RECIPE: Fennel & burnt leek risotto [v]

We’re enthusiastic meat eaters but I’m rapidly coming round to the need for eating less meat. Writing it as I made it, this dish can obviously be made vegetarian if you use vegetable stock and leave out the anchovies. Vegan too, if you skip the butter and use a dairy-free hard cheese.

Serves 4
Leeks 2 small (or one big one)
Fennel 1/2 bulb
Arborio rice 250g
Garlic 3 cloves
Anchovies in olive oil 1/2 tin
White onion 1 medium
Celery 1 stick
Fresh bay leaf or a couple dried
White wine 150ml or 50ml vermouth (optional)
Stock if using cubes go for veg/ham/chicken or a combination thereof
Parmesan or other hard cheese

Top and tail the leeks, and trim the leafy green end into thin (2mm) horizontal slices and set aside

Slice the rest of the leeks on the angle into 8mm-1cm rounds 

Cut the fennel in half, vertically.  Save the other half for another meal.  Trim both ends, removing the root and keep the fronds for garnish, if you can.

Slice the fennel half vertically again into two quarters and then, from the white end, horizontally into 5mm slices.  Slice the green stalks into 2mm rounds and keep aside.

Dice the onion and celery (approx. 5mm).

Chop/crush garlic.

Dissolve 2 x stock cubes in boiling water (or warm a litre of other stock).

Heat a small amount of oil in a heavy based frying pan and using a butter knife, carefully place the leek rounds in one-by-one, cut side down.  You want to char the outside.  Check by using the knife (to lift them up) and once lightly blackened, use the knife to turn them over, keeping them in one piece, if you can.

Heat a couple of tablespoons of olive oil in a suitable pan on a medium heat (I use a frying pan with deep sides.  A wok would do but be careful with the heat so as not to burn anything).

Roughly chop the anchovies and throw them in with the oil from the tin. 

Once the anchovies start to melt, throw in the onion, celery, garlic and bay leaf and fry on a medium heat for 5 minutes.

Add the white fennel slices and continue to fry for another 5 minutes, stirring regularly.

Throw in the rice, along with a decent sized knob of butter (maybe an overloaded teaspoon) and stir until butter melts.

Add wine or vermouth (if using) and continue stirring until the booze burns off.

Using a ladle, add 1-2 ladles to the rice and stir until the liquid has been absorbed then repeat.

Keep doing this until the rice is cooked, which should coincide with you running out of stock – usually about 20-30 mins.

Warm the burnt leeks.

Stir in a tablespoon or so of grated parmesan, the green fennel rounds and green leek trimmings.

Check seasoning and serve, arranging the burnt leek rounds on the risotto.

Finish with more parmesan, cracked black pepper and the fennel fronds or a couple of parsley leaves.