy to make, and any home cook can get some very “pro” results. And once you know how to make risotto, you can make dozens of variations. And if you garden or get a CSA box, risotto is an excellent use for all sort of
random uncommon veggies. (Btw, if you want some serious risotto recipes, Stefan’s Gourmet Blog is the place to go, he knows his stuff.) Basically, all you need to do is a bunch of chopping and stirring (and tasting). Once you get the knack, it just comes down to the flavors you use.
As for this dish, we choose a lot of flavors, but they do hold up. We add saffron to risotto because we can (bloom it in the stock for the best flavor). It adds subtle sweetness and aroma that always helps rice. Parmesan and cured ham like prosciutto or Serrano add salt and umami. So far, mostly traditional. But our key additions are lemon juice and zest and a bit of pecorino romano cheese. The romano has more bite and salt than parm, so you get extra depth. And the lemon juice and zest add acid, brightness and aroma to balance the richer flavors and compliment the veggies (both asparagus and fennel like lemon). So even if this is a bit of “kitchen sink”, there is some method to the madness.
Finally, we use a recipe that will easily feed six, and possibly eight, for a light dinner. The reason is the leftovers. Risotto keeps very well. You can simply reheat it or go further and make arrancini (fried risotto balls, very tasty). It even tastes good as a quick late-night snack right out of the fridge (yes, guilty as charged). So if you see some good spring veg at the farmers market, go crazy, make some “kitchen sink” risotto and enjoy it for a few days.
Notes Before You Start:
- Opinions vary on the short grain rice to use for risotto (and there are many varieties), but either carnaroli or arborio rice will be fine and are widely available.
- Be light with seasoning the risotto while you make it, the salt from the stock concentrates during cooking, and the cheese, will add salt. Best to adjust seasoning near the end of cooking, when all the ingredients are in.
What You Get: Fun, flavorful spring vegetable risotto. What else do you need?
What You Need: Time. No other special equipment required.
How Long? 45-60 minutes, we won’t sugarcoat it, risotto takes some time.
(Serves 6-8 as a light dinner)
- 6 cups chicken stock
- 1 pinch saffron
- 4 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 medium onion, finely diced
- 2 cups short grain Italian rice (carnaroli or arborio)
- 1/2 cup white wine
- 2 large or 3 medium fennel bulbs, cut into 1/4 inch strips
- 1 bunch asparagus, tough ends trimmed, cut into 1/2 inch pieces
- 1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese
- 1/4 cup grated pecorino romano cheese
- 6-8 slices of prosciutto or Serrano ham, pulled into small pieces
- Zest of 1 lemon
- Juice of 1/2 lemon
- Kosher salt
- Freshly ground black pepper
- Add the stock to a medium saucepan over medium heat, and bring to a simmer. Lower the heat and add the saffron. Keep at very low simmer while you make the risotto.
- Place a medium to large saucepan over medium heat. Add half of the olive oil and all the diced onion. Cook the onion, stirring occasionally until soft, about 5 minutes. Add the rice and toast, stirring often until slightly toasted, about 5 minutes. Move the heat to medium-low, add the wine and stir until the mixture is close to dry, 2-3 minutes.
- Now start adding the stock, in 1/2 cup increments, stirring regularly and adding more stock each time the mixture is mostly dry (no extra liquid in the pan). This will take 20-30 minutes. If you run out of stock before the rice is done, add lightly salted water to your stock. Taste for doneness, the rice should be cooked with just a tiny bit of bite in the center.
- Meanwhile, heat the remaining oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the fennel and cook, stirring occasionally, until caramelized and soft, 10-15 minutes. Remove the fennel from the pan and drain on a paper towel. Then, in the same pan, quickly sauté the asparagus until just soft, 2-4 minutes.
- When the risotto is done. Add the fennel, asparagus, ham, cheese and lemon zest to the risotto and mix thoroughly. Taste and adjust seasoning with the lemon juice, salt and pepper. Serve with a little extra grated cheese and a few asparagus tips as garnish, if you like.
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