Updated: Oct 10
It's March - the month of in-betweens. It's in between warm and cold. In between rainy and sunny. In between the end of Winter and the start of Spring. Hearty Winter produce still abounds, but we're starting to see Spring produce too - artichokes, the first of the season's strawberries, and the star of today's recipe - fennel.
Now, I recognize that fennel is one of those "love it or hate it" flavors, so if you're a fennel hater, you may as well just move along because this recipe is decidedly NOT for you. Nope. This one is for all my fellow fennel lovers, and it uses fennel in ALL the ways. The fresh bulb is diced and sauteed so that it practically melts into the creamy rice. The fronds are reserved for the end to lend extra freshness. And the seeds are a key component in my California Seaside spice blend, which is inspired by the way Coastal Southern California smells after a good rain (something we've had A LOT of lately), when you smell the ocean and all the fennel, rosemary, sage, and bay that grow wild along our coast. The blend also contains some dehydrated orange as an homage to the citrus farms that used to cover much of the land around here, so I also included some fresh orange zest and juice to this recipe. And I'm happy to say that it feels perfect for the moment. It's creamy and cozy with a pop of springtime freshness that feels like the promise of warmer weather.
Let's get cooking, shall we?
Makes 4-6 servings
6 cups low-sodium chicken or vegetable broth
6 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 medium shallots, finely minced
1 large fennel bulb, cored and thinly sliced
1 tablespoon California Seaside Spice Blend
1/4 cup dry white wine
1 1/2 cups arborio rice
4 ounces freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese (about 1 1/2 cups), plus more for serving
Zest and juice from 1 orange
Fennel fronds from fennel bulb, for serving
In a medium saucepan, bring the broth to a simmer. Season to taste with kosher salt and keep warm.
In a medium heavy-bottomed pot (or enameled cast iron Dutch oven), melt 4 tablespoons of the butter over medium-high heat. Add the onion and fennel and cook, stirring frequently, until softened, about 10 minutes. Add the California Seaside Spice Blend and stir to coat. Add the white wine and cook, stirring frequently, until nearly all the liquid has evaporated. Add the rice and cook, stirring constantly, for about 1 minute, until the rice is coated with the butter. (This is called "pearling" the rice and is a key step in making really good risotto.)
Add about 1 cup of the warm broth to the rice mixture and stir until all the liquid is nearly absorbed before adding the next cup of broth. Continue this process, allowing the liquid to absorb before adding more, until you've got a nice, creamy "sauce" and the rice is al dente. It should require all six cups of broth and will probably take around 30 minutes, but take your cues from the rice, not your timer. Remove from heat and stir in the remaining 2 tablespoons of butter, the grated cheese, the orange zest and juice, and a couple tablespoons of fennel fronds.
Finish with a garnish of additional fennel fronds and a sprinkle of additional cheese and serve immediately.