Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Fennel and Sundried Tomato Risotto


Risotto is hard.  You know what I mean.  Maybe a friend or relative has made risotto and watched you eat it, waiting with each bite for you to acknowledge all that went into it.  Maybe you've made risotto.  Maybe you've read recipes for risotto, and said, "F this" and ordered a pizza. 

Sous Chef Brian mentioned a couple of months ago that I too frequently used the phrase "with love" in the blog.  Whether I was talking about doing something fairly painstakingly, or about how you could, if you wanted to do it "with love," he thought it was too much.  So from that point forward, I've avoided the term.  Risotto is made with love, the kind of love that is so closely bound up with hate that you can barely tell the difference.   My cat Ainsley has this problem.  She loves you.  She nuzzles you.  She nuzzles you harder.  She bites.  She wants to taste you.  She doesn't know the difference between love and hate.

Neither, apparently, does risotto.  

The swearing?  That's love.  The stomping of feet and insisting that it must be over soon?  Also love.

I made risotto once before, in a an alternate reality when we lived in a cottage in the woods.  Really.  I think the memory had faded just enough for me to go at it again.

Please note that there are a ton of recipes out there for "quick risotto" or "easy risotto" or "baked risotto."  I need to continue believing these are all lies, because otherwise, where did Sunday night go?

Now don't you want to make it yourself?  Here's the bitch about it.   It's worth it.  Seriously.  Make risotto.  But don't make it when it's just you and your spouse staring at each other at the close of a weekend, make it for someone else.  Show off a bit.   This is risotto, damnit. 

I got five cups of veg stock simmering in one pan, and in another I got some onions and fennel started with a tablespoon and a half of butter.  My aim here is softish and sweet, but not all the way to truly caramelized and mushy.


I got it going with a cup and a half of arborio rice.  

I stirred this around in a tablespoon and a half of hot olive oil, to coat.  You're on medium heat at this point, and forever. 

I stirred in a half cup of white wine.  Emergency wine.

and kept stirring until it absorbed.

And from then on, it's like a lasagna.  What am I going to do, show you pictures of every layer?  Add a ladle of stock, stir until absorbed, repeat.  15 times.  Really.  The plan is to keep this up until you have just one ladleful left.  You're stirring.  For an hour.

Add stock.  Stir.

Add stock.  Stir.

 Let's make a vegetable.

I had some artichokes sitting around, getting tired.  So I trimmed them up with shears.

I put them in my steamer, over four inches of water with three cloves of garlic, peeled and smashed.

And then I remembered that I can't get a good lid-fit on top of the steamer, so I built this out of duct tape and hope. 

And let the water simmer to steam the artichokes.

The risotto?  Add stock.  Stir.

Get some sundried tomatoes soaking.  Pretend you're making progress.

Check in on the fennel and onion.  Lookin' good. 

Dice up some cheese. We had three and a half ounces of fontina.  People use parmesan too.  


 And save the rinds for the cheese bag in your freezer.


So then when there is one ladlefull of stock left, magic happens.  The risotto takes on a new texture.  It's like a plasma.  You can fold it. 

Add in some goodies.  Your fennel and onion.

Your sundried tomatoes, which you've already soaked.

A tablespoon of tomato paste. 
 Add the cheese and the last ladlefull of stock, and some salt and pepper (to taste, but less salt, you have all that cheese).  Stir a lot.

Meanwhile, I poured Italian dressing (made last week) 


over the steaming artichokes, and left them covered with that for a few minutes.

When the risotto is  covered in creaminess, but not at all runny, you're there.

the remains. it was a long night with risotto, so neither of us went past this point.

This made six servings.  Risotto doesn't reheat perfectly - it's thick and gets a little bit gummy, so add a splash of water and stir again while re-heating.

What are the meals you put extra effort into, and where do you draw the line between worth it and not worth it?  Have you ever tried one of the shortcut recipes for risotto?

print recipe

Fennel and Sundried Tomato Risotto
Creamy and rich, this risotto makes a nice special occasion dish
  • 1.5 cups arborio rice
  • 5 cups vegetable stock
  • 1 small onion, sliced
  • 1 small fennel bulb, cored and sliced
  • 3.5 oz diced fontina
  • 1.5 tablespoons olive oil
  • 8 sundried tomatoes, soaked and sliced
  • 1 tablespoon tomato paste
  • 1.5 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1/2 cup white wine
  • to taste kosher salt
  • to taste black pepper
Simmer 5 cups vegetable stock.In a separate pan, heat butter and cook fennel and onions on low until sweet and soft. In a third pan, heat oil, toss rice to coat and stir in wine until absorbed.Add stock, one ladle-full at a time, stirring in between until absorbed. Stir in one ladle until absorbed, add another, repeat. Mix in final ladle of stock with all other ingredients. Stir. Risotto is finished when everything is creamy and not runny.
Prep time: Cook time: Total time: Yield: 6 servings

print recipe

Steamed Artichokes with Italian Dressing
A little bit of zesty flavor in the steaming saves a heck of a lot of butter.
  • 2 artichokes, trimmed
  • 3 garlic cloves, crushed
  • 1/4 cup Italian dressing
Steam artichokes over four inches of water. When tender, pour dressing over top, being sure to get it into the leaves.Steam another 5 minutes.
Prep time: Cook time: Total time: Yield: 2 servings

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