For the Coulis:
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon chopped onion
1 clove garlic, chopped
6 piquillo peppers, seeds removed
2 tablespoons unsalted chicken stock or low-sodium chicken broth
1/2 teaspoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
Warm the oil in a medium skillet over medium-high heat. Add the onion and garlic and cook until tender, but not colored. Add the piquillo peppers and chicken stock and cook for an additional 2 minutes. Transfer the mixture to a blender, add the lemon juice and purée until smooth. Set aside.
For the Risotto Balls:
1 fennel bulb: leaves separated and bulb cut into 1/8-inch dice
1 bunch flat-leaf parsley, leaves only
7 cups unsalted vegetable stock or low-sodium vegetable broth
8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter
1 small onion, trimmed, and cut into 1/8-inch dice
2 cups Arborio rice
Salt and freshly ground pepper
1/2 cup finely grated fresh Parmesan cheese
1/4 pound fontina cheese, cut into small pieces
1 tablespoon fennel seeds, toasted
1 tablespoon pastis or anise liquor
1 tablespoon mascarpone cheese
Piquillo pepper coulis (from above)
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
1 cup bread crumbs
Peanut oil for deep frying
1. Bring a medium pot of salted water to a boil. Add the fennel and blanch for 5 minutes. Add the parsley and cook 1 minute longer. Drain and hold under cold running water to cool. Squeeze the leaves to remove the excess moisture. In a blender, purée together the fennel and parsley leaves until bright green. Set aside.
2. Bring the stock to a boil in a large saucepan. Reduce the heat to medium-low and keep the stock at a slow, steady simmer.
3. Melt the butter in a Dutch oven or large pot over medium heat. Add the onion and fennel and cook, stirring, just until the onion is translucent but not colored, about 5 minutes. Add the rice, season with salt and pepper and cook, still stirring, for about 5 minutes longer. Add 1 cup of the hot stock. Cook, stirring often, until the rice absorbs most of the liquid. Add another cup of the hot stock and cook and stir as before. Continue cooking, stirring regularly and adding the stock 1 cup at a time, until 6 cups of stock have been added. At this point, taste the rice. Usually, the rice will need another 1/2 to 1 cup stock and a few more minutes to cook.
4. Stir in the fennel-parsley purée, the cheeses, fennel seeds, and pastis. Taste and season with salt and pepper. Refrigerate until cold.
5. With your hands, a spoon, or a small ice cream scoop, form balls 3/4- to 1-inch in diameter. Using your thumb, make a deep indentation in the center of each ball. Fill with 1/4 teaspoon piquillo pepper coulis, pinch the edges together to enclose the filling, and quickly roll between your palms to re-shape. Dip and coat each ball into the all-purpose flour, then into the eggs, and finally into the bread crumbs, making sure to coat them evenly and gently tapping off any excess. Place the balls on a parchment paper-lined baking sheet and freeze for at least 2 hours.
6. Pour 3 to 4 inches of peanut oil into a deep pot and heat the oil until it reaches 325 degrees F on a deep-fat thermometer. Fry the balls in batches until golden brown, 2 to 3 minutes for each batch. Using a slotted spoon, carefully lift the balls out of the oil and onto a paper towel-lined plate. Pat off any excess oil and season with salt. Serve immediately.
nb. serves 50 amuse-bouche
NO... not that fennel!