It’s universally accepted that a good risotto is essential for life and necessary for the soul. Who doesn’t love a bowl of creamy, silky, luxurious rice? This Fennel Risotto recipe extracts all the magical aniseed flavour of one of life’s most wonderful vegetables. It’s a fragrant, unique and quintessentially Italian risotto.
I'm a big cheerleader of fennel - I just love the fragrant aniseed flavour. Nothing says Italy more, in my opinion, than the underlying presence of fennel. I use the seeds in almost everything I cook and I love nothing more than a crunchy fennel salad - (incidentally, have you tried my Fennel & Apple Salad or my Fennel & Orange Salad? You should!).
But fennel is also great when cooked. It's a splendid idea to replace onion with chopped fennel, to enhance the flavour of any dish. It's this method I use it in this delicious risotto recipe - the sautéed fennel replaces onion and permeates the entire dish with a subtle aniseed twist. It makes for a unique, authentic Italian risotto.
What makes the perfect risotto?
How to cook risotto is a polarising subject to say the least! Italians are very very very (to infinity) particular about how it is cooked and served – from the ingredients that go into it, to how it should look and taste. I have to agree, risotto done right is a thing of wonder, done wrong it actually makes me gently angry. But fear not... a good risotto is not difficult to master, you just need to know HOW to serve it, then you're half way there. It's best to follow these rules and you'll end up with an authentic risotto that any Italian grandmother would be proud of.
Authentic risotto IS:
- Made using the right rice.
- A soupy consistency.
- Soft, with a little al-dente bite to the grain, but not grainy.
- A dish to be enjoyed on its own.
Risotto IS NOT:
- A side dish
- A dish that is piled high in a tower.
- Eaten cold (with the exception of arancini or suppli.)
Which is the best rice for risotto?
Now, all this aside, in essence, a proper risotto is actually a simple dish to prepare. It's all about the texture – rich, creamy and luxurious. This is achieved in part by using the correct rice variety, and there are three which are considered the best to use.
- Carnaroli (shown above) - the preferred rice throughout Italy - Carnaroli is a medium grain, with a high starch content, meaning it holds its shape well in cooking, delivering the creamiest texture while retaining a nice bite to the grain. It's the king of risotto rices.
- Vialone Nano - Popular in the Veneto region of Italy, this grain has a high starch content, holds its shape well and produces a nice creamy texture. It's super absorbent too, so the grains are plump and meaty.
- Arborio - an easy to find rice with a short grain and good starch content - making it a great option for risotto. Arborio isn't as robust as Carnaroli or Vialone Nano, and can overcook easily - so needs your attention!
Other rice varieties, if you can find them, which make good options for risotto include Baldo, Maratelli, Padano and Roma. Never use basmati, jasmine, long grain etc. Never. Ever.
Say "no grazie" to stodgy risotto
Stodgy risotto is an abomination. Just ask any Italian. The texture should be light, creamy and almost soupy. Anything different isn't risotto. Stodgy risotto generally happens if it has been overcooked or has sat too long before serving. The longer it sits, the more the rice continues to absorb the liquid... the stodgier it gets.
I always serve my risotto immediately. Guests are pre-warned to sit down and be ready and I have been known to shout if this does not happen!
Risotto is not a dish to serve cold at a BBQ. Don't do it. If you want to serve a cold rice, make a delicious pilaf instead - try this recipe for Moroccan Silverbeet with Rice.
So, now that you know how, you have the know how! Check out the video below to see for yourself how delicious this super tasty and simple risotto looks and make it for yourself to experience just how delicious it is in real life! Buon appetito.