I was standing at my kitchen counter slicing, stirring and thinking. I was thinking about life, how much - or rather how little - time we have. I was thinking about how we all want to leave a mark in this world, how we all want to be remembered.
Not everyone is born an artist, a genius with words, notes, paintbrushes; not all of us have magic in their hands. We don't all excel in our careers or have children to pass on our genes, our teachings, our experience. But I think we all strive to be remembered, we all want our life to have had a meaning, to have left some sort of an impact.
I kept stirring and musing. I was making a family favorite, risotto, using a totally new ingredient, the humblest of vegetables. I had never once heard of or even thought of making risotto with fennel bulbs until recently. I ask myself why, now that I have experienced the delightful creamy, delicate yet almost buttery flavor fennel imparts.
Fennel is a vegetable that grows pretty much all year round in Italy. It is cheap and has a reasonably long shelf life, especially if you store it in the fridge. It can be eaten raw or cooked and is said to have medicinal uses improving eyesight, milk production in breastfeeding women, and with curative - hypertension, intestinal tract (to treat flatulence and colic in babies) - and diuretic properties. Many people dislike its strong aniseed flavor, but the problem is easily solved by cooking: simmer it or roast it and fennel magically loses its aniseed and liquorice note and turns into a silky, sweet and/or caramelized side dish.
But back to my thoughts. I stumbled upon this recipe on Terry's blog, which is full of interesting recipes. It is in Italian and English. I was surprised about the risotto and fennel combination, apparently a comforting household staple for her. Half of my family was going through a bout of stomach flu and a light and very simple risotto seemed like the perfect meal to satisfy those of us who were unwell and those of us who were fine. I was however even more surprised when I scrolled down and discovered Terry's mother had just recently, prematurely passed away. She was posting this recipe in memory of her mother, the ultimate comfort food.
I made this the same day and I couldn't stop thinking about this person I didn't know, that I had never met and would never meet. I knew I would think of her every time I made this from now on, a woman who enjoyed cooking for those she loved and who gave love through her meals. She will be remembered. You don't have to create a masterpiece or found a Forbes 100 company to leave a mark. You can leave a legacy with a simple recipe that will be cooked by other women, men, mothers, fathers, friends and lovers around the world and bring comfort. I made this in her memory and in the memory of all those people who have achieved greatness in small, nurturing, everyday gestures.
Ingredients (4/5 servings)
2 large fennel bulbs
400gr rice (carnaroli, vialone nano, arborio)
2 small shallots
1 cup grated Parmesan cheese
a large knob of butter
Heat enough olive oil to coat the base of the pot you will be using to make the risotto. Thinly slice the shallots and fennel bulbs using a mandolin or chop finely. Start sauteing the shallots until soft and transluscent, then stir in the fennel, letting it sweat. When it has visibly softened you can add the rice and then the stock, one ladle at a time, stirring constantly. Shortly before taking the risotto off the stove, stir in the butter and grated cheese. To make risotto, check out the tutorial here.