This androgynous ‘is it savory? is it sweet?’ risotto, is so carefully light yet lavish and full of my favorite aphrodisiacs. Figs, fennel, cheese, wine, and once they are all married in the soft sensuous texture of risotto, there really couldn’t be a more perfect bite to share with someone, and I mean that.
It came about one fine Autumn afternoon, when I had the most particular mood lingering about me, and it had to be matched with a fitting meal. It was quaint, feminine, cozy, quirky, light and lavish. I was already drinking a floral rose to incorporate, and I knew that figs had to be involved, after which, the rest of the ensemble just fell elegantly into place. I must say, the delicate flavor-scape that followed, was literally divine.
Before you think ‘what is she doing defiling such delicacy with such a strong cheese’ know that this risotto has to be caressed by the softest and lightest gorgonzola you can get your hands on. I came across ‘Gorgonzola Dolce Latte’ which had the pungent zest of a gorgonzola, but was so sweet, light and creamy that it by no means dominated the dish. I recommend going down to your local cheesery and getting them to sample all of the gorgonzolas until you find exactly what you need. Much a part of the experience.
YOU WILL NEED (For Two):
(CLICK THE PINK-LINKS FOR MORE INFO ON THEIR APHRODISIACAL PROPERTIES…)
- 6 ripe figs, halved
- 1 cup Arborio rice
- 1 bottle of nice Rosé – something not too sweet or acidic, with floral notes
- a crumbling of very mild, sweet creamy gorgonzola
- 2 small-medium bulbs of fennel (with stalks)
- one white onion
- 4 cloves garlic
- 5 tbsp salted butter
- 1 tsp lemon zest
- handful of lemon-thyme or thyme
Start off this sublime process by preparing the fennel stock – using all the off-cuts of the fennel and onion plus the leafy stalks of the fennel. Drop in a pot along with about 6 cups of water and a dash of salt. Bring to a boil and maintain on a low boil – before you add the first scoop to your risotto, it should have been boiling for 20 minutes or more. So you can relax enjoy your fine Rosé, and begin the rest of the simple prep. Slice your fennel into thin slivers, finely dice your onion and garlic, and zest the lemon.
In a thick based pot begin to very slowly brown your onion in 3 tbsp of the butter. Once they are translucent (about 5 minutes), add the garlic and fennel (save a small amount of the fennel slices for fresh garnish). Continue to cook on a low-medium heat until everything is soft and just browning. Add the risotto rice and half of the thyme (I usually toss the whole sprig in, and remove the stalk at the end). Turn the flame up to medium and allow the rice to brown just slightly, stirring constantly – about a further 3 minutes. Splash in about a cup of your Rosé and deglaze the bottom of the pot with all that sticky goodness. Then using a ladle and avoiding the solids, add a couple scoops of the neighboring stock (keep the stock on a low simmer – having it almost at boiling point will help the risotto cook faster).
Stirring fairly consistently, continue to add a couple ladles at a time, until the risotto is al-dente – season with salt and pepper, stir and remove from heat.
Now comes my favorite part – the part where wine and butter marry, emulsify and transform into a visionary sauce that makes the figs as soft and succulent as imaginable. The magic starts by heating a stainless steel pan on a low-medium heat, only for about 20 seconds, we don’t want the pan too hot. Pour a half a cup of your rosé into the pan and quickly placing the halved figs, face-down in the pan with the wine. Let that simmer away for a short minute, shaking the pan around so the figs don’t stick. Then add the remaining 2 tablespoons of cold butter and stir through. It should turn into a beautifully silken-glazey texture, and the figs will add their gorgeous magenta pigment to the mix – et voilá! Beurre Rosé!
Plate up those saucy figs atop the risotto, garnishing with the gorgonzola, some fresh thyme sprigs, fresh fennel slivers, the lemon zest and some freshly cracked black pepper.
I promise, you will not be disappointed…