Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Eat Fennel Then Chocolate This Valentine's Day

Last year I said forget chocolate and eat fennel on Valentine’s Day. This year I planned on saying to eat chocolate and forget fennel. (Not to be confused with chocolate-dipped fennel. Ewwww.)

After tasting this fennel and sun-dried tomato risotto, though, I have changed my mind. Here are three reasons why you should eat fennel again this Valentine's Day:

1. Licorice-flavored fennel is believed to have aphrodisiac qualities (and it's a lot prettier than oysters).

2. The risotto is made with white wine, which if your valentine has enough of, might make it easier for you to steal a few kisses before dessert.

3. Risotto is notorious for being difficult to make. It isn't. It takes about 20-25 minutes and doesn't have to be stirred continuously. However, you could tell your valentine that you slaved in the kitchen making risotto from scratch. That should get you a little lovin'.

When selecting fresh fennel, look for firm, unblemished, pearly white bulbs with tall green stalks and flouncy fronds. Its mild licorice flavor pairs beautifully with the robust and slightly salty flavor of the sun-dried tomatoes. Plus it’s red and white.

I'm sending this recipe to my dear friend, Chris of Melecotte, for her Kitchen of Love Event featuring food with aphrodisiac qualities. Don't miss that round-up on Feb. 12th!

Once you've eaten the the risotto, dim the lights, put on some Lou Rawls (yeah, baby), and open a box of chocolates. Not just any chocolates, gourmet chocolates from Chocolate.com.

Liquer infused chocolate truffles from J. Emanuel Chocolatier.

Since we're talking about Valentine's Day, why not splurge on luxurious chocolate truffles? Chocolate truffles are confections made with a chocolate ganache center that is blanketed in a hard chocolate shell. The ganache center, a silky blend of cream and chocolate, can be flavored with liquer, fruit, nuts, and other sweet fillings such as nougat and toffee.

The liquer infused truffles I sampled (courtesy of Mark from Chocolate.com) came in well-loved flavors such as kalhua and ameretto, and more unusual ones like port. Come to think of it, these truffles would go nicely with a glass of port since they're rich and creamy and not overly sweet.

Though traditionally spherical, these truffles are square shaped and beautifully decorated with gold swirls, coffee beans, and white chocolate drizzle. And with a seemingly endless variety of fillings, there's a truffle that will make every person's heart feel full.

After some fennel, wine, and truffles, your sweetheart will surely be feeling amorous. If not, just pop in your favorite DVD and finish off the rest of the truffles. That would put anybody in a good mood.

Fennel and Sun-Dried Tomato Risotto
Makes 2 main or 4 side servings.
Print recipe only here.

2 teaspoons olive oil, divided
1 teaspoon butter
1 diced shallot, divided
½ cup Arborio rice (risotto)
2 1/2 cups low-sodium broth, or as much as needed
1/4 cup dry white wine
½ teaspoon fennel seeds
1 cup fennel, chopped
1/8 cup chopped sun-dried tomatoes (about 3 tomatoes)
¼ cup heavy cream or half ‘n half
1/8 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1/8 cup pine nuts, toasted
1 tablespoon butter, optional
Salt and pepper, to taste
Good extra virgin olive oil, for drizzling

Place pinenuts in a small, dry skillet over medium heat. Shake pan in a back-and-forth motion until pinenuts are golden and aromatic, about 1-2 minutes.

Meanwhile, heat broth in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Once it's hot, lower to a simmer.

For the risotto, start by sautéing half the shallots in 1 teaspoon olive oil and butter. Add the Arborio rice; toast for about 1 minute. Cook the risotto at a slow simmer, adding heated broth ½ cupful at a time. Most cookbooks will tell to stir continuously; I don’t, and you don't have to either. You can stir occasionally; just make sure the risotto absorbs the liquid before adding more. It will become tender and creamy as it cooks. Season will some salt about halfway through so it blends well, and add the white wine. 4-5 cups of broth works for this recipe, but use more or less as needed. It takes about 20 minutes for the risotto to become completely cooked. Taste it -- it should be wonderfully creamy and thick. It’s best al dente, which means it should still retain some firmness when you chew it.

After about 10 minutes of cooking the risotto, place a large skillet over medium heat. Add the dry fennel seeds and toast for about 1 minute or until aromatic. Then add 1 teaspoon of olive oil, the other half of the shallots, fennel, sun-dried tomatoes, and some salt and pepper. Sauté over medium heat until the fennel becomes slightly softened but not mushy, about 7-8 minutes. At this point, the risotto should be cooked, so add the sautéed fennel to it and stir well. Add the cream or half n’ half; stir until mixed in well and heated, about 1 minute. Turn off heat, then add the Parmesan cheese so it will melt more slowly. Add some salt and pepper to taste. Adding 1 tablespoon of butter at this point adds a touch more creaminess, but it's optional.

Plate your risotto, topping it with the toasted pine nuts and some grated Parmesan. Drizzle some extra virgin olive oil on top for an extra Mmmmmm and serve immediately.

Like risotto? Then you'll love this Butternut Squash Risotto with Rosemary, Walnuts, and Blue Cheese.

You might also like:
Sicilian Salad of Fennel, Oranges, and Olives
Almond Biscotti Dipped in Chocolate
Chocolate Dipped Coconut Macaroons
Quick Chocolate Cinnamon Mousse with Cherries

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