When we lived in London, I had the amazing opportunity to take a couple of cooking classes. Most were done at a delightful store called Divertimenti in my favorite neighborhood of Marleybone. They had a rotating roster of instructors, one of whom was Celia Brooks Brown – an American living in London who has written a number of vegetarian cookbooks – and another of whom was Richard Bertinet, a charming Frenchman who has just published a ground-breaking book on bread. I got to take classes with both of them.
The folks at Divertimenti really knew what they were doing. They had a lovely kitchen classroom downstairs from the main part of the store. The instructors used many different kitchen tools, talked about how great they were, and then encouraged us to use our 10% off coupons to buy said tools. For example, Ms. Brown used a square non-stick pan to make a Japanese omelet for a futomaki roll. Even though I could see right through this ruse, I somehow ended up with a square non-stick pan. (True confession: I love this pan. It does not have a silicone coating so I have used it blissfully through all the controversy over non-stick. If I could, I would buy another one in a heartbeat, but I can’t seem to find this German brand in the States.)
I also took some classes at Leith’s which was in my neighborhood of Kensington and is an old and nationally famous cooking school. Kind of the English equivalent of the CIA here. These classes were all about the cooking and not at all about the equipment. I took an amazing chocolate making class where we learned how to make chocolate truffles in molds so they look incredibly professional. Thankfully, I learned to temper chocolate there, otherwise I may never have attempted it. (It is still one of my least favorite things to do in the kitchen.)
The other class I took at Leith’s was called Vegetarian for the Holidays. Because I am a decent cook, and I have been vegetarian since I was sixteen, I didn’t find that I learned all that much at the Divertimenti classes. I enjoyed them, but didn’t learn much. Leith’s was another story. In three hours time, the chef whipped up seven dishes from start to finish without so much as breaking a sweat. I learned that it was possible to like parsnips (in an incredible dish garnished with kumquats) among many other things. A month or so later, I picked up their book entitled Leith’s Vegetarian Bible.
I must confess, I haven’t used the book all that often. I don’t like how it is laid out (by ingredient, rather than by course), so each time I reach for it, I end up just putting it down. But I have been in a bit of rut lately and wanted to dive into my second stringers. I am so glad I did. This dish was pretty outstanding. And not just for this dinner – this is a new outlook on risotto for me. I remember reading in one of Deborah Madison’s cookbooks that she doesn’t like risotto unless something interesting has been done with it. Just a puddle of it in a bowl doesn’t do it for her. I actually do like a puddle of risotto, but these wedges made me LOVE risotto. This technique is great – I had no wedge breakage as I have when I have tried to make croquettes. The actual risotto in this recipe is delicious but I plan to do with another type in the not too distant future.
I suggest you heat 6 cups of vegetable stock to make the risotto, although you may not need all of it. (Original recipe only called for 3). I recommend you freeze the Brie for about 30 minutes to make cutting the rind off a little easier. I used two Pyrex pie plates for the egg and the breadcrumbs. I made these early in the day and then reheated them in a 350 degree oven for about 10 minutes. Great for a dinner party!
2 fennel bulbs
1 tbsp. olive oil
2 tbsp. butter
1 onion, thinly sliced
1 lb. arborio rice
6 cups vegetable stock
Grated zest and juice of 1 lemon
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 oz. Parmesan cheese, freshly grated
8 oz. Brie cheese, rind removed and cut into 1/2 inch pieces
3 eggs, beaten
Olive oil, for shallow frying
Fresh fennel tops for garnish
1. Discard any damaged outer leaves from the fennel and cut each bulb in half. Remove the cores and reserve the feathery tops. Chop the fennel very finely.
2. Heat the vegetable stock over medium heat in a medium saucepan.
3. Heat the oil and butter in a large shallow saucepan and add the fennel and onion and a healthy pinch of salt. Cover and cook over a low heat for 20-25 minutes until soft but not colored.
4. Add the rice to the pan and stir to absorb the buttery juices. Add the stock a little at a time, stirring continuously and allowing the stock to become absorbed between each addition, until the rice is tender – this will take about 20-30 minutes. Stir in the lemon zest and juice and season with salt and pepper.
5. Carefully fold in the Parmesan and Brie cheeses. Allow to cool.
6. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Turn the cooled risotto out on the paper and gently form it into a circle about 1 inch thick. Make sure it is as even as possible. Chill in the refrigerator at least 4 hours or overnight. If you do leave it in overnight, cover the circle with plastic wrap.
7. Cut the cold risotto mixture into 8 wedges and sprinkle each side of each wedge with flour. In a wide shallow bowl, beat the eggs and in another wide shallow bowl, scoop out 1 cup of breadcrumbs. (You may need more.)
8. Heat a medium non-stick frying pan over medium heat. Add enough oil to coat the bottom of the pan and fry the risotton wedges for 2-3 minutes on each side until hot, brown, and crisp. You can also fry the edges if you like. Drain on paper towels and sprinkle with a little salt. Serve hot, garnished with chopped fennel fronds.