To me, fennel is a really tasty, classy and under-used vegetable. It works really well with the ricotta in this recipe and has a fantastic sweetness. Please don’t buy the crappy ricotta that a lot of the supermarkets have – make sure it’s light and crumbly and, if you’re out of luck, a fresh goat’s cheese is pretty damn good too.
Put your fennel seeds into a pestle and mortar and bash up to a powder. Get a wide, hot saucepan, add a couple of splashes of olive oil and fry the garlic until softened, then add the bashed fennel seeds and sliced fennel. Add a pinch of salt and pepper and turn down to a medium-low heat. Place a lid on the pan and cook nice and slowly for around 20 minutes, until the fennel’s soft and sweet.
Start the risotto bianco
as usual and continue through the recipe until the rice is half cooked. Half-way through Stage 3, stir in the sautéd fennel, then keep cooking the risotto until the rice is perfectly cooked.
Bash up the dried chillies in the pestle and mortar until you have a fine powder. At Stage 4, when you add the butter and Parmesan, add the crumbled ricotta and lemon zest. Check the seasoning carefully and balance the flavour with as much lemon juice as you feel it needs to work with the fennel. Divide between your plates, sprinkle over your fennel tops and dust with the ground chilli. Grate over some fresh Parmesan at the table.