Wednesday, 24 February 2010

Piece Zone 1

Welcome to the Piece Zone. 
Left: Creme Fraiche and Carmelized Red Onion
Right: Comte and Oyster Mushroom (Perugian Style)

Close up on Creme and Onion 

Tuesday, 9 February 2010

What to do when you got Artichokes

So you got some artichokes?
Now what should you do with them? Or more precisely how do you take these vegetate mini fortresses and make them edible?

Easiest thing to do would just be steam them whole and them pick away at them with some lemon-butter dipping concoction. Ive done this before, its good but turns the eating into a game of picking and pulling at the artichoke's puzzling structure.

I suggest you get yourself a large bowl and fill it with juice of 2 lemons and some water, then cut your carciofi (artichokes) down to the tender inner leaves, scoop out the hairy choke, and peel the outer skin on the stem. That bowl of lemon water on hand is what you will IMMEDIATELY dunk your trimmed carciofi into as soon as you finish trimming it to prevent it from bruising and turning nasty brown color tone.

Say you now have about 4 - 5 artichoke hearts now soaking in lemon water.
Being the semi Italian that I am, I would do one of two things with these delicious veggies.

First off would be a Risotto.

We love this word in my flat. Risotto always means a delicious, hearty, easy meal perfect with wine or nice beer. Artichokes, like wild mushrooms and pumpkin, are perfect for risotto.

Risotto Ai Carciofi
 Ingredients needed:
Olive Oil - 2 tbsp
Onion, medium sized diced
Garlic - 2 cloves  diced
Dry White Wine - about 1/4 cup
Artichoke hearts - about 5
Arborio or Carnaroli Risotto Rice - about 250 g
Pint plus more very hot Chicken Stock
2 tbsp butter
Parmesan - about 1/2 cup or more
Parsley - about 3 tbsp chopped

Start by sauteing the onion in the oil over medium heat in a large pot for about 5 minutes until onion is nice and translucent. Add in garlic and artichoke hearts. Fry until garlic is soft, golden but not burned then add the white wine and continue to cook for about 3 minutes until the alcohol evaporates (you'll know this has happened when you can take a whiff of the pot without feeling a burn in your nostrils).

Now add in the risotto rice and stir until all the grains are covered in oil and have a slick appearance. Once the rice is oiled, turn heat to medium low and start to add the chicken stock a little bit at a time, stirring constantly. You want to add in bits of stock and stir until the rice absorbs it all, then add in a bit more stirring until it is absorbed. Continue to add the stock like this until it is all added. If everything works right, the rice will be soft to the bite (think al-dente pasta) and there is a thick sauce holding everything together. If the rice is a bit hard in the middle add a bit of boiling water and stir. The rice should have released loads of starch from agitation helping to create the smooth consistancy that good risotto must have.

Once all the stock is used and the rice is well cooked, turn off the heat and add the butter, parmesan and parsley and salt and pepper to taste. Stir to incorporate then cover the pot and let sit about 2 minutes. 
Then serve it up.


Artichoke Antipasta

Perfect way to preserve artichokes. Especially good if the artichokes are starting to go bad (just a bit) on the outside. You can easily substitute these in for fresh artichoke hearts in the above recipe.

Its simple:
Take your trimmed hearts and fry in olive oil in a pan (that has a lid) for a few minutes (medium heat). Turn the hearts over once in this time. Next add a 1/4 cup white wine, 1/4 cup water, and a smashed clove of garlic and cook for 2 minutes to let some alcohol evaporate. Then cover with a tight fitting lid and allow hearts to braise for about 30 minutes. If you lose all the liquid add a bit more water. The hearts are done when you can pierce them effortlessly with a fork. Take them out and place them in a container.
Next salt and pepper the hearts, add some dry oregano (2 pinches), some chopped raw garlic (small clove) and cover with olive oil. Close the container and allow the artichokes to sit in the oil for 24 hours or so.

Then you can just leave them in the fridge and take them out whenever you need. I love them just as a side dish, in salad with rocket (arugula) or used in a pasta with pancetta, parsely, shallot, pine nut and Parmesan.


You see? Artichokes just look tough, but really they have warm tender hearts.