My exams are finally over! I’m free! Exhausted, but free. It’s always a big relief to finish an assessment period and know that you have a few weeks’ break. I woke up feeling so happy and relieved this morning, and then I looked around my room at the disorganised mess I had allowed to accumulate over the past few weeks and realised that I still had a few things to take care of before I could really relax…One step at a time, right? With my exams out of the way, I’m looking forward to having some more time for experimenting in the kitchen. After sitting in a cold exam hall for several hours, I got home yesterday craving something warm and comforting. This Pumpkin Fennel Risotto with Pork Meatballs was the perfect way to end the day.
This is probably my favourite recipe I’ve ever created. It has a very warm autumnal feeling to it, and the balance of flavours is spot-on (if I do say so myself). The pumpkin fennel risotto is creamy and rich, and the rice, when cooked al dente, still has a bit of a bite to it. The meatballs are tender, juicy, and flavoursome. Personally, I can think of few things better than curling up on the couch with a blanket, a good film (or maybe some OITNB…!?) and a big bowl of this. <Insert heart-eyes emoji here>.
I cook with fennel all the time (it’s not an addiction so much as a love affair). I think fennel is a very underrated vegetable. It has a lovely aniseed flavour and there are so many different ways you can use it – raw, in salad, in soup, in pasta sauces, in burgers, roasted, char-grilled…you name it. The fennel in this recipe has a dual function: not only does it complement the warmth of the pumpkin and the acidity of the orange, but it also serves as a great replacement for onion. Diced onions typically form the base for a risotto, but sadly onions (and their equally delicious relative the leek) are very high in fructose. I try to avoid foods with a high fructose content, which unfortunately means that onions and leeks are out. Onions are, however, often used to create a flavour base when cooking, so if you remove them from a recipe altogether, the dish loses some of its flavour. As a solution, I started using fennel as a replacement for onions and leeks, which is why you’ll see it pop up so often in my recipes.
Anyway, I could wax lyrical about fennel for the rest of the afternoon, but I think you’d all doze off eventually. Alors, je dois m’arrêter là. I’m going to relax with a good book. It’s nice to be able to read a novel and not feel like I’m procrastinating. I’m slowly making my way through the Jane Austen corpus, and Northanger Abbey is calling me… Have fun making this recipe, I hope you will enjoy it as much as I do. As always, leave me a message in the comments and let me know how it went.
Pumpkin Fennel Risotto with Pork Meatballs
1 cup arborio (or risotto) rice
4 cups chicken stock
2 cups pumpkin, diced
1 bulb fennel, trimmed and diced
salt and pepper, to taste
1/2 cup dry white wine
400g pork mince
1tsp ground fennel
zest of half an orange
a squeeze of fresh orange juice (about 2 tbsp)
1tsp chicken stock powder
1tsp dried thyme
1tsp dried oregano
butter, for frying
parmesan, to serve
- In a mixing bowl, combine pork mince, ground fennel, chicken stock powder, paprika, oregano, thyme and orange zest. Season with salt and pepper. Mix together using your hands until the herbs and spices are evenly distributed through the mix. Form into meatballs (approximately the size of a ping-pong ball) and place in a baking tray. Set aside.
- In a large pot, bring chicken stock to a boil. Meanwhile, in a separate pot, melt butter over a low heat and fry pumpkin until softened, stirring regularly. Add fennel, and cook until fragrant and just tender. Season with salt and pepper.
- Preheat oven to 190ºC. Once the stock is boiling, reduce the heat and let it simmer. Add rice to the pumpkin and fennel mixture, and stir well until the grains are well coated in the cooking oils. Add one ladle-full of stock to the rice, stir well, and leave to simmer until the stock has been almost fully absorbed by the rice, stirring occasionally so the rice doesn’t stick to the bottom of the pot. Repeat this process with the remaining stock.
- Once you have started adding the stock to the rice, put the meatballs in the oven. Bake for 20 minutes or until tender and cooked through.
- Once all the stock has been absorbed into the rice, add wine, stir well, and leave to simmer until the liquid has been absorbed. (By this time the rice should be cooked al dente – it should still be slightly chewy, but not too hard or crunchy. If the rice is still too hard, add some hot water from the kettle and allow it to be absorbed the same way the stock was. Repeat this process until the rice is cooked to your liking.)
- Once the meatballs and risotto have both finished cooking, add a squeeze of fresh orange juice to the rice, and stir through. Serve the risotto hot, topped with meatballs and grated parmesan.
Keeping time: keeps 2 days in the fridge.