Fennel reminds me of Christmas, which reminds of over-eating (among other more important things). My Grandmother Virginia prepared an annual 10-course Christmas feast — all homemade, from soup to ravioli to cannoli. Somewhere near the very end of this spectacular marathon event – when the younger generation was left gasping for air – the fennel arrived at the table. “It helps with digestion,” we were told.
At that point, the only thing that could possibly have helped with digestion is a feather. In fact, however, since the Roman feasts of yore, fennel has been praised for its digestive qualities, owing to its high concentration of the chemical anethole. But sometimes, just one more bite of anything is a bad idea.
Fennel comes in many varieties. The taller, leafier, wild versions produce the familiar seeds. The bulbous cultivar, Finocchio Fiorentino (Florence Fennel), is popular in Italian cooking. Up north, you might see it mixed into a creamy risotto, but all over Italy you’ll often find it on a holiday table.
I recommend one serving of risotto per person. And then maybe some raw fennel and a brisk walk after dessert.
Check out our wine pairings to complement this dish.
Heat the stock in a saucepan over a low flame, keep warm.
In a large skillet, over medium heat, sauté the onion in half of the butter until translucent. Add the sausage and break apart with a fork. Cook until lightly brown. Mix in the fennel and cook for a few minutes. Add the rice and stir together until opaque and lightly toasted. Add the wine and allow it to absorb. Add a ladle of the stock. Continue to cook and stir (preferably with a fork) until the liquid is almost fully absorbed. As the liquid absorbs, add more stock, a ladle at a time, waiting until almost completely absorbed before adding more. Cook until rice is al dente, about 15 minutes, being careful that the rice remains al dente.
Mix in the remaining butter and cheese. Remove the skillet from the heat. Serve immediately, garnished with s few fennel fronds.