Masterchef challenge, day 10: Vegetable and Mussel Risotto
It's day 10 of MasterChef, and the ingredients were:
- Arborio rice
- Potatoes (a large kind - the variety name wasn't familiar to me)
Bulb fennel is a very versatile vegetable. It can be used raw in a salad or in a stir fry, taking advantage of its crispiness. It's really good when it's simmered or braised for a long time too - it remains a bit crispy but is tender too, and the anise flavor seems to become accentuated. Fennel goes very well with seafood. So, I decided to try to feature the fennel in a vegetable risotto with saffron. I added small onions and roasted red pepper for added sweetness.
I have a confession to make: I have a bit of a problem with mussels. Unless they are treated with something a bit acidic I think they have a very strong and not that pleasant a flavor. The best mussels in the world are the ones they serve by the big bowlful in Belgium - they are very quickly steamed with a little white wine and shallots, and served with a big pile of pommes frites (french fries/chips). Anyway, I took this approach to cooking the mussels very quickly, and it turned out pretty well. I didn't cook the mussels in with the risotto, but just stirred them in at the end.
The fennel, onion and red pepper risotto on its own would work very well as a vegetarian main dish I think. It's also pretty low fat and low calorie - only 1 or 2 tablespoons of olive oil and 1 cup of rice are used for 4 quite generous portions, but because of the flavor of the vegetables and the saffron, it really has a rich taste. You don't always need a ton of butter and cheese for risotto!
Unused ingredients: haddock, potatoes.
The order to make this is as follows:
- Slice up the fennel and start cooking as soon as possible. Add the onions about 10 minutes into the simmering.
- Heat up the grill or broiler and roast the red pepper.
- In the meantime, chop up the shallot and garlic, and cook the mussels.
- Cool and peel the peppers, and chop up.
- When the simmering vegetables are tender, cook the risotto. The risotto takes about 15 to 20 minutes.
Mussels in white wine
This way to cook mussels is, I think, the best.
- About 3 dozen mussels
- 1 garlic clove, finely chopped
- 1 shallot, finely chopped
- 1 Tbs olive oil
- 1/2 cup young rather sour wine - a Sauvignon Blanc or Riesling would work. (I used a Swiss Chasselas which is quite often used for fondue.)
Scrub and de-beard the mussels (pull out the hanging seaweed). Throw away any open or cracked mussels.
In a large pot, sauté the garlic and shallot until limp. Add the mussels, and immediately add the white wine, and close the lid. Do not open for at least 5minutes. By that time, the mussels should be open. Discard any unopen ones. Reserve the liquid in the pot.
Let the mussels cool enough to handle, then pick out the insides.
Fennel, onion and sweet pepper risotto
- 1/2 fennel bulb, very thinly sliced
- 4 small onions, peeled and halved
- 2 large red peppers
- 2 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
- 1/2 tsp (or a large pinch) saffron threads
- 1 vegetable stock cube
- 1 cup arborio rice
- 1 Tbs. olive oil
Bring about 6 cups of water to a boil, and put in the fennel and the vegetable stock cube. Lower the heat to a simmer. Simmer for about 10 minutes, then add the onions. Simmer for an additional 15-20 minutes. Drain, reserving the liquid. Keep the liquid hot.
In the meantime, heat a grill or the broiler in your oven, and roast the peppers until they are charred all over - you will need to turn them several times. Put them in a paper bag and leave until cool enough to handle, then peel off the blackened skin and chop up roughly.
Soak the saffron threads in a little water.
Sauté the garlic in a medium size pan, then add the rice and stir around until the grains are coated in the oil and very hot. Add the cooking liquid from the mussels. Add the saffron threads and the water it was soaking in. Continue adding the cooking liquid from the vegetables one ladleful at a time, stirring and evaporating the liquid between additions - you will add about 6 cups of liquid in total. Midway through add the fennel and onions. Stop adding liquid when the rice grains are cooked but still firm enough to retain their shape - if you keep adding after this point, the rice will become mushy. At the very end, stir in the red pepper and the mussels. Taste and adjust the seasoning with salt and pepper.
Serve immediately! Risotto must be eaten as soon as it's cooked, or it becomes a gluey mess.
Note: to make this a vegetarian risotto, use 1/2 cup of white wine as the first liquid you add to the risotto instead of the mussel liquid.