This is the time of year when winter turns into spring almost overnight as the clocks move forward and bulbs and buds start to appear. Then just as quickly we seem to descend back into winter again as the skies darken, the rain falls and the temperatures plummet again. It’s a huge dilemma when it comes to cooking and entertaining. Barbecue and Pimms or Stew and ale? Hold onto the springtime thoughts as you put the third layer on or wonder why you’re dishing up slow braised beef shin in 25 degree heat?
As the temperature in Glasgow dropped back to a balmy 5°C a couple of weeks ago I was faced with a fridge that said ‘Spring’ (pancetta, fennel and lemons) and a thermometer that said something different. What to do for a spring like feel with a winter warmth? So in my indecision I consulted the collective genius of my Twitter followers and the lovely @samuraijen of Pie in Soup came back with ‘how about fennel and lemon risotto’. Problems solved, I love risotto, love cooking it, love eating it, love experimenting with it. It’s just such a blank canvas of a cooking medium. So with my fennel bulb, lemon and rashers of pancetta tucked under my arm I took the ubiquitous bottle of wine with me to the kitchen.
Kind of making it up as I went along I came up with the following wintry springlike fresh and warming risotto. The runny poached egg on top just added a bit of unctuous luxury to the whole affair.
This will feed 2 people
6 thin slices of pancetta finely chopped (I use scissors, much easier)
Half a lemon sliced into 3 or 4 slices
1 fennel bulb, half chopped, half sliced
130g risotto rice
500ml light beef broth (beef or chicken stock is an adequate substitute)
100ml white wine
2 cloves garlic finely chopped
Handful chopped parsley
Grating of pecorino or bonnet (optional)
Caramelise the lemon in quite a hot pan to concentrate the flavours and then remove from the pan. Lower the heat, add in a glug of olive oil then sweat the pancetta, garlic, onion and chopped fennel to soften the vegetables. Add the rice and stir to cover in the ingredients. Cook like this for 5 minutes. Add the caramelised lemon, the sliced fennel, stir, raise the heat and add the wine. Cook over this heat until evaporated and then add the broth ladelwise, stirring all the time until the rice is cooked al dente. Add in the parsley and optional cheese (it may be creamy enough for you but cheese will add a richness) and check for seasoning.
Four minutes from the end of cooking the risotto add the eggs to a large pan of salted water at 80°C-85°C for four minutes to poach. Serve the risotto in a bowl with the soft poached egg on top to allow the yolk to cover the rice when broken.
If you’d prefer this as a vegetarian dish then omit the pancetta and use a vegetable stock. If you do this you may want to up the cheese at the end. I’d quite like to try this with preserved lemons too, if you do then let me know how you get on.