This week's focal point is fennel, originally from the Mediterranean also known as "the spice of angels."
There are two main types of this aromatic plant, wild and sweet, both with pale green celery-like stems and bright green feathery foliage.
Florence fennel, also called finocchio, is cultivated throughout the Mediterranean and the United States.
Both the base and the stems can be eaten raw in salads or cooked in a variety of ways, such as braising or sautéing.
The fragrant, graceful greenery can be used as a garnish or snipped like dill and used for a last minute flavor enhancer. This type of fennel is often mislabeled "sweet anise," causing those who don't like the flavor of licorice to avoid it. The flavor of fennel however is sweeter and more delicate than anise and when cooked, becomes even lighter and more elusive than its raw state.
Lemon fennel and sweet onion risotto
Makes six appetizer servings or four main dishes
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
3/4 cup sweet Vidalia onion, minced
4 sprigs fresh thyme
4 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
1-pound Arborio rice
1/2-cup dry white wine
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 quarts chicken stock
2 tablespoons fresh flat leaf parsley, chopped
2 tablespoons lemon zest
Salt and ground white pepper to taste
In a large, heavy saucepot, heat the oil over medium heat, add the onions and fennel and cook for about 8 minutes, stirring with a wooden spoon, until lightly brown. Add the thyme and garlic and cook for another 2 minutes, until fragrant.
Add the rice and cook for another 8 minutes or until it turns milky white. Only stir once or twice during this time, lower heat if necessary, add the white wine and bring to a boil.
Cook for another 3 minutes until it is completely absorbed by the rice. Ladle 1 cup of chicken stock into the rice and cook until it has been absorbed and repeat this process 1 cup at a time for 15 minutes, stirring gently throughout.
At this point, go ahead and add the rest of the stock and cook for another 5 to 7 minutes. The rice should be firm, yet cooked through.
Season with salt and pepper, add the lemon zest and gently stir the butter into the risotto to enrich the flavor. Finish with parsley, spoon into warm bowls and serve immediately. Enjoy.
Tips and techniques
. Fennel is a great source of fiber and vitamin A, calcium, phosphorus and potassium.
. Bright green color indicates good quality in fennel seeds.
. Fennel is best from fall through spring. Choose clean, crisp bulbs with no sign of browning. Refrigerate in a plastic bag for up to five days.
Contact Chris Kennedy at Seasoned Catering at (561) 351-0221, or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.