Prawn and Fennel Risotto

Despite what aficionados will tell you, risotto made with a stock cube instead of tremblingly jellied home made stock will be delicious too. This one is a case in point but flavours are boosted by adding some of the prawns right at the beginning of the cooking with the onion and fennel. Flavours are subtle and so is the pale iridescence of the prawns and glistening, buttery slivers of fennel and rice. The aniseedy flavour of fennel is fortified by feathery dill, all-in-all a lovely combination. No Parmesan required but if you happen to have some Pernod or Ricard or other aniseedy alcohol in the cupboard, add a splash of it after the fennel has softened, before the rice is added.

Serves 4
Prep: 20 min
Cook: 35 min

1 onion
40g butter
1 tbsp olive oil
1 fennel bulb
200g peeled, raw prawns
1 tbsp fresh lemon juice
dash of Pernod or Ricard, optional
250ml white wine
250g Arborio rice
1 ½ chicken stock cube
1 litre boiling water
bunch of dill

Halve, peel and finely chop the onion. Melt 25g butter in 1 tbsp olive oil in a spacious, lidded sauté/frying pan and stir in the onion. Cook very gently, stirring often, while you attend to the fennel. Halve lengthways, cut out the dense core at the base then halve each half lengthways. Slice across the pieces thinly. Place in a bowl and add the lemon juice. Toss and leave. Finely chop a few of the prawns, about 50g. You want them in very small scraps. Stir the fennel into the softening onion with a generous pinch of salt. Cover and leave to sweat, stirring occasionally, for about 10 minutes until beginning to wilt. If adding Pernod, do so now and let it bubble away before adding the wine. Let that reduce by half then stir in the rice, stirring until the wine is virtually disappeared. Boil the kettle, measure 1 litre boiling water into a saucepan and crumble in the stock cubes. Keep the stock simmering very gently over a low heat. Stir the chopped prawn into the moist rice and keep stirring until you can see little pink specs. Add a couple of ladles of stock and keep stirring, adjusting the heat so the liquid simmers steadily rather than boiling. Add more stock in two or three more batches, stirring so the rice drinks up the liquid evenly. When the rice is tender and swollen and most of the liquid used up, stir in the prawns with the final ladle of stock, keep stirring as the prawns turn pink and just cook through. Strip the dill from its stalks, chop and stir into the risotto with the last of the butter. Cover and leave for 5 minutes before giving a final stir and serving.