I just love risotto! I make it a million different ways—with lemon and artichokes, dotted with asparagus or peas, smothered with ratatouille. I have to hold myself back from making it more often or I’d eat it every day—for breakfast, lunch and dinner!
My new favorite is Carmelized Fennel & Onion Risotto. Carmelizing fennel is wonderful. Growing up we ate it raw and enjoyed the light anise flavor. But, as an adult, I experienced carmelized fennel at a local Italian restaurant and was surprised by its sweet, mellowed flavor with only a negligible hint of anise, if any.
This is not an overpowering flavor-bomb of a recipe. It is only slightly different from basic risotto. But, that little extra something is very enjoyable.
Many folks shy away from making risotto because it’s a labor of love—stirring, stirring, stirring—while it slowly absorbs the liquid that will give it that magnificent creamy consistency. (I know the first time I made it I didn’t exactly master the art of getting it perfectly cooked and creamy. Second time’s a charm!) Well, I’m going to give you this recipe that age-old traditional way because you just might want to spend the time making this risotto your masterpiece. Or, you may have other things to do and still want risotto. So, I’ll share the oven-baked method of producing a very righteous creamy risotto.
One more detail, I use an enameled cast iron pan for this recipe—first, because I love this pan and, second, because it can be used on the stove and in the oven. If you decide to bake this recipe and don’t have one of these wonderful braisers (or something similar) then start it off in a large, heavy-bottomed pan and carefully transfer it to a baking dish to finish in the oven.
Carmelized Fennel & Onion Risotto
1 cup arborio rice
2½ cups chicken stock (homemade or a GF/CF brand like Pacific Natural Foods)
½ small onion, chopped (about ½ cup)
½ small fennel bulb, chopped (about ¾ cup)
2 tablespoons olive oil
¼ cup grated Parmigiano Reggiano
salt and pepper
If you’re going to bake the risotto preheat the oven to 400 degrees.
While you’re carmelizing the vegetables heat the chicken broth. Bring it to a simmer and then turn off the burner. You don’t want it to keep simmering or it will evaporate but, remember, it does need to be hot.
Coarse chop the onion and fennel. For the fennel: wash it, then cut off the stalks and the bottom. Cut the bulb in half and remove the core. Slice the fennel in ¼ inch slices then chop it a few times so the pieces are about ½ to ¾ inch long.
Heat the oil in a heavy saucepan over medium-high heat. Add the onion and fennel and cook, stirring, until they are a nicely browned, about 8-10 minutes. You do not want the fennel and onions to steam so make sure your pan is big enough—they need a little bit of space to carmelize.
Add the rice and cook, stirring to coat the grains with oil, for a few minutes.
Finish the recipe with one of the two following methods…
Stir in about 1/2 cup hot chicken broth and a pinch of salt. Simmer until the broth has completely evaporated, about 1 minute. (It’s important to keep the heat at the right temperature—you want a medium simmer so the rice doesn’t cook to quickly—so you may need to turn the burner down to medium.) Add in the remaining chicken stock about a half a cup at a time, making sure the rice never gets dry but not adding more stock until the rice has absorbed the liquid. Stir the risotto the entire time you are adding the stock. This should take about 20-25 minutes.
I always test the risotto before finishing it up. Make sure it’s the consistency you like – a little al dente or soft. If you like it soft you may need to add a little more broth (or even water) and continue to cook until it reaches your desired consistency.
Take the risotto off the heat. Add salt and pepper to taste. Add the grated cheese, if desired. Mix together and then let sit for 5 minutes before serving.
Stir in about 1/2 cup hot chicken broth and simmer until it has completely evaporated. (If you’re going to transfer to a baking dish now’s the time to do it.) Add 1½ cups chicken broth, salt, and pepper. Bring to a rapid simmer. (Clearly you can’t bring the broth to a rapid simmer after you add it to the baking dish. Do that before adding to the baking dish!) Cover, transfer to the oven, and bake, until the rice has absorbed most of the liquid, 20 to 25 minutes.
Check the risotto to be sure it’s the consistency you desire – al dente or soft. (If you like it al dente you may want to check it at about 20 minutes.) Remove it from the oven when it’s done to your liking. Stir in the remaining 1/2 cup of broth, salt, pepper, and cheese (if desired) and mix thoroughly. Let it sit for about 5 minutes before serving.
This recipe makes about 4 servings.