I approach a Christmas Eve menu with the intention of keeping it simpler than Christmas day and keeping it mostly meatless. It also tends to be Italian, and this year I decided on a main course of risotto. When I make risotto at home, it’s always with either mushrooms or seafood, but this time I wanted to try something different. So, I asked Kurt to pick a risotto from Jamie's Italy, and he chose this fennel and dried chili variation.
The preparation begins the same as any other risotto except that Jamie includes chopped celery with the onion and garlic. Once those are sautéed together, the rice is added and stirred until translucent. Then begins the dance of adding wine and stirring and then chicken broth and stirring and then stirring more and more and so forth. I don’t mind the stirring so much when I have a nice glass of Sangiovese and some sharp provolone and asiago for refreshment, and I did have those things nearby and all was well. For this dish, there were two pans of sautéing vegetables working at once. Thinly sliced fennel and some mashed-up fennel seeds cooked while the risotto got its start. The fragrance of the fennel and fennel seed cooking together was enough to tell me this was going to be a fine meal.
When the risotto reached the half-way point, the sautéed fennel was added. At the end of the cooking time, butter and parmigiana were stirred in with lemon zest, lemon juice, and some ricotta. To serve, each plate was topped with torn, dried red chilis, fennel tops, a drizzle of olive oil, and a bit more parmigiana. The sweet fennel flavor with the hot red chilis worked nicely, and the lemon did a lovely job of perking up everything else. Kurt did well with his risotto selection, and we’ll definitely be making this one again.