Tomato & Fennel ‘Mello Mello’ Risotto

Vegan tomato risotto

So there was this place in Liverpool, a couple of years ago, that did great vegan food.

It was called Mello Mello, and though you might not be familiar, I can assure you this little nook of the city had quite the fan base, for a number of reasons.

Not only was Mello Mello independently run, supported local live music and was a great all-round contributor to the city’s indie community; it also had a great little menu of vegan and vegetarian food, which often had me going back again and again.

The menu wasn’t massively varied, and the dishes would change depending on what was in season. But each and every dish there tasted so good. Whether it was the vegan lasagne (something pretty unheard of back in 2013), the vegan curries or the cakes (oh, the cakes!), everything was done brilliantly.

Sometimes when I had nothing to do on a weekend I would take my laptop and my book and simply go and sit in the dim but cool rustic interiors. I’d read and order lunch, listening to the pleasant background tunes of Death Cab for Cutie and other alt bands. I always told myself I was there to work on my then-blog, but I was really there for the food.

One of my favourite dishes there was this tomato and fennel risotto, which was honestly so aromatic, so rich and so delicious that I was always sad when it wasn’t on the menu. I’d never had fennel in a dish before (and never have since), yet it worked so well in this meal that I was amazed it’s not a combination used more often.

Vegan cooking

When it had gone some weeks before this risotto had appeared on the menu again, I decided to take matters into my own hands and recreate the recipe at home. I’m not sure whether Iย ever got it as good as the Mello Mello version, but hey, I tried my best.

Unfortunately Mello Mello is no longer around now. It closed in 2014 due to the owners being out-priced for the rent on the property. They promised they would find another venue and reopen…but sadly that has never come to fruition.

Needless to say, the people of Liverpool were rightly disappointed. I really do feel it’s a big shame as this little place showed so much foresight, progressiveness and creativity. I believe they’d definitely be helping lead the vegan food movement in Liverpool, if they were still open today.

Cooking vegan risotto

As well as being vegan and gluten-free, this risotto is a wonderfully easy dinner to make on a weekday evening and is a lovely dish to take to a summer gathering. The rich flavours just speak summer to me; every bite is a real taste of the Mediterranean. Rich in powerful antioxidants like lycopene and vitamin C, combined with the immune-boosting fennel and healthy fats from the pine nuts (optional), this risotto is a nutrient-dense meal that would be lovely to share with friends and some great ciabatta bread.

If you happen to try this recipe, please let me know what you think! I’m always looking for feedback and ways to improve, so if you have a suggestion to make this recipe better then I’d love to know.

Though I used dried fennel seeds for this recipe, you can absolutely use fresh fennel bulbs by simply baking them in the oven first. I have never used fresh fennel before so not sure how it would work or how much you’d need, but you can always adjust the amount to suit your own tastes. If you do try it with fresh fennel, be sure to leave a comment below and let others know how it went!

Finally, if you remember Mello Mello, leave a shoutout below! I’d love to know if there are any other fellow Liverpudlians who loved this place as much as I did.

Tomato fennel risotto

Tomato & Fennel Risotto Recipe

Serves: 3-4

Ingredients

  • 200g arborio rice or buckwheat
  • 400ml tinned diced tomatoes OR passata
  • 2 tbsp tomato puree
  • 800ml – 1L vegetable stock
  • 1 small glass vegan-friendly white wine (optional)
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 onion, chopped small
  • 1 1/2 tsp fennel seeds
  • Handful kale or spinach
  • Handful sliced chestnut mushrooms
  • 1 red pepper, chopped up small
  • 4-5 sprigs fresh thyme
  • Handful fresh basil
  • Handful fresh parsley
  • Juice of one lemon
  • Handful sun-dried tomatoes, oil rinsed off (optional)
  • Handful pine nuts, to garnish (optional)

 

Method

  1. Saute the onion, garlic, red pepper and fennel seeds in a little water or veg stock, until soft and fragrant.
  2. Add the arborio rice or buckwheat, along with the white wine (if using). If not using wine, you can substitute with veg stock instead.
  3. Stir the wine into the rice and veggies, until the wine has cooked off and the rice is translucent (about two minutes).
  4. Add the tinned diced tomatoes or passata, along with the tomato puree, mushrooms and about half of the stock. Simmer for about 10-15 minutes, or until nearly all of the liquid has been absorbed.
  5. Add the rest of the stock bit by bit (or all of it, if in a hurry, but you’ll need to make sure the rice does not stick). When the liquid has started to reduce, add the kale/spinach, fresh herbs and lemon juice.
  6. Once all liquid has been absorbed and the rice is cooked through, stir in the sun-dried tomatoes (if using) and serve garnished with pine nuts.

Vegan risotto recipe

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