I always look forward to Friday night; its arrival is inevitably welcome at the end of a long week, and as the day winds down, my focus shifts to the big question – what’s for dinner? If my husband and I don’t have plans, we usually opt for a low-key evening, either walking over to one of our favorite local restaurants, or staying in and cooking something that one (or both) of us has been craving.
On a recent Friday, my husband was quick to respond when I inquired, “what do you feel like doing for dinner?” “Risotto,” he replied decisively. I love making (and eating) risotto, so I was definitely on board. It can take a little more effort than we might be able to commit during the work week, which makes it a great choice for a Friday night. Risotto requires some regular attention while it’s cooking, a perfect excuse to pour ourselves a couple of glasses of wine and catch up on the day’s events while we keep an eye on dinner.
As far as what should go into the risotto, I racked my brain – and my cookbooks – for some inspiration, and decided to try Italian sweet sausage and fennel. Diced fennel makes a great addition to risotto – it imparts a subtle, mellow flavor and retains some bite even when its cooked. And together with the sausage, it made a hearty and comforting dish – perfect for an early autumn night. The base for this risotto recipe comes from a great class I took at the Ashburton Cookery School in the UK a few years back. I always refer to this recipe when I’m making a risotto. It’s a great reference for the basic ingredients, quantities and technique.
Since I was feeling ambitious, I also made dessert – molten chocolate cake – courtesy of another recipe I picked up during my cooking course at Ashburton. It’s a pretty straightforward recipe; the toughest part is nailing the cooking time. It can vary by several minutes depending on your oven, so it may take some trial and error. Don’t worry if you miss the mark the first time around and overcook them a bit – the result will be more cake and less molten, but it will still taste great.
I hope these recipes give you and your other half some inspiration for a delicious start to your weekend!
Note: The original recipes use metric measurements, which I’ve kept here. I’ve also included approximate imperial measures in parentheses.
Risotto with sausage and fennel
100g (3.5oz/7 tablespoons) unsalted butter
1 medium onion, diced
1 bulb of fennel, cored and diced (optional: chop and reserve some fennel fronds)
2 links of sweet Italian sausage (approx. 250g/8oz), removed from casing
160g (6oz) Carnaroli rice
100ml (1/2 cup) white wine
800ml (3.5 cups) chicken or vegetable stock, heated to a very low simmer
50g (2oz) grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
Salt and pepper
- Melt half of the butter in a heavy bottomed pan over a low-medium heat. Cut the remaining butter into small cubes and refrigerate.
- Add the onion and fennel to the pan and cook until softened – but don’t let the onion brown.
- Add all but a few tablespoons of the sausage to the pan. Break it into pieces with the back of a wooden spoon and cook for 3 to 4 minutes.
- Add the rice to the pan and cook for 2 minutes, stirring so that everything gets combined.
- Add the white wine and cook until it evaporates.
- Begin adding the stock, one ladleful at a time. Each time you add stock, wait until it’s absorbed before adding any more. Stir the risotto frequently. Continue until the risotto is cooked, which will take approximately 16 to 20 minutes. The rice will be tender, but not mushy, when it’s cooked.
- Meanwhile, heat a small or medium sauté pan and add the reserved sausage. Break into small pieces and cook until crisp. Drain on a paper towel lined plate.
- When the risotto is finished cooking, take the pan off the heat and let it rest for one minute. Then mix in the grated cheese and the chilled butter.
- Stir in the crispy sausage pieces and top with the chopped fennel fronds. Serve immediately.
Molten chocolate cake
Makes 4 individual cakes
84g (3oz) unsalted butter, plus some additional softened butter for greasing the ramekins
Cocoa powder and granulated sugar, for dusting the ramekins
84g (3oz) dark chocolate (I used 70% bittersweet baking chunks)
2 whole eggs
2 egg yolks
52g (1.8oz) granulated sugar
60g (2.1oz) flour
Optional (to serve): a small handful of berries (like raspberries), and mascarpone, creme fraiche, or ice cream
- Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.
- Grease 2 (or 4, if you plan to make 4 cakes) small ramekins (3.5 inches in diameter) with the softened butter. Mix a bit of sugar and cocoa powder and sprinkle inside the ramekins to coat.
- Put the chocolate and butter in a bowl, and melt them gently over a pan of barely simmering water, until the mixture thickens slightly and appears glossy. Allow it to cool slightly.
- Whisk the eggs, egg yolks and sugar in a bowl until pale and thickened. This will take several minutes and is best done with an electric whisk or mixer if you have one.
- Once the melted chocolate has cooed a bit, pour it over the egg and sugar mixture, and then sieve the flour on top.
- Carefully fold everything together to combine, making sure not to stir too quickly. You can use a whisk or a spatula here.
- Pour the batter into the ramekins, leaving 1/4 to 1/2 inch of room at the top. (Note: You can prepare the batter ahead of time, cover with plastic wrap and store in the refrigerator. Take it out of the refrigerator 10 to 15 minutes prior to baking to allow it to come up to room temperature.)
- Bake on the top shelf of the oven for 10 to 14 minutes (exact time will depend on the oven). They should be a little gooey in the middle when ready.
- Use a knife to loosen the cakes from the ramekins and turn them out onto plates. If desired serve with berries and mascarpone, creme fraiche, or ice cream.