Putting sweet, caramelized pears with a deeply savory risotto might sound odd, but in fact, it lifts the creamy starch of the rice and balances out the flavors perfectly. Blue cheese and pears work so wonderfully in any context, and this is no exception, but the toasted pine nuts and slight aniseed hint of the fennel in the risotto lift it to a new level.
For the risotto
2 liters chicken or vegetable stock
1 tablespoon rapeseed or olive oil
One onion, finely chopped
1 fennel bulb, finely diced
1 tablespoon finely chopped rosemary needles
350g risotto rice
150ml white wine
150g blue cheese (Stilton, Gorgonzola or Danish blue works well)
70g rocket leaves
4 tablespoons pine nuts, toasted
salt and freshly ground black pepper
For the pears
4 ripe but firm pears (Conference are best), each cored and sliced lengthways into 8
1 tablespoon runny honey
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
Put the stock in a large saucepan and bring it to a boil over high heat. Lower the heat to a very gentle simmer while you make the risotto – the stock needs to be hot so it doesn’t stop the cooking process.
In a large, high-sided frying pan or saucepan, heat the oil over medium heat. Add the onion and fennel, and sauté for about 10–15 minutes, until soft and golden. Don’t rush this stage and don’t allow the vegetables to brown – they should be very soft and sweet. Add the rosemary and butter and cook until the butter melts, then add the risotto rice. Cook for 2–3 minutes, stirring to coat the rice in the butter, then pour in the white wine. Stir the rice constantly until the wine has been absorbed, then add a ladleful of the hot stock. Stir the rice frequently until the stock has been completely absorbed, then add another ladleful. Repeat this process until the rice is just al dente (you may not need all the stock) – it should take 20–25 minutes.
Meanwhile, prepare the pears. Melt the butter in a large frying pan over high heat, then add the pears. Allow them to cook without stirring or turning for 4–5 minutes, so they caramelize on one edge, then flip them over and allow them to caramelize on the other side. Once they are golden and burnished, lower the heat slightly and add the honey and balsamic vinegar. Stir to coat the pears in the syrupy liquid, then set them aside until the risotto is finished.
Once the risotto rice is ready, add a final ladleful of stock and the blue cheese, and stir vigorously until the cheese has melted and the liquid has been absorbed. Season to taste – cheese and stock are both salty, so you may not need much salt.
Divide the risotto equally between four plates or bowls. Top each plate with a handful of rocket leaves, 1 tablespoon of the toasted pine nuts, and a quarter of the balsamic pear slices. Serve immediately.