Say Hello to Spring: Fennel Risotto with Egg

Farm Fresh Eggs and Fennel
Some wives would have good cause to worry if they learned that their husbands had a few chicks in their life, but when Mr. B casually mentioned to me that he'd made the acquaintance of several girls, I couldn't have been happier. I'm lucky; Mr. B's a stand up guy with values, but he's also the sort of fella who makes good culinary connections, so when he shared the news, I knew there were a few dozen eggs in my future.

Anyone who has never eaten a fresh egg can't understand how incredibly delicious--and different--they are compared to a store bought egg, or even the lengths that one would go to in an attempt to secure a steady supply.

By any account, we live in the country, or, more aptly put, along California's Central Coast, a less densely populated and more remote part of the state and if you ask me, more beautiful. There are no streetlights on my road, so if I stay out past sunset and have forgotten the porch light, I'm left to fumble through pitch darkness, the lavender bushes and rosemary are obstacles on my path, the branches from the climbing roses reach out like anonymous hands, their thorns, sharp fingernails capable of drawing blood, and the fear of running into an overgrown raccoon is quite enough to hasten my step.

From my upstairs window, I can see the pony across the street and though just out of my line of sight, I can smell the lambs and hear their bleating. If I step out of my kitchen door and onto my back steps, I can make out the top of the chicken coop next door, though my neighbors, after a lengthy and untenable battle with a trio of foxes, stopped raising chickens and decided to try their hand at ducks, instead. The neighbors two houses down have had better luck outsmarting the foxes, but not in selecting a roster. The one they have has no sense of time and crows at odd times day and night.

It was these neighbors, the ones with the mixed up roster, who years ago, when their kids were in high school and looking for extra money, left a note on our door asking if we'd be interested in fresh eggs, to which we quickly agreed. Soon after, the first dozen arrived. We found them at our front door and after a long day's work, decided on frying a few up for dinner. The yolks were big as golf balls and a deeply saturated yellow so intense that they shocked me at first glance. It only took a single bite for us to fully understand the difference and within a few days, our first dozen was gone.

We weren't sure how the egg business worked, so Mr. B decided to call and ask for another dozen--two if they could spare them and sure enough, he learned that the chickens were in full swing and we'd have them within the hour. It seemed we were destined for a happy relationship and we were only too willing to be their biggest buyer, but not so long afterward, things took a turn for the worse. While the kids were willing to forgo eating eggs in lieu of making a profit, the rest of the family was not; a sentiment that quickly and sharply reduced our egg supply.

It may have been a simple misunderstanding, but I discovered several eggs hidden away on the bottom shelf of the refrigerator in territory that an egg had never been. Were we, I wondered, hoarding eggs for our own selfish purposes? But, how could I confront Mr. B when I had eggs of my own? Compounding the dilemma was an agricultural woe we hadn't expected--chickens can stop laying eggs for a number of reasons and when that happened, nature would have to take its course.

The rest of the story shouldn't be too hard to figure out. Too soon, we were left without any eggs, forced to buy them from the grocery store. But the pallid yolks were tasteless and couldn't compare to the fresh eggs we'd so quickly become accustomed. In any case, we soldiered on the best we could and seized upon any opportunity for fresh eggs, though they were few and far between.

Mr. B's newly discovered fresh egg connection was surely something worth celebrating, so I rummaged through the pantry and vegetable bin and even the liquor cabinet in search of ingredients. My search turned up the necessary finds for a rich fennel risotto, ever so perfect with a farm fresh egg.

Fennel Risotto with Fresh Eggs
1 small onion, finely minced
2 shallots, finely minced
1 bulb of fennel, finely minced
4 cloves of garlic, finely minced
2 tablespoons of olive oil
2 tablespoons of butter
2 cups of risotto
Vegetable broth
White Vermouth
Absinthe or Pastis
Parmesan cheese (good quality)
Freshly ground pepper

1. Heat the butter and olive oil until warm.
2. Add the onion, shallots, garlic, and fennel and cook until soft and slightly caramelized.
3. Add a generous pinch of salt and several grinds of fresh ground pepper.
4. Add the risotto and cook and stir until slightly golden and fragrant.
5. Deglaze the pan with about 1/3 cup of Vermouth and 1/4 cup of Absinthe or Pastis, scraping the pan to loosen any caramelized bits of the vegetables.
6. Once most of the alcohol has evaporated, add hot vegetable broth a little at a time, stirring constantly until the risotto is cooked, but still slightly firm to the bite.
7. Add a generous amount of Parmesan cheese and salt and pepper to taste; cover and keep warm.
8. Cook eggs in any fashion to your liking, but I would recommend soft boiled or poached.
9. Spoon a generous portion of the risotto onto a warm plate and top with the egg and additional cheese.
10. Add a fennel frond for garnish and enjoy with a glass of your favorite wine.


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