MoM Feb ‘09 Food & Wine: Fennel & Sausage Risotto

I have been cruising through the latest Magazine of the Month so fast that it’s entirely possible I will finish most of the recipes in it by the end of the month. I know I said I needed a month and a half, but that may not be the case since I’ve been a cooking fiend this week.

So far, we’ve discussed two recipes from Food & Wine February 2009 and I’ve got three more in the hopper, ready to go. It’s such a great magazine that so far I’ve wanted to make just about everything that’s in there.

Food & Wine February 2009

Citizen Chef shot me an email the other day, asking if there was anything else left in the magazine for him to make and feature. There is, definitely… but he’d better act fast!

As you know, I’ve been on a risotto kick. It’s something I normally serve in small portions on the side, because most of the risottos I’ve made thus far are meatless.

That has changed.

F&W Photo - Fennel & Sausage Risotto
Photo courtesy of Food & Wine Magazine

The latest F&W has a clip from their Test Kitchen called “Perfecting Risotto.” A basic “Milanese” risotto is listed with three really amazing looking variations. I hauled out the first variation, a Fennel and Sausage Risotto and went to town, serving it up as a main course.

Fennel & Sausage Risotto
Courtesy of Food & Wine Magazine, February 2009

3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 pound sweet Italian sausage, casings removed, meat crumbled
1 large fennel bulb, halved, cored and thinly sliced
5 1/2 cups chicken stock, preferably homemade
1 small onion, finely chopped
Salt and freshly ground pepper
1 1/2 cups arborio rice (10 ounces)
Pinch of saffron threads
1/2 cup dry white wine
1/2 cup freshly grated Pecorino-Romano cheese
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
2 tablespoons chopped flat-leaf parsley

For this recipe, I put in more meat than it called for because I halved the recipe but I couldn’t buy a half pound of sweet, Italian sausage from the store and I didn’t want it to go to waste, so I just threw most of it in there.

Initial concerns were about the sweetness of the risotto. I generally like my dishes savory, and I didn’t know what the fennel and sweet sausage were going to do in the whole mix. As it turns out, my fears were unfounded, as the dish ended up not being sweet at all — in fact, next time I will probably not salt the onions.

In a large skillet, heat 1 tablespoon of the olive oil. Add the sausage and cook over high heat, breaking up the meat with a spoon, until browned, about 5 minutes. Add the fennel and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened and lightly browned, about 8 minutes longer. Cover and keep warm.

Fennel & Sausage

I was concerned about slicing up the fennel because I didn’t know how a huge hunk of cooked fennel was going to taste in my mouth. Would it be like a huge, gummy hunk of sweet licorice? I just wasn’t sure. Turns out it was not sweet at all, and it was so soft from cooking in with the sausage that biting into it was actually quite nice. The larger slices can be cut in half, but I didn’t find the fennel off putting at all. It was actually quite mild and gave a nice something extra to the risotto.

In a medium saucepan, bring the chicken stock to a simmer; keep warm. In a large saucepan, heat the remaining 2 tablespoons of olive oil. Add the onion, season with salt and pepper and cook over moderate heat, stirring, until softened, about 5 minutes.

Onion - Fennel & Sausage Risotto

Add the rice and cook, for 1 minute stirring constantly to thoroughly coat it with the fat. Crumble the saffron into the wine and add it to the rice. Cook, stirring until the wine is absorbed. Add 1 cup of the warm stock and cook over moderate heat, stirring constantly, until nearly absorbed.

I found the saffron in the spices section of my local grocery store, and they also kept some in the international foods section. Ground and small thread-like saffron was available, and the threads were only available to me in American saffron, so that’s what I went with.

Saffron, Wine, Rice, Stock - Fennel & Sausage Risotto

Continue adding the stock 1/2 cup at a time, stirring constantly, until it is nearly absorbed between additions.

Cooking Rice - Fennel & Sausage Risotto

The risotto is done when the rice is al dente and suspended in a thick, creamy sauce, about 20 minutes total. Season the risotto with salt and pepper. Stir in the cheese, butter and parsley.

Cheese & Butter - Fennel & Sausage Risotto

Stir the sausage and fennel into the risotto and serve.

Fennel & Sausage Risotto - Final

As I said earlier, what you see above has more meat in it than it called for but overall I was thrilled with this dish. It was comforting and savory, and the bite of the sliced fennel was a really nice touch – with a mild taste and adding a pleasing texture. The sweet sausage was another concern to me, but mixed in with all of the other components, it didn’t taste sweet to me at all. If I had added a regular Italian sausage, it would have overwhelmed the dish. I would highly recommend this.

As always, here’s my blurry photo finale:

Fennel & Sausage Risotto - Final

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