I was reading the latest issue of Cooking Light, which did a feature on San Francisco and its surrounding environs. They talked about how it’s sort of the epicenter of the local/organic food movement. And one chef who was interviewed and said “I find that now I look at what my fresh produce is and plan my meal around that, and only think of the protein on the plate as a last step.”
And I thought, well, duh. Plants are the star of the plate!
Tonight involved my FAVORITE plant, the ONE PLANT TO RULE THEM ALL, the artichoke:
Definitely did not know you could grow artichokes in Virginia. Based on the shrieks of joy around me at the farmer’s market, neither did a lot of other people. These are babies (hard to tell in this picture) and the farmer women assured us that there would be fully grown ‘uns later in the summer. So stoked!
I am more familiar with grown-up artichokes, which are pretty idiot-proof (steam ‘em, peel off the leaves, dip them in something delicious, and eat the heart). I decided to research some potential recipes for the baby ones, and I saw risotto, and that was it. So I made this recipe for artichoke and parmesan risotto, except I subbed barley for arborio rice. This was the first time I made that direct substitution (all the barley risotto I make is based on the proportions in this one epicurious recipe, although I’ve tweaked seasonings etc. over the years) and it worked beautifully.
What’s not to like? Barley is a whole grain, and it’s cheaper and easier to obtain than arborio.
My artichokes were larger, I think, than those specified in the recipe (they were more like teenager artichokes than baby artichokes!), so I used six instead of eight and quartered them instead of halved them, and then let them soak in some water with lemon juice to get them 100% clean and prevent discoloration.
With artichokes (particularly the small ones where you eat the leaves, too), the first thing is to get them into a state where eating one will NOT cause internal bleeding. Trimming is a must!
Before, coming out of the lemon-water bath:
And after, about to go into the risotto pot:
I love risotto. I love having an excuse to use my mama’s Le Creuset pot. I love stirring. I love watching the grains magically thicken as they absorb the broth (and, as ever when making risotto, I used homemade chicken stock, which makes it scads more delicious).
The final product looked hearty and rustic and beautiful, and smelled like heaven.
Ahhhhh and the taste. They aptly describe in the header to the recipe that this is extra delicious because you cook the vegetable in the risotto, rather than making it on the side and adding it in at the end. That means that every single morsel of grain is positively imbued with the heavenly flavor of artichoke, something difficult to describe but that I sincerely hope all my readers have gotten to experience.
Are other people as obsessed with artichokes as I am?
As for the eating, quite honestly it got a bit messy because since, like I said, these were larger than your typical baby artichokes, the inner leaves were nice and soft and could be eaten whole but the outer ones were a bit coarse. Ultimately we figured out you could eat the outer ones like a grown up artichoke (peel them off and scrape the ends with your teeth) and the inner ones and the hearts whole. It worked. I can’t complain.
I know it sounds insane but I seriously feel like I have not been getting enough vegetables lately. So to round out the meal, I grabbed these two cuties:
I get such enjoyment out of seeing the bizarre varieties of heirloom tomatoes that are available! No clue what these were called but they were cute and tasty.
As usual with olive oil, balsamic, salt and pepper, and herbs from the deck (today was a basil-oregano blend).
And more produce inspiration.
Alas, this is not local. I would love to live somewhere mangos grow; I flippin’ hate the cold (true story: when my parents lived in Miami, their neighbor with a mango tree would give them bushels and bushels of mangos because she thought they tasted like “peaches soaked in kerosene”. Can you imagine?!)
So we had a mango. And then I thought of a recipe I lusted over in Eating Well a few months back- Indian Mango Dal. It paired mango and… lentils?!
I mean, you guys know me and lentils. We’re tight. It’s intense. So I thought, hey, they published it, they must know what they’re talking about.
You put on your lentils to stew and then you make yourself a nice spicy bunch of goodness on the side! (Based on my scads of Indian cookbooks, this seems to be the authentic methodology for a dal).
Cumin seeds, my faaaaaaves!
Garlic, onions, ginger, coriander, mmm.
All plated up: as they said, it was “soupy”. I halfed it and that meant two cups of water to 1/2 cup of lentils. Also, the original recipe was supposed to serve six and thus this was supposed to serve three and… puhlease. 1/2 a cup of lentils is not food enough for three!
Anyway, it was absolutely wonderful. The sweetness and freshness of the mango was lovely with the wholesome proteinness of the lentils. And mama loves her some ginger and cumin.
Rounded out with rice for soppage. Lovely.
If y’all get a chance, you can vote (up to once a day!) for my Why Cook Well essay! Vote for me!